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Museum should return Nazi-seized Klimt work: officials

A Nazi-looted Gustav Klimt painting worth more than $27 million should be returned to the Canadian heir of its former owner, officials in Austria say.
Officials say the Gustav Klimt painting Litzlberg am Attersee, now in an Austrian museum, was seized by the Nazis and must therefore be returned to the heir of its former owner. (Museum der Moderne Salzburg/Associated Press)

A Nazi-looted Gustav Klimt painting worth more than $27 million should be returned to the Canadian heir of its former owner, officials in Austria said Thursday.

Retired Montrealer Georges Jorisch, 83, had made a claim for Klimt's 1915 oil painting Litzlberg am Attersee (Litzlberg on the Attersee).

Estimated to be worth the equivalent of about $27 million to $41 million Cdn, the landscape painting is currently in the collection of Salzburg's museum of modern art.

Art experts analyzing the case traced the 96-year-old painting's origins and confirmed it had belonged to Jorisch's grandmother, Amalie Redlich, Salzburg Deputy Governor Wilfried Haslauer and museum head Toni Stooss told reporters on Thursday.

In 1941, the Nazis — who had annexed Austria three years earlier — deported the Jewish collector to Poland, where she died. They seized the Klimt painting from her apartment near Vienna and later sold it to a Salzburg art dealer. The oil painting made its way into the collection of the state gallery and, eventually, into the inventory of Salzburg's modern art museum.

"The conditions for a return of the painting to Amalie Redlich's rightful heirs have been fulfilled," Haslauer said. "Therefore I will recommend that the Salzburg government return the artwork to Georges Jorisch."

Government officials must still issue official approval of the recommended restitution, and are expected do so by July.

Jorisch's lawyer, Alfred J. Noll, praised the way the matter has been handled, including Salzburg museum officials who met personally with his client.

"In no other case have I experienced such openness and objectivity during the discussion of individual points," Noll told Austrian radio station Oe1.

Under a 1998 restitution law, Austria has returned thousands of paintings stolen by the Nazis to the descendants of their rightful owners. Among the most prominent cases was the restitution of five Klimt artworks, including the gold-leaf adorned 1907 masterpiece Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, to American Maria Altmann, the niece of the painting's subject.

With files from The Associated Press

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