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The new service, www.swift-findlootedart.com, which is led by looted art specialist Shauna Isaac, allows those affected to register their stolen art and to enter descriptions and images if they are available.

The content of the site – free to museums, claimants and government agencies but also available to dealers, auctioneers and collectors – can also be crosschecked against items coming up for sale.

The search facility incorporates sophisticated image-matching technology that, for instance, would match a painting that features in the background of a black and white family photo from 1920 to a similar one on the database – even if the photograph is at an angle or the picture is partially obscured. The same applies to three-dimensional items such as statues and ornaments.

When dealers, auction houses and museums use the Swift-Find database to check the provenance of art and antiques, any match will allow the appropriate authorities to be alerted.

The website’s current database contains 20,000 items, making it already one of the largest online databases of Nazi looted art. By the end of 2006, Swift-Find aims to have over 85,000 looted items on the database (they estimate there are still well over 100,000 unclaimed works of art at large) and will be available in French, German and Italian.

This comes after the decision last week by the US Supreme Court to return five Gustav Klimt paintings to Maria Altmann after her long legal battle with the Austrian government. Insurance company Hiscox have advised art collectors to consider Defective Title insurance in the light of this.