Friday, 18 October 2013

Looted Klimt claim

We have not had a post about looted Holocaust art for a while.

We have previously reported on the return of artworks seized by the Nazis, including paintings by Gustav Klimt.

This week comes the news that a new claim has been filed in Austria in relation to another Klimt work, the Beethoven Frieze.

A section of the Beethoven Frieze (1902)
This claim, however, relates not to the return of the work per se, but rather the effect of former Austrian law on those who reclaimed the work.

The New York Times explains:
The gold-painted frieze was owned by the Lederer family, wealthy Austrian Jews who were important patrons of Klimt’s. When the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938, the family escaped to Switzerland, but its extensive art collection was seized and its once formidable industrial empire bankrupted. Many of the family’s valuable works, including 18 Klimts, were destroyed in the final days of the war. 
The mammoth frieze survived and was formally returned to Erich Lederer, the family heir, after the war. But there was a hitch. The Austrian government would grant him export licenses for his other artworks only if he sold the “Beethoven Frieze” to the state at a cut-rate price, Mr. Lederer’s heirs say.

In a 1972 letter to Bruno Kreisky, then the Austrian chancellor, Mr. Lederer complained about what he considered government extortion, writing that officials were “trying to force me to my knees” and thinking “why won’t he finally die, this LEDERER!” 
Mr. Lederer finally agreed to sell the frieze to the government in 1973 for $750,000: half of its estimated worth at the time, according to an evaluation by Christie’s. Since 1986, it has been on view at the turn-of-the-century Secession gallery, where it was first shown at a 1902 exhibition named after Klimt’s breakthrough art movement. 
Georg Graf, a law professor and restitution expert at the University of Salzburg, who is supporting the family’s claim, said, “While the Austrian Republic did formally return the artwork after the war, it ultimately forced Erich Lederer to sell it back in old age by upholding the export ban.”
In 2009, the Austrian government amended its restitution law to apply to property that was sold at a discount because of that ban. 
It is under this law that the Lederer family filed its claim on Tuesday to the government’s Art Restitution Advisory Board. This panel will, in turn, make a recommendation about the “Beethoven Frieze” to the Austrian minister for education, the arts and culture, Claudia Schmied, who is to make the final decision. 
This looks like it is going to be one of the more significant cases brought under the new law.


Source:  The New York Times, 15 October 2013

2 comments:

Barbara Cookson said...

I wonder how much the fact that it has been on show to the public will be taken into account in the final reckoning. How long have we got to find this gallery?

Simone said...

I doubt the family actually wants the frieze. More likely, just some more restitution.
I would not think the fact it is on display would affect the decision. In any case, it is at the Secession Building in Vienna.