Austrian museum to return Nazi-stolen Klimt

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The Independent Culture

An Austrian museum announced Thursday it will return a Gustav Klimt painting stolen by the Nazis and worth over 20 million euros, to the Canadian descendant of the previous Jewish owner.

Expert reports backed Georges Jorisch's claim to the 1915 painting "Litzlberg am Attersee" ("Litzlberg on the Attersee"), which had belonged to his Jewish grandmother Amalie Redlich, according to Salzburg's Museum of Modern Art.

The oil landscape, estimated to be worth between 20 and 30 million euros ($29-$44 million), was seized by the Nazi Gestapo secret police after Redlich was deported in 1941 and killed.

It was later bought by a local art collector and Nazi party member and eventually landed in the possession of various Salzburg museums.

The local assembly of Salzburg province, which owns the painting, still has to approve the restitution, but this was expected to go ahead without any problems, as evidence of ownership had been cleared.

"The conditions for a return of the painting to Amalie Redlich's rightful heirs have been fulfilled," deputy governor Wilfried Haslauer said in a statement.

"Therefore I will recommend that the Salzburg government return the artwork to Georges Jorisch."

A decision was expected on July 6.

While the province would like to hang on to the painting, that was unlikely.

"Of course we will try to negotiate the painting with the owner... but I have no illusions that we will be able to raise such a big sum of money," said Haslauer.

Jorisch, an 83-year-old retiree living in Montreal, is Redlich's only heir.

According to Haslauer, Jorisch wants to give a donation of "1.3 million euros" to the Salzburg museum from the proceeds of the sale of the artwork.

He already sold in 2010 another Klimt painting "Church at Cassone" which had been recovered in London.

The "Litzlberg am Attersee", depicting mountains bordering an Austrian lake, was painted by Klimt (1862-1918) in his final years. Respecting the principles of Art Nouveau, the painting was influenced by pointillism.

Under a 1998 restitution law, Austria has returned some 10,000 Nazi-stolen paintings to the descendants of their former owners.

Most notorious was the restitution of another painting by Austria's Klimt, the 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which the Austrian state was forced to return to the heirs of its previous owner in 2006, after a lengthy legal battle.

According to Haslauer, many more stolen paintings adorn Austrian living rooms: "If these pictures were owned by state museums, they would no doubt have to be returned," he noted.

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