Restitution round-up: France, Austria, Italy, and Germany

Recent developments in the restitution of looted artworks


Last month, the French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, admitted that some works of art looted by the Nazis of sold under duress by the Jews in World War II were currently adorning French public buildings and embassies.

Last month, the Centre Pompidou announced that it has discovered a document in an archive in Koblenz listing 111 paintings seized in 1941 from the home of Paul Rosenberg, including its 1914 Leger”Woman in Red and Green”. This is the third Rosenberg painting to be the subject of a claims by his heirs, the others being “Odalisque” by Matisse in the Seattle Museum and “Waterlilies” by Monet in the Caen Musées des Beaux-Arts.

The Austrian government last month decided to return some 250 items to the Austrian branch of the Rothschild family, the main beneficiary being Bettina Looran-Rothsschild. These had been confiscated by the Nazis, returned in 1945 and then taken again by the authorities in exchange for permission to export other works of art and chattels. The museums holding Rothschild works now include the Albertina; the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which loses three Frans Hals; the Österreichische Galerie and the National Bibliothek, which will give back a sixteenth-century Book of Hours.

The huge “Battle of Constantine” by the seventeenth-century painter, Johannes Lingelbach, has been given back to the Italian government. It had hung for years in the museum of Gifhorn and was one of eighteen works of art confiscated by the Nazis in 1942 from the Italian embassy in Berlin. Most of the rest are still in the museums of the Preussischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin.

A French court ruled in January that the Strasbourg museums must return a large, 1909 watercolour by Klimt which is the preparatory design for wall decorations in the Palais Stoclet, Brussels. It had disappeared under unknown circumstances during the war with the rest of the collection brought to Strasbourg for safekeeping by the Jewish Viennese dealer, Karl Grünwald. The director of the museums, Rodolphe Rapetit is basing his appeal against the court’s decision on the argument that it cannot be proven that the painting is war booty.