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Poland gets Sotheby's to halt sale of 19th-century painting
The oil version of "The Sword Dance", which depicts a naked woman dancing between daggers, is classified as lost, according to Poland's culture ministry.

WARSAW (AFP).- Poland on Tuesday succeeded in having Sotheby's halt the sale of a work by the 19th-century Academic painter Henryk Siemiradzki, saying it believes the work was taken out of the country without permission.

The oil version of "The Sword Dance", which depicts a naked woman dancing between daggers, is classified as lost, according to Poland's culture ministry.

"There is a great likelihood that the painting was taken out of Poland illegally. In 1953 it was added to the Registry of Moveable Objects of Cultural Heritage," Culture Minister Piotr Glinski told reporters.

"Our enquiry tells us that there is and was no permission granted to take the painting out of the country. Therefore this is a painting with a serious legal issue."

The painting by Siemiradzki, a Pole born in 1843 in Russia, was supposed to be included in a London auction of Russian artwork on Tuesday. Its German owner said his parents acquired it in the 1960s in Poland.

"In 1973 the family emigrated to West Germany from Poland, taking all of their belongings, including the Siemiradzki painting," the culture ministry said in a statement.

"Unfortunately the owner does not know the exact circumstances in which his parents acquired the painting, nor is he able to show any document certifying ownership or permission to take it abroad," it said.

The ministry had begun talks with Sotheby's shortly after Glinski learned of the coming sale, but up until this morning the auction house was refusing to halt the sale, saying it was not a work illegally taken during World War II.

Glinski told reporters that Poland would try to recover the painting, which is the smallest of four versions painted by Siemiradzki. The largest hangs at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Another version of the painting went under the hammer at Sotheby's in New York in 2011, fetching $1.8 million (1.5 million euros).

© Agence France-Presse

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