City to return looted painting to Jewish heir in Los Angeles

1945 9 March 2006

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- A painting by Austrian artist Albin Egger-Lienz and now in possession of a museum in the Alpine city of Lienz will be returned to the heirs of its owner, the mayor said Wednesday.

Lienz city officials voted unanimously late Tuesday to return the painting, "Totentanz" or "Dance of Death," to Herta Fox, the heir of an Austrian Jewish family now living Los Angeles.

"As of today the picture is hers to pick up," Lienz Mayor Johannes Hibler said in a telephone interview.

Hibler said the city had talked to Fox's lawyer about buying back the painting, but Lienz authorities want to make clear the painting now belongs to Fox and it is up to her to decide what to do with it.

"The ball is in her court," he said, adding that they had no intention of pressuring her to sell back the work, which she filed to recover in 2004.

Hibler said the painting is "one of the most important pictures in our collection," noting it was unique in that it was the only one out of a series of five that the artist painted on wood.

"From an art historical perspective it is very important and very important for our collection," Hibler said.
Lienz, a city in southwestern Austrian near the Italian border, has the world's largest collection of Egger-Lienz's work.

The painting is the seventh work by a famed Austrian artist to be returned in recent weeks under a 1998 restitution law mandating such action for art looted by the Nazis from predominantly Jewish owners.

In January, an arbitration court ruled that five paintings by Gustav Klimt - including one with an estimated value exceeding $120 million - must be returned by the National Gallery in Vienna to Maria Altmann of Beverly Hills, Calif.
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