An interesting dispute is unfolding involving this terrific Klimt. It involves a sale of the work which was given at far below the market price in exchange for the export of other works of art. From the NYT:
The gold-painted frieze was owned by the Lederer family, wealthy Austrian Jews who were important patrons of Klimt’s. When the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938, the family escaped to Switzerland, but its extensive art collection was seized and its once formidable industrial empire bankrupted. Many of the family’s valuable works, including 18 Klimts, were destroyed in the final days of the war.
The mammoth frieze survived and was formally returned to Erich Lederer, the family heir, after the war. But there was a hitch. The Austrian government would grant him export licenses for his other artworks only if he sold the “Beethoven Frieze” to the state at a cut-rate price, Mr. Lederer’s heirs say.
In a 1972 letter to Bruno Kreisky, then the Austrian chancellor, Mr. Lederer complained about what he considered government extortion, writing that officials were “trying to force me to my knees” and thinking “why won’t he finally die, this LEDERER!”
Mr. Lederer finally agreed to sell the frieze to the government in 1973 for $750,000: half of its estimated worth at the time, according to an evaluation by Christie’s. Since 1986, it has been on view at the turn-of-the-century Secession gallery, where it was first shown at a 1902 exhibition named after Klimt’s breakthrough art movement.
Georg Graf, a law professor and restitution expert at the University of Salzburg, who is supporting the family’s claim, said, “While the Austrian Republic did formally return the artwork after the war, it ultimately forced Erich Lederer to sell it back in old age by upholding the export ban.”
In another spoliation story in today’s NY Times, A grandson of a woman who died in the Holocaust may be considering legal or other claims for this work, Blooming Meadow (1906) by Gustav Klimt. Georges Jorish is considering legal claims or seeking a settlement. It seems the impetus for the new claims is the publication of another catalogue raisonné, this one by Alfred Weidinger which states the painting belonged to Jorisch’s grandmother.
The work now belongs to Leonard Lauder, who purchased the work in 1983. Wouldn’t a legal claim have expired under the statute of limitations? Probably not. New York is one of the most generous jurisdictions in the world for original owners. A limitations period won’t begin to run in New York until a demand and refusal has been made. Other legal defenses may be available to Lauder if the claimant delayed, but here it seems Jorisch is considering a claim after new information.
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This new film, “The Rape of Europa” is just being released in New York this week, and should start to make the art house circuit soon. Metacritic seems to be giving the film good marks so far.
It details the spoliation by the Nazis, and the efforts of allied soldiers known as the monument men to track down the works. The theft was on such a grand scale that the issues are still fresh today. Poland and Germany have engaged in a very bitter dispute in recent weeks. The death of Bruno Lohse revealed he had been storing a looted Pissarro in a Swiss bank vault since the end of the war. The Altmann case and the Klimts are given a prominent role as well.
I am eager to see the film, but just watching this trailer I’m struck by how much more powerful images and music are than the articles I write. I can give an academic view, but seeing the works and the black and white pictures bring the story much more depth and emotion. Whether that produces better cultural policy solutions is questionable I think. Perhaps we are allowing emotion to cloud our judgment in some of these cases?
I haven’t seen the film of course, but we shouldn’t put the blame on Germany alone, though they do rightfully deserve the most criticism. The loss of art and antiquities is an inevitable part of conflict. Russian forces plundered countless works from East Germany, and allied bombs destroyed medieval buildings in Dresden and at Montecassino. An American GI also stole the Quedlinberg treasures, and his family was able to sell them back to the church in the 90’s. In the end, the movie should speak to a fundamental question which still plagues us: what is the value of cultural property? Is it essential to a people’s heritage? Is it worth sacrificing lives or other economic development?
An auction of Impressionist and other modern works in New York next month may become the most lucrative art auction ever, The Times Online reports. The November 8-9 auction could fetch $490 million. Four Klimts, including Adele Bloch-Bauer II (pictured here) are for sale, as well as a blue-period Picasso. The Times reports that the art market has not been this active since 1990.
The Klimts are from the Altmann collection, which was recovered from Austria last year after an arbitration ruling granted the heirs of Adele Bloch-Bauer the five pieces after a 7-year legal battle. The New York Times gives a background of the dispute in its story about another Bloch-Bauer portrait which fetched a record $135 million. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Bloch-Bauer fled, leaving all his possessions behind, and for the last 60 years, the works have hung in the Austrian National Gallery.
The legal dispute even reached the US Supreme Court, in Republic of Austria v. Altmann. That decision upheld lower court rulings which involved the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which grants foreign nations immunity from suits in US courts. The Court upheld an exception of FSIA which allows suits when property has been taken in violation of international law.
The Klimts are exceptionally valuable, and certainly Mrs. Altmann has an excellent claim to the works. However, in terms of the general public, do these works belong in Austria, where they were commissioned? Or are they just as worthy of hanging in a museum in the US? The question is moot I suppose, because the works are Mrs. Altmann’s to dispose of as she pleases. But are the works Austrian in character, such that they can only be fully appreciated in Austria? I think not. These are the arguments some antiquities experts make though in support of the return of antiquities to their source nation. I guess I’m not really sure why the argument should be any different between art or antiquities.
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