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Art Law Recent Developments in Art Litigation and Art Finance

Austrian Restitution Law Opens the Door to Return of Valuable Gustav Klimt Work

Posted in Art Recovery/Theft, Art Valuation, Litigation Issues, Valuation

In 2009 the restitution laws of Austria were amended to include works of art that were sold to the government at a discount due to an export ban on art.  In a recent case involving a valuable frieze inspired by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that was crafted by Gustav Klimt in 1902, a panel of art and cultural experts may elect to return the prized work to the heirs of Erich Lederer.  The Lederer family fled Austria during its Nazi occupation.  Following the war, in exchange for the sale of the frieze to the Austrian government at a 50% discount, Erich Lederer was permitted to export other artwork out of the country despite the export ban.  Now in 2013, the Lederer heirs have asserted an ownership interest in the frieze arguing that the sale to the Austrian government was the product of extortion.  It has been reported that the famous Klimt work was sold to the Austrian government in 1973 for $750,000 approximately half of its value at the time.  Klimt is one of Austria’s most famous artists (his best known work being The Kiss). I have always been intrigued by the phantasmagorical quality of Klimt’s work (and it doesn’t hurt being a redhead myself that he showcased redheaded women).  Although his artistry is a major tourist attraction, the change in the restitution laws in 2009 demonstrate a recognition that the cultural value of art cannot outweigh a rightful heir’s claim to art, especially work that was plundered by the Nazis during such a dark part of Europe’s history.