Showing posts with label Klimt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Klimt. Show all posts

July 19, 2013

When is restitution a bad thing? The case of Melanesian wood carvings

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
 by Gustav Klimt. (1907).
 Neue Galerie, New York.
Source: Verity Algar

by Verity Algar, co-posting with Plundered Art

The Holocaust Art Restitution Project and other organisations aiming to restitute Holocaust-looted art to its rightful owners justifiably propose restitution to be a positive thing in this context. However, my research has shown that not all cultural groups want to re-possess their cultural heritage.

I recently spoke at the Association of Research into Crimes Against Art’s 5th Annual Conference, where I compared these two objects: the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt. (1907) and Malanggan from Northern New Ireland, Papua New Guinea (collected in 1890).

Malanggan, from Northern New Ireland,
Papua New Guinea. Collected in 1890.
 Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology,

Source: Verity Algar
Why would I compare a twentieth-century European painting with a nineteenth-century wood carving from Melanesia, I hear you say?! Well, by comparing these different objects, I wanted to point out that their original owners take vastly different approaches to the restitution of these objects. Let me explain.

In Jewish communities, generally, the original owners of the cultural objects and/or their heirs, feel the need to re-claim their objects in order to gain a sense of closure on a traumatic past. As the following excerpts demonstrate, the language of restitution claims suggest that the Holocaust is not truly over until looted art objects have been restituted:

“The return of stolen art may be one of the last acts of the Shoah”
(Dellheim 2000 cited in Glass 2004: 117)

“museums … are dealing with the unfinished business of the Holocaust”
(editorial, Seattle Times 16 June 1999)

“Austria will move closer to closing the book on a somber chapter in 20th-century history”
(Czernin 1998 cited in Glass 2004: 118)

The people of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea, on the other hand, do not wish for the malanggan which they themselves created, to be returned to them, despite malanggan being essential to their culture. This may initially seem puzzling because they can often take more than three months to carve (Küchler 2002: 1). Yet they are not made to be displayed, treasured and revered as much of the art confiscated by the Nazis was. Malanggan are displayed for a few hours during mortuary ceremonies, before being left to the elements to decompose (Küchler and Melion 1991: 29). As money became increasingly important in New Ireland, the sale of malanggan to Western collectors became an attractive alternative (Küchler and Melion 1991: 29). More than five thousand malanggan have been collected by Western museums (Küchler and Melion 1991: 27).  As other indigenous groups began to claim the objects that constituted their cultural memory from Western museums, the museums considered restituting the malanggan too.

This illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the significance of malanggan to Melanesian culture.  During the carving process, the sculpture is imbued with life force, which is “symbolically killed” when ownership of the malanggan is transferred from the deceased’s family to related kin in exchange for money (Küchler and Melion 1991: 32). The image of the malanggan, however, is preserved as cultural memory and is reproduced in future sculptures (Küchler and Melion 1991: 32). Susanne Küchler and Walter Melion refer to the conflicting status of memory surrounding malanggan practice as “strategic remembering and deliberate forgetting” (1991: 30). To restitute these objects to the people of New Ireland would be to rekindle a specific aspect of their cultural memory, thus interfering with the process of “deliberate forgetting”.

Whilst it is fundamentally important that organisations such as ARCA and HARP continue to support research into Holocaust-era looted art, it is equally important that we understand why restitution can be incredibly problematic for some groups of people. Far from interrupting or countering my pro-restitution tendency, the argument against the restitution of malanggan can run alongside this tendency. As a concept, restitution is neither good nor bad. Rather, decisions about whether or not to restitute cultural objects need to be made on a culture-specific basis.

Verity Algar is a second year BA in History of Art student at University College London, where she minors in Anthropology. She recently spoke on ‘Cultural memory and the restitution of cultural property: Comparing Nazi-looted art and Melanesian malanggan’ at the Association of Research into Crimes Against Art’s 5th Annual Conference. She is hoping to complete the ARCA Postgraduate Certificate before working in a field relating to cultural heritage protection.

