Sunday 3 November 2013

Should the National Gallery seize a Klimt portrait?

Gustav Klimt's unfinshed portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl (1917-1918)
After our post on the famous claim on a looted Klimt's work, the "Beethoven frieze", the National Gallery is now called on seizing another Klimt's looted painting.

Klimt's unfinished portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl is now the centrepiece of the exhibition "Facing the Modern: The portrait in Vienna in 1900" which runs until January at the National Gallery. Recently, a leading expert in looted art, the lawyer E Randol Schoenberg, outlined its concerns on the painting, which apparently seems to had been looted by the Nazis during the Second World War from the jewish collector, the baron Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer.

The Baron Bloch-Bauer was a friend of Amalie Zuckerkandl, herself a Nazi victim. He was forced to flee Austria to go to Zurich. In his will, he explained that all his property in Vienna had been confiscated by the Nazy. Indeed, the painting would had been at Bloch-Bauer's home, after the baron's escape, and it was listed in a Nazi inventory in 1939 by Dr Erich Führer, a lawyer and high-ranking SS officer. According to Mr Schoenberg, Dr Führer kept for himself 12 of Bloch-Bauer's paintings, including the Klimt's portrait.

Apparently, Amalie's son-in-law came into possession of the portrait during the war and sold it to the art dealer Vita Künstler, who owned it till she donated it to the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna, when she died in 2001. But the Baron's heirs asked the restitution of the portrait and in 2006 an arbitration panel rejected it, granting ownership of the Zuckerkandl's portrait to the Austrian State but a dispute on this decision is currently pending.

By the way, in 2006 Mr Schoenberg successfully represented 90-year-old Maria Altmann in her effort to win back five stolen Klimt paintings from the state of Austria that had been seized by the Nazis, including his famous gold portrait of Bloch-Bauer's wife and Maria's aunt, Adele.

Mr Schoenber told the National Gallery should request a new determination by the Austrian art restitution advisory board, thus according to  the new Austrian law the painting would have been restituted to the Ferdinand's heirs.

Anyhow, a spokeswoman for the National Gallery said  the Klimt's Portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl is among those paintings in the exhibition for which the Government offers immunity from seizure. Therefore, the National Gallery had been obliged to duly investigate the history of this painting from the beginning of 1933 to the end of the year 1945.

This looks like it is going to be another significant case of looted art in Austria.

Source: The Guardian, 21 October 2013

No comments: