Page last updated at 06:44 GMT, Saturday, 11 April 2009 07:44 UK

California returns 'looted art'

Two of the returned painting shown during a ceremony in Sacramento, California, on 10 April.
The paintings were returned after a two-year state investigation

The US state of California has returned three Renaissance paintings that were confiscated from Jewish art dealers in Nazi Germany during the 1930s.

The 16th Century paintings were returned to the heirs of their former owners, Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer, who died during the Holocaust.

After World War II, the paintings ended up in the collection of US newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst.

They have been on display at a California museum for over 30 years.

Copies of two of the paintings will stay on display at Hearst Castle along with the original of the third painting belonging to the couple.

Heritage review

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said the return of the art was "right and just"

Millions have seen the paintings hanging in a bedroom suite at Hearst Castle, a 165-room palace built by Mr Hearst in 1919 and donated to the state of California in the 1970s.

But it was only two years ago that a lawyer for the Oppenheimer family came forward after she spotted the paintings in a promotional leaflet for the castle.

It is not thought that Mr Hearst knew their history, the BBC's Rajesh Mirchandani reports from Los Angeles.

Jakob Oppenheimer died in 1941 in France, where the couple had fled, and his wife later died at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

This is the 25th time US authorities have returned artwork taken from Jews by the Nazis.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, US museums have been examining the heritage of their collections.

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