October 22, 2012

"Lady in Gold" author Anne-Marie O'Connor spoke of "an age of restitution" in Nazi-looted art disputes at Rutgers University

by Kirsten Hower, ARCA Correspondent

In the eventful weekend of the annual CHAPS Conference at Rutgers University, I could not help but be interested in the multitude of flyers posted in Voorhees Hall announcing upcoming talks and events.  Of particular interest was an announcement for a talk given by Anne-Marie O’Connor on her book The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.”  So after enjoying a weekend long conference, I made my way back to New Brunswick to hear O’Connor speak about her recounting of the history of Klimt’s painting.

Standing in a small classroom, Anne-Marie O’Connor gave a brief account of the history of The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer and the restitution case concluded only a few years ago.  In an almost disarmingly candid manner, O’Connor told the tale that was “not just a restitution of art but a restitution of history,” sparking discussions of the issues surrounding restitution during the following question period.  The case of this particular painting opened the door on restitution of Nazi-era looted art, ushering in, as O’Connor dubbed it, “an age of restitution.”  An appropriate name since the Hague will be hosting an international symposium on “Fair and Just Solutions? Alternatives to litigation in Nazi looted art disputes, status quo and new developments” on November 27, 2012.  As more restitution cases come to light, more undiscovered histories, like those recounted in The Lady in Gold, are laid out for the world to discover.

If you have not read O’Connor’s book, please see Catherine Schofield Sezgin’s review of the book (in three parts) and hunt down a copy of the book to enjoy the complex and extraordinary tale of this painting.

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2012: Review of Anne-Marie O'Connor's "The Lady in Gold: Extraordinary Tale of the Klimt Paintings"

In the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Catherine Sezgin reviews Anne-Marie O'Connor's The Lady in Gold: Extraordinary Tale of the Klimt Paintings (Knopf, 2012):
In 1907, Gustav Klimt finished the portrait of 24-year-old Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of a wealthy art patron who lived across the square from Vienna's Fine Art Academy.  In the same year, that same art school would reject Adolf Hitler's application for admission because he failed the drawing exam.  More than three decades later, these two events collided when a Nazi stole this portrait from the home of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jew who had fled Europe's great cultural center when Austria united with Hitler's fascist regime.
In Lady in Gold, the Extraordinary Tale of the Klimt Paintings, journalist Anne-Marie O'Connor tells the story of Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which would sell for $135 million to an American in 2007.  O'Connor first describes the relationship between Klimt, his Jewish art patrons, and the cultural environment in pre-Nazi Austria.  From the point of view of the Bloch-Bauer family we are told of the collaboration between Austria and the German Nazis to loot Jewish art collections.  The book concludes with the legal struggles of American attorney Randy Schoenberg to navigate the U. S. legal system and help Maria Altmann and the other surviving members of the Bloch-Bauer family to recovery four stolen Klimt paintings.  It's a story of how a legitimate government corrupted legislation to steal from, and murder, its own citizens.
Against the backdrop of the murder of 6 million Jews, restitution of stolen art may seem unimportant, especially as newspapers today sport headlines of Jewish families recovering and then selling artworks for millions of dollars.  Why is it so important that these paintings are returned to the families now? Weren't these issues of restitution settled decades ago when Allied forces discovered stolen art in the salt mines of Germany after the war? And why does the American legal system have to get involved in these cases, almost seven decades after armistice? Isn't this a metter for the government of Austria to decide? Lady in Gold answers these questions.
You may read this review by subscribing to The Journal of Art Crime through the ARCA website.

June 19, 2012

Book Review (Part III): Anne-Marie O'Connor's "Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Baur

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

In June, 1908, Klimt unveiled his gold portrait of the 26-year-old Adele, making her an ‘instant celebrity’ (O’Connor):

‘Klimt embedded Adele in a luminous field of real gold leaf, giving her the appearance of a religious icon, which art historians would compare to the mosaic portrait of Empress Theodora in Ravenna.’

