The sale, however, will be conditional, officials said, which means that the canvas might not be delivered to the prospective buyer.
“A conditional sale means that an auction can be held … but ultimately the artwork may end up in the possession of the State Treasury through a court or prosecutor’s decision,” Poland’s Culture Minister Piotr Gliński warned on Tuesday, as quoted by the state PAP news agency.
The 1908 painting Rzeczywistość (Reality) by Polish symbolist Jacek Malczewski was expected to become the most expensive artwork ever sold in Poland, with an estimated price tag of anywhere from USD 3 to USD 5 million, the PAP news agency reported.
This, however, may not happen as planned since the piece has been the subject of several standoffs over the past several weeks.
Currently held by the auction house DESA Unicum, the canvas has been the target of authorities, who believe it was stolen from Poland several decades ago.
Starting in February, the government has been questioning the work’s provenance, with claims that it was stolen and moved from Poland to Germany during World War II.
DESA Unicum, however, claims the work belonged to a Polish-German family who moved to Germany in the 1950s and took the painting with them.
Reality was last seen by the public during an exhibition in the 1920s after which it fell into private hands. Its whereabouts had been unknown until it showed up on a German auction website last year and was acquired by DESA Unicum.
On Tuesday, Gliński, the Polish culture minister, said it was his ministry’s duty to urge a prosecutor's office to investigate the painting’s unclear provenance.
“We notified the auction house as early as February, contrary to inaccurate if not untrue claims made to the public by the auction house that restitution measures would be taken,” Gliński was quoted as saying by PAP.
“This, however, does not mean we are prejudging who owns the painting," Gliński added. "We are only stating there are good reasons to investigate the painting’s origins and background. And so, we requested a prosecutor’s office to take action on the issue."
“I guess the auction house is counting on higher bids following the media storm, but I wouldn’t be that sure as this is conditional,” Gliński said.
Over the past month, in a couple of attempts, Polish police tried to seize the disputed painting on the premises of DESA Unicum but were thwarted by its staff, who pointed to inadequate packaging and transport materials or insurance-related issues.
Against all odds, the painting is scheduled to come up for auction on December 8.
The sale is expected to fetch millions of dollars, which could make Reality the most expensive artwork sold in Poland.
So far, the record holder has been a painting by Andrzej Wróblewski entitled Two Married Women, which was auctioned last year for an equivalent of USD 3 million, according to PAP.
Click on the "Play" button above for an audio report by Radio Poland’s Michał Owczarek.