When David and Gabby Tracy prepared to downsize into a smaller home, they realized that a massive, treasured painting that they’d lived with for years wouldn’t fit in their new condo. Standing at nearly eight feet tall, the painting of Ivan the Terrible on horseback had come with Ridgefield, Connecticut, home they had purchased in 1987. The couple admired the quality of the painting, and came to love it, moving it with them to a new home. They assumed the canvas was a common copy, and estimated its value at only $5,000 when a Washington, D.C. auction house listed it last year.
But the auction house soon received an urgent message from the Dnepropetrovsk Art Museum in Ukraine, claiming the painting had once been in their collection and had been stolen during World War II. One of the paintings on display when the then Ekaterinoslav City Art Museum opened in 1914, the painting disappeared during Nazi occupation of the city from 1941 to 1943.
The museum identified the painting as the original 1911 work by Mikhail Panin, titled Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichnina. It depicts a dejected looking Ivan the Terrible and his loyalists secretly fleeing the Kremlin as he abdicated the throne in 1564. Ivan eventually returned from his exile in Alexandrovskya Sloboda to reclaim power and create a new policy where he ruled absolutely, oprochnina.
The Tracy’s were stunned to learn the history behind their painting, though it is still unclear how the previous owner of their home, a former Swiss soldier who died in 1986, acquired the work. Gabby Tracy, now 84, survived the Holocaust but lost her father in a concentration camp. According to an interview with the Associated Press, the couple are happy to return the work to its original owners, with the help of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In a statement, Assistant Director in Charge Nancy McNamara said, “As the FBI returns this painting to the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington, D.C., we do so with the purpose of preserving history. This piece of artwork is of significance not just for its monetary value, but for its place in the world of art and culture. The FBI continues to commit investigative resources to recover cultural property.”