Three years later, a syphilis-ridden Klimt visits the Bloch-Bauer castle in Czechloslovakia to work on a second portrait of Adele that he shows in 1912:

 ‘It was a very different work.  Her expression was mature, direct, and anything but seductive.  This was an older Adele, with world-weary eyes and cigarette-stained teeth, a painting some would call evidence of the end of the affair.’ (O’Connor)

Adele and her husband would also own four Klimt landscapes, including the 1912 “Apple Tree”.

In 1913, Hitler left Vienna.  The following year, an anarchist shot the Archduke Franz Ferdinand outside of his residence at the Belvedere Palace, a random act that would lead to The Great War, and the death of millions of young men.

Klimt dies of Spanish influenza in 1918 at the age of fifty-five, a few months before Armistice Day which reduces the Habsburg’s empire from 60 million to a tenth of that population and squeezed into a debt-ridden new state.

Until Adele’s death of meningitis in her early 40s, she lives a prominent cultural life filled with intellectuals, Viennese composers and artists.  In 1923, Adele wrote in a short will: “I ask my husband after his death, to leave my two portraits and the four landscapes by Gustav Klimt to the Austrian Gallery in Vienna.” (O’Connor) In another strange parallel, it is the same year Hitler writes “Mein Kampf (My Struggle)”, ‘the bestseller he wrote from prison after his failed uprising in 1923’ (O’Connor).

Within 15 years, when Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer flees Austria to his summer home in Czechloslovakia prior to the unification of Germany and Austria, the Vienna Adele knew is unrecognizable.  Members of the extended family are arrested, jailed and tortured until valuable assets are signed over to the Nazi government.  Relatives pay a “flight tax” to escape to Canada ahead of deportation to concentration camps.  Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer is accused of financial crimes, his assets are ‘illegally taxed in Vienna and his entire estate was confiscated’ as he will write in his will in 1942.  Ferdinand dies in November of 1945 in Zurich.  He was unable to recovery any of his property.  His estate is left to three of his nieces and nephews, including 25% to Maria Altmann who will lead the family’s fight for the legal return of the stolen Klimt paintings.

After the war, as some say, many Nazis exchanged their uniforms for suits and went to work to rebuilding Austria.  New legislation discouraged Jews from returning to reclaim stolen property.  Export licenses for ‘masterpieces’ were withheld, Jewish owners had to pay to get what was left of their businesses.  O’Connor describes how Nazis in plainclothes entered Maria Altmann’s home, took her valuables, and imprisoned her husband at the infamous concentration camp, Dachau, until the family completed the paperwork required to Aryanize their property and businesses.

Maria, her husband Fritz, and other family members escape the Nazis and rebuild their lives, frustrated that the Bloch-Bauer Klimt paintings hang at Belvedere Palace with no mention of their Jewish patronage.  Then the District Attorney of New York City impounds a painting borrowed for an exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from an Austrian Art Institution (see review of the film “Portrait of Wally”).  Maria Altmann, now a widow in her 80s and living in Los Angeles, contacts “Randy” the lawyer son of a family friend.  Randal Schoenberg spends years beating the odds with legal arguments, working his way into arbitration with the Austrian government who eventually agrees to return to the paintings to the family.  O’Connor explains why Schoenberg was successful, how Maria Altmann helped the case, and why the family ended up selling the paintings.  It’s a story that will hopefully encourage more Jewish families to pursue their own claims for looted art.

June 18, 2012

Book Review (Part II): Anne-Marie O'Connor's "Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

In 1898, 17-year-old Adele, the daughter of Viennese banker Moritz Bauer, meets her future husband Ferdinand Bloch when her older sister Therese marries Ferdinand’s younger brother.  A few months later, an anarchist murders the free-spirited Empress Elisabeth, much admired by most of the Hapsburgs’ Austro-Hungarian Empire for her love of horses and her reluctance to participate in royal court politics.  An era of stability is ending.  A middle-aged Gustav Klimt, who is about to alienate his government sponsors, opens a ‘palace dedicated to Art Nouveau on the Ringstrasse’ for a group dubbed the Secessionists who wrote above the entrance “to every age its art; to art its freedom”.

