The sculpture was purchased in charity shop Goodwill in Austin, Texas, in 2018 by local art collector Laura Young.
She spotted the portrait bust had age and tried to track down information about it, speaking with experts at the University of Texas as well as from several auction houses.
Following months of research and meetings, the sculpture was identified by Sotheby’s consultant Jörg Deterling who helped support the process of connecting Young with the German authorities.
It was finally authenticated by the Bavarian Administration of the State-Owned Palaces, Gardens, and Lakes as having once belonged in the collection of King Ludwig I of Bavaria.
Dating to the c.1st century BC to early 1st century AD, it may portray the son of Pompey the Great (106-48BC), Sextus Pompey.
Inspired by the excavations in Pompeii, Ludwig I commissioned architect Friedrich von Gärtner to build him a Pompejanum (or Pompeiianum, an idealised replica of a Roman villa) in Aschaffenburg, Bavaria, in 1840-48. The Roman bust in Texas was among the many works housed there.
How the sculpture arrived in Texas remains a mystery. In January 1944, during the Second World War, Allied bombers targeted Aschaffenburg and seriously damaged the Pompejanum.
When the war ended, the US Army established various military installations in Aschaffenburg, many of which remained until the end of the Cold War, and most likely a returning soldier took the sculpture back to the US in the 1950s.
For the past year the bust has been on display in the San Antonio Museum of Art until May 21 when it will begin its journey back to Germany where it will go on display in the Pompejanum.
Emily Ballew Neff, The Kelso Director at San Antonio Museum of Art, said at the time of the bust going on display last year: “It’s a great story whose plot includes the World War II-era, international diplomacy, art of the ancient Mediterranean, thrift shop sleuthing, historic Bavarian royalty, and the thoughtful stewardship of those who care for and preserve the arts.”
Bernd Schreiber, president of the Bavarian Administration of State-Owned Palaces, Gardens, and Lakes, said: “We are very pleased that a piece of Bavarian history that we thought was lost has reappeared and will soon be able to return to its rightful location.”