A man looks at photographs of Hungarian Jews held at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp during World War II.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
An Austrian auction house sparked a fierce row in that country’s art and legal worlds by planning to sell a painting stolen from a German Jewish art owner by the Nazis in 1943.
The painting was among hundreds of works which were seized from the family of Adolphe Schloss. Bartholomäus van der Helst’s “Portrait of Man” depicts a man with a look of nervous melancholy and has been valued at between $16,000 and $32,500.
The Im Kinsky auction house has declined to halt the sale. A senior management representative for the business, Ernst Ploil, told The Guardian that he wants to draw attention to the issue by putting the painting up for auction.
“Right now what we have is a legal mess. A clash of national laws across Europe leaves private art collectors exposed and I wanted to demonstrate that,” he said.
An offer to split the proceeds of the sale was rejected by the family’s attorney, Antoine Comte, who told The Washington Post: “It was not our idea that the Nazi crimes should be paid twice. If this were in France, it would be seized by the police and these people would be indicted. In Austria, the legal technicalities are not the same.”
Comte told the Guardian, “We want the painting back, with the admission that it was looted art. We will not accept, as has been suggested, that we buy it back ourselves or share the proceeds of the sale with the owner. Neither do we accept the owner could not have known it was looted. For years it has shown up on every database of stolen assets as well as on the Interpol register.
“As long as we don’t get the painting back that was unlawfully taken from the family, this amounts to an appalling continuation of Nazism and the crimes of Nazism. The Austrians fall back on their own legal system to say they are in the right, but they don’t give a damn about the moral aspect of this.”
Schloss collected 300 paintings by Dutch and Flemish artists during his time in France. Adolf Hitler directed that the collection be seized and wanted “Portrait of a Man” shown at his planned Führermuseum in Linz.
Schloss died in 1910, leaving the vast art collection to his family.
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