A year later, Adele marries Ferdinand, a man twice her age but not the ladies’ man Klimt is reputed to be, at the same time Sigmund Freud publishes “The Interpretation of Dreams”, ‘his anatomy of the unconscious impulses driving individuals and society’ (O’Connor).

The next year Klimt, a favored court painter, shows the first of three ceiling murals for the University of Vienna, failing to please the authorities in the next few years with his decade portrayals on the themes of Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence.  ‘Jewish families were assimilating in Vienna through art and culture’, as characterized by writer Karl Kraus.  It was these Jewish patrons who financially support Klimt when the Ministry of Culture rejects Klimt for a professorship at the Academy of Fine Arts.

Although Klimt is not commissioned to paint Adele’s portrait until 1903, his 1901 portrait of Judith ‘bears an almost photographic resemblance to Adele’ (O’Connor), leading to support that Klimt may have known Adele earlier and may have had an intimate relationship with her.  Klimt’s Judith is one of the masterpieces highlighted at Austria’s national art collection at the Belvedere Palace.  ‘A Klimt commission at the time cost 4,000 crowns, a quarter of the price of a well-appointed country villa’ (O’Connor):

‘Klimt portrayed women as individuals, without the presence of a husband, father, or children to suggest their domestic role…. They soon gained the reputation of having an affair with the master who was so infamous with his amours.”

A few months after agreeing to the Bloch-Bauer portrait, Klimt traveled to Ravenna to study the sixth-century mosaics ‘the greatest legacies of the Byzantine art outside Constantinople’ (O’Connor), which include portraits of the childless and powerful Empress Theodora, courtesan and wife of Justinian.  The mosaics include the use of gold tiles, the material Klimt grew up studying at the workshop of his father, an engraver who worked on the city’s monuments.  Upon Klimt’s return to his studio in Vienna, he began sketching another childless woman, the restless, ambitious and intelligent Adele Bloch-Bauer.  Klimt’s reputation for seducing many women and Adele’s unromantic marriage had led to rumors of a sexual relationship between artist and subject, according to O’Connor’s interviews half a century later with Adele’s niece, Maria Altmann:

“So when Adele went to Klimt’s studio that winter, she faced the possibility of failure as a woman.  No one ever believed Adele was in love with Ferdinand.  But she was expected to feel lucky, or at least content.  Instead, she struggled with sobering disappointment.’ ‘Klimt made endless sketches of Adele.’ ‘He would make more than a hundred studies of Adele.’

Klimt painted Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I from 1904 to 1907.  He also painted Danae and The Kiss (both now at the Belvedere) in 1907, the same year struggling artist Adolf Hitler moves to Vienna and lives in a ‘hostel financed with large donations from Baron Nathaniel Rothschild and the Gutmanns’ (O’Connor).  While only a Jewish owner of a frame and window store, Samuel Morgenstern, purchased Hitler’s drawings and watercolors, the artist became ‘fascinated’ by ‘the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Karl Lueger [Vienna’s elected mayor] … who was able to focus popular discontent on the liberal Jewish intelligentsia’ (O’Connor).

Part Three continues tomorrow.

June 17, 2012

Book Review (Part I): Anne-Marie O'Connor's "Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

By Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

In 1907 prosperous Vienna, the great cultural center of Europe, two events happened which would not collide for another three decades.  Gustav Klimt would fulfill a commission to paint the portrait of 24-year-old Adele Bloch-Bauer, who lived across the square from Vienna’s Fine Art Academy, the art school which would in that same year reject Adolf Hitler’s for admission because he failed the drawing exam.

