Friday May 4, 2007
by Jesse Hamlin. San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Bernard Taper dreamed about Raphael's "Portrait of a Young Man'', the most prized painting looted by the Nazis that has never been found. He spent two years searching for the Raphael in ravaged post-World War II Germany and for many other works he did recover as an art-intelligence officer with the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of the U.S. military.
"It's the most valuable single thing that's still missing,'' says Taper, a longtime writer for the New Yorker, one-time Chronicle reporter and retired UC Berkeley journalism professor. He tracked down many artworks in 1946 and '47, including objects German peasants had looted from an abandoned train carrying booty pilfered by Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring. A connoisseur of luxury, Göring had amassed thousands of paintings, sculptures and others works during his tenure as the second-most powerful man in Nazi Germany.
Taper is sitting in the sunny living room of the Berkeley home he shares with his wife, poet Gwen Head,
recalling the slippery art advisers, black marketeers and such top Nazis as Albert Speer he interrogated 60 years ago. On the table is a book published by the Polish government, in English titled "Wartime Losses, Foreign Paintings, Volume I", with Raphael's curly-haired young man on the cover (the portrait belonged to the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow). He's become the poster child for the countless artworks stolen by Hitler and his Nazi henchmen from Jewish homes and art galleries, civic museums, private collections and churches across Europe; tens of thousands of them still missing during the reign of the Third Reich.