Jewish family presses Austria to return famed Klimt artwork

Austria is ready to return Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze to heirs of former owner if review supports their claim of forced knock-down sale price.

October 16, 2013 15:23
1 minute read.
Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze.

Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader)


Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

VIENNA - Austria is ready to return one of the country's most famous artworks to heirs of its former owner if a review supports their claim that he was forced to sell it at a knock-down price, the government said on Wednesday.

The case of Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze will test Austria's laws on restitution of looted art. It centers on the Lederer family, Jews who fled to Switzerland when Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938 and the family's extensive art collection was seized.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.

The collection included the monumental 1902 frieze, paying homage to the German composer's Ninth Symphony and now housed in a climate-controlled room at Vienna's Secession museum.

Erich Lederer got the mammoth work back after the war but with a hitch: Austria would let him export his other artworks only if he sold the frieze to the state at a discount price, family lawyer Marc Weber said.

The New York Times reported that he 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 fine art auctioneer Christie's. Weber confirmed the report.

An education, arts and culture ministry spokesman said an commission of researchers from major museums would look into the case and submit its findings to a restitution advisory panel.

That panel would make a recommendation to the culture minister, who would make a final decision. The spokesman did not say how long the case might last or judge its possible outcome.

"This is certainly a valuable work but that makes no difference to the process," spokesman Raimund Lang said.

He declined to describe the case as a potential loss for the country. "If the ownership is not legal then it will be returned. It is not an issue."

The Austrian government, which returned six works by Klimt's near contemporary Egon Schiele to Erich Lederer's heirs in 1999, amended its restitution law in 2009 to apply to property that was sold at a discount because of the export ban.

Weber said a dozen heirs were scattered around the world. He represented those in Switzerland. It remained to be seen what would happen to the work should the family win its demand.

Related Content

Joan Rivers
August 28, 2014
Joan Rivers rushed to hospital following throat surgery