Polack had already made a name for himself abroad, as a member of an international working group in Germany following the discovery of around 1,500 works taken away by Cornelius Gurlitt, whose father, Hildebrand, had bought works of art for Hitler.
While working for the task force, she discovered the key to Dorville’s story. She looks at the back of a portrait of the impressionist painter Jean-Louis Forain and discovers a yellowing label, with an item number from the auction catalog in Nice. “CABINET of a PARISIAN AMATEUR”, he indicated, without any other information on the identity of the seller.
Intrigued, she goes to town and discovers in the public archives the sales catalogs, the sales records, the identity of the seller and documents proving the involvement of the Commissariat aux Questions Juives of the Vichy government. Working with a genealogy firm, she located and then befriended the Dorville heirs.
“His tenacity, his fighting spirit is incredible,” said Philippe Dagen, art historian and critic for the newspaper Le Monde, who wrote a book on looted art with Polack.
“The Indiana Jones of Looted Paintings” is how Le Point magazine described it.
Nearly eight decades after the auction, the consequences of the Nice sale continue to haunt France, pitting the French government against Dorville’s heirs, reviving the ugly story of the Louvre’s involvement in a problematic sale and putting Polack in an awkward position.
Dorville’s heirs argue that the sale of his artwork was forced under wartime anti-Jewish laws, making it an illegal act of “spoliation” or looting. They argue that if the government had given them the proceeds of the auction, the five family members who perished at Auschwitz might have found a way to survive.