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18th-century marble bust looted by Nazis returned to Poland

An 18th-century marble bust of the goddess Diana which was looted by the Nazis in 1940 has been returned to Warsaw from Vienna, where it recently surfaced at an auction house.

The return of the sculpture by French master Jean-Antoine Houdon, valued at 250,000 euros (£180,000), is the latest development in Poland's long effort to retrieve tens of thousands of works of art looted from museums and private collections in the nation's tumultuous history, most recently during the Second World War.

Poland has listed 63,000 works of art as missing.

The white marble, bare-breasted bust of the hunter goddess was officially returned to Warsaw's Lazienki Palace after months of efforts by Poland's government and the Art Recovery Group.

'It is wonderful to have her back with us," said culture minister Piotr Glinski.

The sculpture was among the most precious purchases made by Poland's last king, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, in the late 18th century. It was first looted from the palace by Bolshevik troops during the First World War, but returned when Polish troops entered Russian territory in 1920, during a war against Moscow.

It vanished again in 1940 during Nazi Germany's wartime occupation of Poland.

Last spring, a Vienna auction house contacted Polish art expert Ewa Ziembinska over a bust that a private person wanted to sell through them. Based on pre-war records and photos, the sculpture was identified as Poland's property. Its return was obtained through legal and diplomatic efforts with no payment involved, officials said.

"It is a true pleasure to see Diana finally back home and we are looking forward to many more successful homecomings in the future," said Ariane Moser of the Art Recovery Group.

Seven other looted works of art were returned to Poland this year, which Mr Glinski called a "very good result", but he singled out Sweden as not being open to any talks on restitution of art looted during Sweden's invasion in the 17th century.

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