In Lady in Gold, the Extraordinary Tale of the Klimt paintings, journalist Anne-Marie O’Connor tells the extraordinary story of The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I which would sell for $135 million to an American in 2007.  O’Connor first describes the relationship between Klimt, his Jewish art patrons, and the cultural environment in pre-Nazi Austria. From the point of view of the Bloch-Bauer family is told of the collaboration between Austria and the German Nazis to loot Jewish art collections.  The book concludes with the legal struggles of American attorney Randy Schoenberg to navigate the U. S. legal system to help Maria Altmann and the other surviving members of the Bloch-Bauer family to recover four stolen Klimt paintings.  It’s a story of how a legitimate government corrupted legislation to steal from and murder its own citizens.

Within a decade, the Nazis succeeded in destroying the Jewish community Austrian-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef (ruled from 1848-1916) created in Vienna by providing citizenship rights to European Jews in the 19th century – offering them a sanctuary from discrimination and persecution that stretched to the hinterlands of Russia.  The Jewish population in Vienna rapidly increased from 6,000 to more than 200,000 in less than 40 years, creating dissention in the anti-Semitic mostly Roman Catholic population.  Vienna, against the wishes of Franz Joseph, elected an anti-Semitic mayor for two decades who served in effect as a political mentor for Hitler.  After the Second World War, less Jews lived in Austria than had a century ago and they had no intention of returning to a country that treated them less favorably than its population of horses.

Against the backdrop of the murder of 6 million Jews, restitution of stolen art may seem unimportant, especially as newspapers today sport headlines of Jewish families recovering then selling artworks for millions of dollars.  Why is it so important that these paintings are returned to the families now? Weren’t these issues of restitution settled decades ago when Allied forces discovered stolen art in the salt mines of Germany after the war? And why does the American legal system have to get involved in these cases almost seven decades after armistice? Isn’t this a matter for the government of Austria to decide? Lady in Gold answers these questions.

Vienna at the turn of the 20th century was hedonistic.  In 1889, the Crown Prince shot his teenage mistress then himself in 1889.  The Emperor’s mistress was a stage actress.  In 1897, American writer Mark Twain publicly lectured about the virulent anti-Semitism palpable in the Vienna, the city rebuilding itself after successfully defeating Ottoman invaders a half century earlier.  The old fortress walls came down and the Ringstrasse, a series of boulevards encircling the center of Vienna arose, providing an opportunity for Vienna’s nuveau riche, many of them Jewish, to celebrate their financial and industrial wealth with monumental mansions and beautiful decorative arts.  Even statues fronting public buildings glisten with gold.

Part Two continues tomorrow.

June 14, 2012

Destroyed in WWII: Klimt's "Schubert at the Piano" (1899)

Gustav Klimt's "Schubert at the Piano", 1899
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

Mizzi Zimmerman was the red-haired teenager in Gustav Klimt's 1899 painting, Schubert at the Piano.  In Anne-Marie O'Connor's 2012 book, Lady in Gold, the journalist mentions this work in describing the seduction powers of the artist.  In this painting of the Austrian composer, Mizzi is pregnant with Klimt's son.  The 'whispery silk gown' Mizzi models is lent by Serena Lederer, a wealthy Viennese art patron who collected 14 of Klimt's paintings, including a portrait by Klimt of Egon Schiele's mistress, Valerie Neuzil.

Mizzi also posed nude for another of the artist's works, Naked Truth, but Klimt had no intention of marrying the pregnant Catholic girl, O'Connor writes.  Klimt, who had also impregnated another woman at the same time, told Mizzi that he would be focusing his energies on a big commission to paint ceiling murals for the University of Vienna -- Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence.   Mizzi told her mother of her pregnancy, O'Connor reports: her stepfather threw Mizzi out of the house and she begged the artist for financial support.

