France will return its only painting by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt from its national collection to the rightful heirs of the Jewish family who was forced to sell it during the Nazi era.
“This decision to return a major artwork from the public collections illustrates our commitment to justice and to reparation for the looted families,” Culture Minister Roselyn Bachelot said at a press conference on March 15, describing the decision as “a difficult one,” but that it was an acknowledgment of the crimes that the Jewish family suffered.
“This decision is necessary, essential. Eighty-three years after the forced sale of this painting by Nora Stiasny, this is the accomplishment of an act of justice,” Bachelot said.
Austrian lawyer Alfred Noll, who represents the heirs of Stiasny, said at the press conference that the family was “very satisfied and very grateful.”
The Parliament will have to pass a bill to authorize the painting to be released from the national collection and to be returned to the family, which Bachelot said would be done as soon as possible.
According to Bachelot, Nora Stiasny, the original owner of the masterpiece “Rosiers sous les Arbres” (Rose Under the Trees), belonged to a well-known Austrian Jewish family and had inherited the painting from her uncle, Viktor Zuckerkandl who was an art collector. Stiasny was then forced to sell the painting at a knock-down price to financially survive a Nazi-annexed Austria in August 1938.
Stiasny was deported in Poland in 1942 and died that year.
The man who bought the painting and “instigated” the sale was a Nazi sympathizer and held onto it until his death in 1960, according to Bachelot.
The French state then bought the painting at an auction for the Musee d’Orsay in 1980, unaware of the painting’s history.
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