Austria returns Nazi stolen art to French heirs

A painting stolen by the Nazis after the invasion of France during the Second World War has been returned to it’s rightful owner by authorities in Salzburg.

Austria returns Nazi stolen art to French heirs
Jeanne Pontillon à la capeline by Berthe Morisot. Photo: Museum der Moderne Salzburg

The artwork “Jeanne Pontillon à la capeline” by artist Berthe Morisot was painted in 1884 and belonged to the David-Weill family in France until it was stolen by the Nazis after the invasion in 1940.

The piece was since bought by gallery owner Friedrich Welz, who then donated his collection to the state-owned Museum der Moderne Salzburg.

According to the museum, Welz's “questionable role” in the Austrian art trade during the Nazi regime became obvious towards the end of the 1990s, leading to the institute carrying out provenance research on the collection.

After Salzburg researcher and historian Susanne Rolinek identified in 2009 that the painting was without doubt stolen artwork, the museum set about returning the piece to it’s rightful owner.

“That was very complicated,” said local Green politician Sepp Schellhorn responsible for art and culture in the region, speaking to the ORF. “There are twenty different heirs spread about in three different lands.”

This week in a ceremony in Salzburg the piece, worth today between €50,000 and €80,000, was handed to French gallery owner Elizabeth Royer-Grimblat who is representing the French heirs.

There have been several cases of Nazi-plundered artwork held in Austria being returned to owners in recent years.

A long dispute about five works from the artist Egon Shiele was finally resolved earlier this year after Vienna’s Leopold Museum agreed with the artwork’s rightful owner to return two pieces to her.

Experts say the latest case in Salzburg is somewhat unusual for Austria as efforts to reunite the artwork with it’s owner were led by Austrian authorities, rather than from the side of the heirs.

“In this case the province of Salzburg decided to give back the picture to it’s rightful owners,” said Royer-Grimblat.  “That is quite a rare case, because very often the rightful owners must themselves search in museums for stolen pictures.”

In a statement released by the regional government when the painting was first exposed as stolen, they said that they felt “obliged for moral and historical reasons” to return the work.

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London Tube gets covered-up versions of Schiele nudes after it deems the originals too racy

As the art world plans to celebrate the centenary of Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele's death, some of his nudes have been dubbed too racy to show in their full glory, not least in the London underground.

London Tube gets covered-up versions of Schiele nudes after it deems the originals too racy
Photo: Christian Lendl/Vienna Tourist Board/AFP
Austrian museums will next year host a series of exhibitions and events to mark the centenary of his passing but time has apparently not dimmed some of the prudish attitudes prevalent in his lifetime regarding his rawest works, Vienna Tourist Board director Norbert Kettner told AFP.
Two of his works — “Seated Male Nude (Self-Portrait),” from 1910, and his 1914 work “Girl With Orange Stockings,” appear with their genitals covered over after Transport for London found the uncensored originals beyond the pale.
Advertising hoardings in Germany have similarly covered the offending parts, even though the works were deliberately selected as “we wanted to raise a discussion and the theme of nudity seemed pertinent,” Kettner told AFP.
“The campaign was ready but when we came up with the first visuals we had several reactions of 'that won't do; regulations won't allow us to show genitalia,'” he explained after the London Tube and a German airport both complained.
“We had the green light for a very large format and, the day before they went up, agreement was withdrawn as an ethics committee felt (full nude versions) wouldn't be acceptable for an airport public” or patrons of London's underground trains.
The Viennese tourist office quickly revamped the pictures, covering up the offending organs and adding on the blotted out section the slogan, “SORRY, 100 years old but still too daring today.”
They have also added the hashtag #ToArtItsFreedom in London – a play on the “To every age its art. To every art its freedom” inscribed on the entrance of the Vienna Secession building housing the union of Austrian artists movement.
Kettner revealed that a Viennese display did not share the artistic-sexual qualms of the British or the Germans and had approved a “non-censored” version.
The prolific Schiele, born in 1890 and who died of Spanish flu aged 28, was not always popular in his homeland where some, notably in conservative circles, took a dim view of his vision of tortured eroticism.
Nonetheless, a retrospective of his work will see a number of exhibitions highlight his talents as well as those of his first mentor and Secession co-founder Gustav Klimt.