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U.S. Returns Stolen Impressionist Painting to France

WASHINGTON (AP).- A stolen painting by French Impressionist Edgar Degas was formally returned to France at the residence of the French ambassador to the United States on Friday after it surfaced at an auction in New York.

The small painting "Blanchisseuses souffrant des dents," completed by Degas between 1870 and 1872, emerged in a Sotheby's auction 37 years after it was stolen from the Malraux Museum in Le Havre in Normandy.

The 6.25-inch by 8.5-inch piece is estimated to be worth between $350,000 and $450,000. The painting depicts the heads of two women and is known in English as "Laundry Women with Toothache."

"On behalf of ICE, it is a great privilege to return this painting that rightfully belongs to the people of France, and reflects a part of your nation's history and rich heritage," said Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton at the repatriation ceremony.

Morton noted Degas spent about a year in New Orleans painting American scenes after finishing the work.

U.S. authorities investigated the painting after Interpol identified it in a Sotheby's auction catalog last October.

The painting was consigned to the sale by Ronald Grelsamer, a well-known New York surgeon who said he had received the paining as a gift from his father. He and Sotheby's voluntarily surrendered the work after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency gave proof of the decades-ago theft, Morton said.

French authorities have yet to determine where the painting will be housed upon its return to France, French Ambassador Francois Rivasseau said.

(Reporting by Wendell Marsh; Editing by Jerry Norton and Vicki Allen)

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