France will return to a Jewish family a painting by Gustav Klimt which it had been looted in 1938 in Austria, after research which made it possible to trace a knowingly concealed history.
Roses under the trees of the Austrian master, painted around 1904-1905, will be returned to the family of Nora Stiasny, a victim of the Holocaust, French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot announced on Monday.
“In full agreement with the Prime Minister and the President of the Republic, we will launch the restitution procedure […] to its legitimate owners, the beneficiaries of Nora Stiasny “, she explained during a press conference at her ministry.
“For me, the restitution of looted Jewish property is an ardent obligation. […] It is the honor of the Republic to do this. The honor of France “, she asserted.
The recent opening of archives in Austria and the work of historians have made it possible to trace precisely the origin of this painting, long hidden by those who have erased all traces of this affair.
The canvas was purchased in 1911 by the Austrian Jewish collector Viktor Zuckerkandl, under the name of Roses (Rosen in German). She will wear others: Apple trees with roses and Landscapes.
She is owned by her niece Nora at the time of Ansch luss , in March 1938, when the Nazis came to power. In August of the same year, this 40-year-old woman, persecuted as a Jew, was ruined by the“aryanization of goods”, must comply with a forced sale for a ridiculous sum, six to fifty times less than its value according to testimonials and estimates.
The “key figure” in this spoliation is the artist Philipp Häusler, who had had a relationship with Nora Stiasny when they were young, and who had joined the Nazi party in Germany as early as 1933.
She died in 1942, with her husband and son, in occupied Poland, in the Izbica ghetto or in the Nazi camp in Belzec. He will be clever enough after the war to make people believe in his good faith.
In 1980, France in turn acquired Roses under the trees from a Swiss art gallery, so that it can join the future Musée d’Orsay in Paris, dedicated to the period 1848-1914. At that time, there was nothing to suggest a spoliation.
“Not a heartbreak”
“The decision we have taken is obviously difficult. It amounts to bringing out of the national collections a masterpiece which is also the only painting by Gustav Klimt that France owned.“, underlined the minister. “it’s not a heartbreak for me, quite the contrary”.
“The reconstruction of the course of this work until its acquisition […] was particularly difficult, due to the destruction of evidence and the erosion of family memory “, she stressed.
In 2018, the Austrian ambassador in Paris reported these discoveries to the museum. The family had made the request for restitution in 2019, which is expected to be successful soon.
The painting is for the moment inalienable by virtue of the law, since it belongs to the national collections. But “the government will present as soon as possible a bill intended to authorize the release of this work”, specified the minister.
This upcoming restitution is “for the family the equivalent of a miracle”, said Austrian expert Ruth Pleyer. “It is an incomparable gesture.”
The beneficiaries are the descendants of Nora Stiasny’s sister, Hermine Müller-Hofmann, who was able to escape the Holocaust in Bavaria.