Family demands return of looted masterpiece

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The Independent Online

A British family is demanding the return from an Austrian gallery of a £10m painting stolen by the Nazis.

The painting belonged to Jenny Steiner, a Jewish widow and friend of the Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele. She fled Vienna in 1938 at the age of 74, but many of her belongings were seized by the Nazis before her maid could forward them to her in Paris. Among them was Schiele's Hauser am Meer, or Houses on the Lake, which hangs at the Leopold Museum in Vienna.

There is a dispute over whether the gallery is bound by a law on the return of looted art. Austria passed a law in 1998 allowing the return of looted art in public collections, but the Leopold Museum insists it is exempt as a private gallery.

Lord Janner of Braunstone QC, chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, will make an appeal on the family's behalf to the Austrian embassy. He said: "The Leopold collection is in theory private but it is totally government funded and half its directors are appointed by the government. The Schiele painting is in the Leopold collection because it enables them to pretend that it is not in government hands and therefore outside the law."

Lord Janner has asked Britain's minister for Europe, Denis MacShane, to intervene.