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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A painting by an 18th-century German artist, one of tens of thousands of Polish art objects looted by the Nazis and missing for 75 years, was returned to Poland by U.S. officials on Thursday.
In an emotional ceremony in New York, Poland's U.S. Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf thanked the officials as he accepted the painting by Johann Conrad Seekatz, entitled "Saint Philip Baptizing a Servant of Queen Kandaki."
The painting, dating to 1768 and valued at about $40,000, was given to Poland's National Museum in Warsaw in 1879 by the Warsaw School of Arts, officials said. The Nazis occupied Warsaw from 1939 to 1945.
In 2006, a New York gallery sold the painting - which it had erroneously listed under a different name and attributed to another painter - to a gallery in London. Both firms cooperated with the investigation, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon Levin, head of the assets forfeiture unit in Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office.
U.S. officials timed the presentation ceremony to coincide with the American release on Friday of the Hollywood movie "The Monuments Men" starring George Clooney and Matt Damon.
It recounts the true story of a U.S. military unit of art historians, whose mission it was to recover artwork stolen by the Nazis and return it to the original owners.
That work continues today through The Monuments Men Foundation in Texas, a non-profit group which partners with agencies like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division to seize and repatriate works of art discovered or sold on U.S. soil.
The Seekatz painting is the 23rd Nazi-looted item returned by ICE'S HSI officials, said James T. Hayes, head of the division.
Reporting By Chris Francescani; editing by Gunna Dickson