But we can't see Schubert at the Piano in any museum.  This and the other Klimt paintings collected by Lederer, were destroyed in 1945 when retreating Nazis set Schloss Immendorf on fire.  The paintings from the Lederer collection had been placed at the residence of Baron Rudolf Freudenthan, an officer in the Wehrmacht (German armed forces), for safekeeping in 1943.  O'Connor recounts that the Lederer Klimt collection of "as many as fourteen spectacular Klimt paintings" included Golden Apple Tree, Philosophy and Jurisprudence (which the Lederers had purchased when the University of Vienna rejected them), Girl Friends and Music II ("The precise number of paintings burned at Schloss Immendorf is unknown, O'Connor notes).

March 8, 2012

Lecture: Former LA Times Reporter Anne-Marie O'Connor Discussed Maria Altmann's Tale of Recovering Five Klimt Paintings from Austria at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog editor

Los Angeles - Tuesday night, across from the 405 Freeway where Bill Cosby's son Ennis was murdered while changing a tire in 1997, dozens of people were refused admittance to the lecture hall at the Skirball Center where Washington Post Correspondent Anne-Marie O'Connor was set to discuss her book, The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece (Knopf, 2012).

The Skirball Cultural Center, located just north of the Getty Center in Brentwood, is a difficult to reach institution so when people who had stood in line with reservations were refused admittance, you could hear stringent complaints to Zócalo Public Square that overbooked the free event.  Some people bought the hardcover copy of the book from the representative from Book Soup, who was redacting words on recycled paper to write poetry, and others left for dinner.  It's not easy to drive in evening traffic through either San Fernando Valley or Los Angeles on $5/gallon gas to be turned away from a must-see event.

I am telling you all of this so that you can understand the overwhelming interest in this fascinating book that Ms. O'Connor diligently worked on for years and quickly direct you to more efficient coverage of the material.  This is the story of life in Vienna before and during World War II; the beautiful Adele Bloch-Bauer, the subject of the painting; and the artist, Gustav Klimt, who grew up in poverty because his father couldn't make enough money engraving in gold.  O'Connor writes of the theft of the painting from the Jewish family that owned it, how the anti-Semetic government hid the identity of the portrait sitter, and Randy Schoenberg's stubborn fight for Adele's niece, Maria Altmann, to regain ownership of her family's paintings more than 50 years after the Nazis had stolen them.

Zócalo Public Square has posted a review of the lecture, photos and a video of the event here
KPCC's recent interview with the author is here; and you can read a book review in the Christian Science Monitor about this "epic" story.

November 7, 2011

Art Restitution: Klimt painting sold for $40.4m after being returned to owner's grandson

Klimt's "Litzlberg on the Attersee" 1918
by Catherine Schofiled Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

BBC News (online) reported 'Klimt painting fetches $40.4m' when a 1915 landscape of a lake in western Austria ("Litzlberg on the Attersee") by Gustav Klimt was sold by Sotheby's in New York City.

In July the Museum of Modern Art in Saltzburg in Austria returned the painting stolen from Amalie Redlich in 1941 to her 83-year-old grandson, Georges Jorisch, now living in Montreal.

"The Austrian law calls for restitution," Marc Masurovsky, co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, responded in an email.  "That means the object is physically returned to the rightful owner.  The position of the Salzburg Museum, much like that of the Leopold Foundation in Vienna, is to reject outright restitution in favor of financial settlements, which allow them to retain title to the claimed object. Ideologically speaking, that stance runs counter to the principle of restitution.  Hence, I would not hail this moment as a victory for restitution but rather as the outcome of an arduous negotiation between an auction house, a claimant, and an Austrian museum, which led to a financial settlement."

You may read more about this case as reported by the CBC, "Nazi-looted Klimt sells for $40" which includes a video and an image of the only descendent of the painting's owners sitting down in his chair at the painting's auction.  CBC concludes it's segment by mentioning that many of the proceeds from the painting's sale will be used to build a new wing at the Saltzburg museum to be named after Amalie Redlich who was murdered after her deportation from Vienna.

