TOULOUSE, France – France seized a baroque painting on loan to a Paris art fair from its London gallery -- claiming that the artwork was stolen from a Toulouse museum almost two centuries ago.
"The Carrying of the Cross," painted by Nicolas Tournier around 1632, was stolen from a museum in the southern city of Toulouse in 1818 and still belonged to the French state, France's culture ministry said Monday.
"This was a property of the French state that was deposited at the Augustins Museum in Toulouse and was stolen in 1818. It is a non-transferable work," the ministry said in a statement reported by La Depeche du Midi.
"We are claiming this painting as a property of the state and it will not leave the country," the ministry added.
A lengthy legal battle is now expected between France and the Weiss Gallery, which bought the masterpiece from a French art dealer for €400,000 last year.
The gallery later put the painting up for sale at €675,000, but the Augustins Museum could not afford to buy it.
Art dealer Mark Weiss told Britain's Independent newspaper, "We bought it in good faith from the French dealer at a time when the Toulouse museum was refusing to accept that it was the Tournier which had disappeared."
He added, "The director of the Toulouse museum, Axel Hemery, is a Caravaggio expert but he did not identify the painting at that time. He has since changed his opinion and we have been negotiating with him for months about its sale to the museum."