Matisse's Woman in a Blue Dress in Front of a Fireplace is valued at £12m

Matisse’s Woman in a Blue Dress in Front of a Fireplace is valued at £12m

The haphazard way Nazi-looted art is returned was laid bare this week as a Norwegian museum agreed to return a Matisse painting to a Jewish family, while a German arbitration panel ruled precious artefacts were not sold under duress.

It comes as the family of art dealer Paul Rosenberg were given Woman in a Blue Dress in Front of a Fireplace, which has been on display at the Henie Onstad Art Centre (HOK) since 1968.

Rosenberg bought the painting (pictured) ­– now valued at an estimated $20m (£12m)­ – in 1937 but had to leave it when he fled France in 1940. The Norwegian gallery said it bought the work in good faith but had “chosen to adhere to international conventions and return the painting”.

In the same week, there was disappointment after the heirs of four German-Jewish art dealers heard the Guelph Collection – medieval religious art worth $275m – would not be returned because experts said it was not sold under duress.

The Berlin-held collection was the subject of an inquiry by the Limbach Commission, a German advisory board for Shoah-related claims.

The Commission considered collectors Zacharias Max Hackenbroch, Isaac Rosenbaum, Saemy Rosenberg and Julius Falk Goldschmidt, who bought it in the 1920s, had sold it in 1935, and that the collection was not even in Germany at the time of its sale.

The claimants’ lawyers argue almost all purchases of valuable property from Jews under the Nazis were made under duress and noted the sale was orchestrated by Hitler’s chief deputy, Hermann Goering.

The panel’s findings sit starkly alongside the Oslo decision, which traces the Matisse painting’s 1941 seizure by specialist Nazi looting agency Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg.

It was later sold to dealer Gustav Rochlitz, who was convicted in France in 1947 for dealing in looted art.