July 21, 2011

Thursday, July 21, 2011 - ,, No comments

Judge Arthur Tompkins on Gustav Klimt's "The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer"

by Judge Arthur Tompkins

The luminous Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer now hangs in the Neue Galerie, on New York’s Fifth Avenue. How it got there is quite a story.

The dispute over this portrait, together with others owned originally by Ferdinand Bloch and his wife Adele Bloch-Bauer, and in keeping with many similar private law restitutionary struggles, was resolved only after a long, tortuous, expensive and emotionally draining process. It involved, over many decades, the Austrian national courts, the United States courts all the way to the United States’ Supreme Court, and finally an Arbitration Panel agreed to by both sides. Some 65 years passed between the unlawful passing of the painting to the Austrian National Gallery in 1941 and the return of the paintings to Maria Altmann in early 2006.

Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer was, before World War II, a wealthy Czech industrialist, and president of the Österreichische Zuckerindustrie AG, a major sugar company. He commissioned a portrait of his wife from Gustav Klimt, and after about a year’s work, the golden, shimmery portrait was delivered in 1907. Adele died in 1925, from meningitis, and in her will, “requested” Ferdinand to leave the Klimt paintings the couple owned to the Austrian National Gallery.

Ferdinand fled Austria in 1938, and the invading Nazis confiscated both his businesses and the Bloch-Bauer’s home, containing the portrait and the other Klimt paintings. They assessed spurious “taxes” as being owed, thus triggering liquidation of the assets. An attorney was appointed, and unlawfully he sold or swapped the paintings, with three, including the Portrait, ending up with the Austrian Gallery.

Ferdinand died in Switzerland in 1945, and, understandably, by his will he did not leave the Klimt portraits to the Gallery. Two nieces and a nephew, including Maria Altmann who by that time was living in the Los Angeles, were his heirs. His estate consisted mainly of claims to seized property.

The Case Summary prepared for the later Arbitral proceedings recorded:
In January 1948, the heirs’ attorney, Dr. Gustav Rinesch, attempted to recover some of the Klimt paintings from the Austrian Gallery. The Austrian Gallery responded by taking the position that the paintings were donated by Adele Bloch-Bauer in her will of 1923, which designated her husband as her universal heir and requested that he donate six Klimt paintings to the Austrian Gallery after his death.
However, according to the legal proceedings which followed Adele’s death in 1925, Ferdinand stated that the paintings were his, and not his wife’s, property and that he was not legally obligated to fulfill the wishes expressed in her will, although he allegedly promised to do so.

Despite efforts by and on behalf of the heirs over the years, the three paintings, by now held by the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna, remained there through until the late 1990s, and as Simon Houpt notes,
“ ... became synonymous with Viennese culture and Austrian pride, especially Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which has been reprinted endlessly on T-shirts, postcards, and dormitory room posters. It seemed fruitless to Maria Altmann [Ferdinand’s niece] and the other Bloch-Bauer heirs to put up a fight.”
But the legal landscape changed in 1998. The Austrian Parliament passed legislation,
“ ... requiring all federal museums to ensure their holdings were free of art illegally seized during the war.”
As a resident of California, and frustrated by procedural and technical delays and obstacles which had stalled her Austrian legal proceedings, Altmann sued in the US Courts, and ultimately, the Supreme Court held that she was not barred from suing the Austria by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. However, the case did not proceed to trial in the US as in May 2005 the family and Austria agreed to arbitration in Austria.

