Allegory of Earth and Water, by Jan Brueghel the Younger, was returned by the Dutch government to the estate of Montreal art dealer Max Stern. ((Max Stern Restitution Project))

The Dutch government has returned a painting by Jan Brueghel the Younger to the estate of Max Stern, the Montreal art dealer whose collection was looted by the Nazis.

Concordia University, which is spearheading the Max Stern Restitution Project, announced the painting's return Wednesday in Montreal.

Stern, who died in 1987, left his estate to three universities: Concordia and McGill in Montreal and Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Brueghel's Allegory of Earth and Water is the eighth painting to be returned to the estate, but the first one returned by a government. It had recently been on display at the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch.

A Dutch restitutions committee that investigates the origins of works determined the painting had been taken from Stern in the 1930s.

Forced to sell

Stern, an art dealer in Germany, was forced out of business in Duesseldorf in 1935 and by 1937 was forced to sell his entire art collection in a "Jew sale."

He fled to the U.K. and later to Canada and re-established himself as an art dealer in Montreal.

The painting by Brueghel, a Flemish Baroque painter who lived from 1601 to 1678, is a bucolic picnic scene depicting the bounty of nature.

Sometime after the painting was taken from Stern, Jan Dik Jr., a Dutch art dealer who acted as a middleman for the Nazis, sold it to the Hamburg Kunsthalle museum. The Allies recovered the Brueghel and transferred it to the Netherlands, where it became part of the national collection.

The Max Stern Restitution Project is working with several partners in its search for Stern's lost artworks, including the Art Loss Register in London and the Holocaust Claims Processing Office in New York, which first alerted the Montreal project that the Brueghel was in the Netherlands.

Allegory of Earth and Water will be exhibited next month at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.