Austria to return Klimt to heirs of Nazi victim

Mon Apr 20, 2009 6:23pm EDT
 
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VIENNA (Reuters) - The Austrian city of Linz has acted to return a masterpiece painted by Gustav Klimt to the heirs of a Jewish woman killed in the Nazi Holocaust.

Linz Mayor Franz Dobusch has recommended the painting of a woman, believed to be worth around 15 million euros ($19 million), be transferred from its Lentos art gallery to the descendants of Aranka Munk, the city said on Monday.

It cited the findings of an independent expert, Sophie Lillie, who confirmed the painting had been seized from Munk by the Nazis after she was deported to a concentration camp where she died in 1941.

The administrative commission of Linz museums and the city council were expected to rubber stamp the decision by June.

Vienna lawyer Alfred Noll applied in 2007 for the return of the 1911 painting of Munk's daughter Ria, which made its way into Linz's collection from an art dealer after World War Two.

The legal heir, who wished to remain anonymous, praised Monday's decision through Noll and thanked the Linz authorities.

"Although more than 60 years have gone by, the return of this family portrait is profoundly joyful. This shows Linz has become aware of its historical ... responsibility," the heir said in a statement.

Almost all the industrialist family's large art collection was lost to the Nazis in World War Two, the heir said.

A court order forced Austria to give back five Klimt paintings in 2006 to Maria Altmann of California, a descendant of a family from whom the works were seized by the Nazis in 1938 and later given to the Belvedere art museum in Vienna.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)