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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Sotheby's will auction a painting by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot worth around $1.5 million after it was returned to the heirs of the original owners, Jewish bankers forced to flee Europe in World War Two.
"Jeune femme a la fontaine," which the auctioneer said ranked among the French artist's finest figure paintings of the 1860s and 1870s, will go under the hammer on June 2 in London as part of the 19th century paintings sale.
Sotheby's will be hoping that the provenance of the work, and its dramatic history, will boost its value, which it estimates at 800,000-1.2 million pounds.
Other works seized from Jewish families during the chaos of World War Two and returned to heirs of original owners include Gustav Klimt's "Kirche in Cassone," which fetched $43 million in February, an auction record for a landscape by the artist.
The Corot painting came into the possession of the Behrens, a Hamburg banking family, in 1889. Eduard Ludwig Behrens bequeathed his large art collection to his son, who in turn left it to his son Georg.
In 1925, Georg lent the collection to the city of Hamburg for 10 years, but when he tried to send works to the safety of Switzerland in 1935 the Nazi authorities prevented the move.
In 1938, Georg was arrested and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and after his release he emigrated to Belgium in 1939. In order to obtain a visa he had to pawn all of his possessions to the state.
From Belgium he moved to France, where he was interned in a camp before obtaining another visa for Cuba where he finally found his freedom. After the war he returned to Hamburg and died there in 1956, never having recovered the Corot.
The painting found its way into a Dutch museum where it stayed for 66 years until it was returned to Georg Behrens' heirs following lengthy research into its history.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato