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Vienna, Austria - Museum Fears Restitution Will Force to Surrender Its Precious Painting

Published on: September 13, 2009 05:53 PM
By:  AFP
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Vienna, Austria - Three years after a Vienna museum had to restore five Klimt paintings stolen by the Nazis to their Jewish owners, the city’s art museum is fearing the same fate for a piece by Vermeer.

Austria’s culture ministry admitted that it had received a request for the restitution of “The Art of Painting” by 17th-century Flemish artist Johannes Vermeer, which has been on display at the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) since 1946.

The painting was bought in 1940 by Adolf Hitler himself for his planned Fuehrer’s Museum in the northern Austrian city of Linz.

It would be a “painful loss”, KHM director Sabine Haag said of a potential restitution.
“It’s an absolute jewel,” she added about the painting, noting that it was still too early to even consider giving it back.

Under a 1998 restitution law, Austria has already returned to their rightful owners some 10,000 artworks stolen by the Nazis after they annexed Austria in 1938.

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In the latest case in April, the city of Linz returned a painting by Viennese master Gustav Klimt to the Jewish family who was robbed of it under the Third Reich.

In 2006, Vienna’s Belvedere Museum had had to restore five major paintings by the artist to the descendants of the previous owner.

The Vermeer piece however is more debatable, according to experts.
The painting, which had belonged to the Czernin family since the 19th century, was officially sold to Hitler in 1940 by Jaromir Czernin for 1.65 million Reichsmark.

Requests to have it returned to the family in the 1960s were rejected on the grounds that the sale had been voluntary and the price had been adequate.
But a new expert’s report commissioned by the family has concluded that the sale was made under duress.

“(Jaromir) Czernin had no choice: he had to sell in order to guarantee his family’s safety,” the family’s lawyer Andreas Theiss told the daily Der Standard.

The brother-in-law of chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, who ruled Austria with an iron fist from 1934 to 1938 and attempted to oppose Hitler’s annexation of his country, Czernin was also married to a woman of Jewish descendance.

However, Eva Blimlinger, scientific head of the Austrian commission studying the origins of artworks, concluded after examining the new expert’s report that it contained “no new documents” from 40 years ago.

Opposition Green deputy Wolfgang Zinggl, who has pushed for the restitution of artworks in Austria, meanwhile said: “This case threatens to overshadow others that are more obvious and have already been delayed too long.”

The Israeli community, for instance, has long considered stolen over a dozen works at Vienna’s Leopold Museum, including seven by Austrian artist Egon Schiele.
But unlike most of the country’s art museums, the Leopold is a private institution and as such not subject to the 1998 law.

“As far as public collections are concerned however, museums follow the commission’s recommendations quickly and without challenging them,” said Zinggl.

The commission, whose recommendations are always followed by the ministry, systematically examines the origin of each piece that has entered public collections since the Third Reich.
In 2006, the Austrian state was unable to buy back the Klimt paintings, including the famous 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which was subsequently sold by the owners for a record sum of 135 million dollars (92.4 million euros).

Given that less than 40 paintings by Vermeer exist in the world, “The Art of Painting” could easily fetch a similar price.
In 2004, a small Vermeer was sold by auction house Sotheby’s for 23 million euros.



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Read Comments (7)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Sep 13, 2009 at 04:59 PM Anonymous Says:

Its sad that the public at large will be denied access to such a great work of art but if the family can really prove that the sale was "forced" they may have a right to reclaim the painting.

2

 Sep 13, 2009 at 05:16 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

Its sad that the public at large will be denied access to such a great work of art but if the family can really prove that the sale was "forced" they may have a right to reclaim the painting.

If the price paid was fair, then even if it was sold under duress the sale will be considered valid.

4

 Sep 13, 2009 at 10:00 PM esther Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

Its sad that the public at large will be denied access to such a great work of art but if the family can really prove that the sale was "forced" they may have a right to reclaim the painting.

how sad is it already?it's much more sad that supposedly cultured,educated people need a court order to return property stolen by the NAZIS for goodness sake to the rightful owners.but then again the nazis ys were also cultured and educated so all that means zero if they don't accept that there's a RSO.

5

 Sep 14, 2009 at 01:18 AM Anonymous Says:

Don't feel bad for the Austrians. Most of us have property and/or valuables left behind in Europe by our parents/grandparents which we will never recover (and I'm not talking million dollar paintings). And it's all thanks to their beloved Hitler. And yes, I have reason to believe that the Austrians are still anti-semitic, so don't give me "You can't blame them for what their parents did".

A few paintings being returned, even if they don't feel it's perfectly correct, is just a tiny taste of their bitter medicine. I'm only talking dollars here, not human life. That's a whole other Mesechta.

6

 Sep 13, 2009 at 11:18 PM Stacy Says:

Of course they should give it back. and happily. And they should cringe that somehow they were part of the theft. They should beg the Jews for forgiveness for what their ancestors did.

7

 Sep 14, 2009 at 06:47 AM The Truth Says:

They should give back the painting, and the family should give back todays value of the money. Whether it was a sale under duress or not, it was a sale, so if it should be reversed, they should still have to give the value back.
Plenty of Jews lost everything (my family included) but to claim 70 years later that the sale was under duress is a bit rich. Nearly everyone else lost everything (lives included) without any 'sale'. Plus, many peoples lives beforehand were under duress to start with. To say that 'this' was under duress is a bit meaningless.

8

 Sep 14, 2009 at 09:44 AM anonymous Says:

Reply to #4  
esther Says:

how sad is it already?it's much more sad that supposedly cultured,educated people need a court order to return property stolen by the NAZIS for goodness sake to the rightful owners.but then again the nazis ys were also cultured and educated so all that means zero if they don't accept that there's a RSO.

I was born in Vienna and lived there until 1941. One person comments ifit can proven that they were forced to surrender it. Yes , painting and lifes. You are right Austria is the home of Mozart, Strauss and Lanner and also Eichmann and Kaltenbrunner. Yes the Austrian Einsatztruppen were especially adept in killing and their killing grounds were Galicia{Lwow and surroundings]. The Austrians enjoyed Beethoven and opera and killed Jews with a gusto.

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