The painting by Flemish artist Frans Francken the Younger is entitled “The Sermon on the Mount (Paul in Lystra),” and is worth an estimated €100,000.
It appeared on the television show Kunst und Krempel, or “Art and Junk,” on November 15, 2008, during which experts discussed the painting's value.
“An art expert saw the show, suspected it might be stolen and started doing research,” spokesperson for the Bavarian office of criminal investigation Ludwig Waldinger told The Local on Thursday.
Six months later, in April 2009, he called Munich police to report he believed the painting had likely been stolen from a Jewish family by the Nazis.
Criminal investigators and state prosecutors requested that public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk reveal the person who submitted the 33 by 79.5-centimetre painting to the antiques show, but they refused.
“They asserted their journalistic right not to reveal their sources – something they are legally allowed to do,” Waldinger told The Local.
Police have traced the painting back to a Jewish family, who bought the painting from a Dresden gallery. When the Nazis ordered paintings to be collected for a new art museum in Adolf Hitler's hometown of Linz, Austria, the painting was purchased from the family.
“To say they ‘bought' the painting was actually false,” Waldinger said. The Nazis essentially stole paintings from Jewish families but gave them a symbolic payment and a receipt to give it an official character.”
Police have this receipt, he said.
But before the painting could be taken south to Linz, American troops marched into the region as World War II drew to a close.
Police believe the painting was taken from Hitler's Munich reception building, the Führerbau, at some point near the end of the war.
“We don't know what happened to the painting after April 1945,” Waldinger said. “We're trying to piece together its path after this point and it's insanely difficult to clarify.”
Depending on how the owner acquired the painting, he or she may face charges of handling stolen goods, Waldinger added.
Munich police are not sure whether there are any surviving relatives of the family that owned the painting.