Britain's National Gallery said Thursday that an Old Master painting in its collection was once owned by Adolf Hitler and was taken from Germany by an American journalist at the end of World War II.
An art historian, Birgit Schwartz, says she recognized "Cupid Complaining to Venus" by Lucas Cranach the Elder in a photograph of the Nazi leader's private gallery that is held in the Library of Congress in Washington.
The gallery said it believed Schwartz's identification is correct.
The painting was taken from Germany in 1945 by American war correspondent Patricia Lochridge Hartwell, who died in 1998, the gallery said. A relative of Hartwell told the gallery that she had been allowed to take it from a warehouse full of art that was controlled by U.S. forces at the end of the war.
The National Gallery bought the painting in 1963 from a dealer in New York. The dealer said at the time that it was being sold by descendants of a buyer who purchased it at a German auction in 1909.
The gallery said it was now trying to find out where the painting had been between 1909 and 1945, and when and where Hitler acquired it. It appealed for people with information about the work to contact the gallery.
Many works of art were stolen from Jewish owners in Germany and other Nazi-occupied countries before and during World War II. In recent years museums and galleries in several countries have returned works to the owners or their descendants, while other claimants have fought legal battles to get works back.
National Gallery spokesman Tom Almeroth-Williams said "at this stage there is no evidence that the painting was looted," but that the gallery was seeking more information.
Painted about 1525 and now worth millions of dollars, the oil-on-wood painting depicts a chubby Cupid complaining to Venus, goddess of love, that he has been stung by bees while eating honey. It is currently on display at the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery in western England, as part of an exhibition about love.