Thus the case came to be decided before an Austrian arbitral tribunal, governed by Austrian law and procedure. The Tribunal concluded:
1. The Republic of Austria acquired ownership of the paintings by Gustav
Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Adele Bloch-Bauer II, Apfelbaum,
Buchenwald/Birkenwald, and Häuser in Unterach am Attersee by virtue of
the settlement with the representative of the heirs of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer,
Dr. Gustav Rinesch, in 1948. 
2. The conditions of the Federal Act Regarding the Restitution of Artworks
from Austrian Federal Museums and Collections dated 4th December 1998,
... for the return of the five paintings indicated above without remuneration to the heirs of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer are fulfilled.
The Tribunal accepted that Adele’s will, by which she left the paintings to her husband, with a wish that after his death, they be left to the Austrian nation, was a non-binding request :
“I ask my husband after his death to leave my two portraits and the four landscapes by Gustav Klimt to the Austrian State Gallery in Vienna and to leave the Vienna and Jungfer, Brezan library, which belongs to me, to the People’s and Workers’ Library of Vienna."
Therefore, Austria could not have acquired title to the paintings via her will. Title was not acquired through other available means, and given that the requirements of the Austrian statute were fulfilled, the paintings should be, and were, returned.

Although the ruling was initially greeted with some concern as to its narrowness of application, it was subsequently viewed:
“ ... as a pivotal Holocaust reparations case, ... Having litigated all the way to the Supreme Court prior to arbitration, Altmann established the United States civil litigation system as an acceptable platform for Nazi looted-art cases.”
Left, Neue Galerie director Renee Price.
 Seated, Maria Altmann,
Adele Bloch-Bauer's niece.
"These paintings stolen from Jewish homes are the last prisoners of World War II. I believe more art will be returned to its rightful owners," said art collector and Neue Galerie founder Ronald Lauder, who purchased "Adele Bloch-Bauer II" in June for the museum. 

Maria Altmann sold the Adele Bloch-Bauer I portrait in 2006 to the Neue Galerie Museum in New York, founded by Ronald Lauder and dedicated to German and Austrian Art, and which plays a prominent role in provenance research, including issues relating to “Jewish life and post-Nazi restitution issues.” The portrait is a centre piece of its collection.

The carefully worded provenance statement from the Museum’s website hints at the storied tragedies of the painting’s history:

Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, Vienna (Acquired from the artist).
Seized by the Viennese Magistrate (following the Nazi Anschluss, March 1938).
With Dr. Erich Führer, Vienna (the state-appointed administrator for Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer).
Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.
Restituted to the heirs of Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer by the Republic of Austria. Neue Galerie New York.”
The Neue Gallery
The Gallery’s website is at:

February 23, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime: Noah Charney on "The Art We Must Protect: Top Ten Must-See Artworks in Belgium"

In the fourth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, ARCA founder Noah Charney writes about "The Art We Must Protect: Top Ten Must-See Artworks in Belgium."

Mr. Charney proves history and context for the following artworks: Jean Fouquet's "Madonna and Child" at the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Royal Museum of Fine Arts) in Antwerp; Hugo van der Goes' "Death of the Virgin" at the Groeninge Museum in Bruges; Jan van Eyck's "The Ghent Altarpiece" at the Sint Baafskathedraal (St. Bravo's Cathedral) in Ghent; Peter Paul Rubens' "The Raising of the Cross" at the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady) in Antwerp; Hans Memling's "Shrine of St. Ursula" at the Memling Museum in Bruges; Hieronymous Bosch's "Christ Carrying the Cross" at the Ghent Museum of Art, MSK Ghent; the Palais Stoclet in Brussels designed by Josef Hoffman and Gustav Klimt; Rene Magritte's "Empire of Lights" and Jacques-Louis David's "Death of Marat" at the Royal Museum of Art in Brussels; and Paul Delvaux's "Nos Vieux Trams Buxellois" at the Bourse Metro Station in Brussels.

In his column on February 3, 2011, "The Secret History of Art" for ARTINFO, Noah Charney highlights Fouquet's "Madonna and Child".

To seek out this piece, and many others, consider a subscription to the Journal of Art Crime—the first peer-reviewed academic journal covering art and heritage crime. ARCA publishes two volumes annually in the Spring and Fall. Individual, Institutional, electronic and printed versions are all available, with subscriptions as low as 30 Euros. All proceeds go to ARCA's nonprofit research and education initiatives. Please see the publications page for more information.