Klimt will stay at Austrian National Gallery, says Supreme Court

BOSTON. The Austrian Supreme Court has upheld a ruling by Austrian arbitrators which denied a claim for a painting by Gustav Klimt at the Austrian National Gallery (ANG) in Vienna, which the heirs of Jewish art collector Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer say was taken by Nazis.

In 2006, the same arbitrators ordered the ANG to return five other Klimt paintings confiscated by the Nazis to Ferdinand’s heir, Maria Altmann. The arbitrators said that because there was no direct evidence that the sixth Klimt painting, Amalie Zuckerkandl, was confiscated, it was not subject to return under Austria’s 1998 art restitution law. During the war, the painting was sold by the son-in-law of Amalie, the subject of the portrait. He was not Jewish.

The buyer, an art dealer, gave it to the ANG. E. Randol Schoenberg, attorney for Ferdinand’s heirs (including Maria Altmann), said that by its ruling, the Austrian Supreme Court had changed the prevailing rule in postwar Nazi-loot claims that a transaction involving Jewish property was considered a confiscation unless it could be proved that it would have occurred even without the Nazis.

Instead, the court concluded that the parliament, in enacting the Austrian 1998 art restitution law, might have decided that it would be unfair for the government to have to prove a proper provenance for its paintings after so much time had elapsed. The result in the case was sad and ridiculous, Mr Schoenberg said.

Martha Lufkin

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