National Gallery called on to seize Klimt painting

Museums Journal 30 October 2013
By Geraldine Kendall

Stolen art specialist says painting was looted by Nazis

A specialist in stolen art has claimed that a Klimt painting currently on loan to the National Gallery was looted by the Nazis and should be withheld from its lender.

The artist’s unfinished portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl is on loan from the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna and forms the centrepiece of the National Gallery’s latest exhibition, Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna.

But US lawyer E Randol Schoenberg has raised concerns on his blog about the provenance of the painting. Schoenberg, who has won several high-profile spoliation cases, said the painting’s original owner, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, was forced to flee Austria in 1938, leaving behind his entire property.

The artwork was listed in a Nazi inventory in 1939; after the war it came into possession of Amalie Zuckerlandl’s son-in-law and later the art dealer Vita Kuenstler, who donated it to the Austrian gallery on her death in 2001.

In 2006, an Austrian arbitration panel refused to return the painting to Bloch-Bauer’s heirs. Schoenberg, who worked on the case, claimed in his blog that evidence to support this denial was “non-existent” and said he believed the arbitrators came under pressure to withhold restitution after the nation’s loss of Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.

Schoenberg added: “Perhaps before the National Gallery returns the painting to the Austrian Gallery in Vienna, it should request a new determination by the Austrian art restitution advisory board. That way this misappropriated painting can finally be returned.”

The National Gallery said that the painting is immune from seizure and has a complete history of ownership from the beginning of the year 1933 to the end of the year 1945.

It said in a statement: "The National Gallery has both legal and ethical obligations to ensure a work can be borrowed for an exhibition. There are also a number of international agreements with which we need to comply."
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