Vienna museum director quits in Nazi looted art row

Wed Oct 30, 2013 1:22pm EDT
 
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By Georgina Prodhan

VIENNA (Reuters) - The director of Vienna's Leopold Museum, home to extensive collections of work by Austrian artists such as Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, has quit in a row over Nazi-looted art.

Tobias Natter said he could no longer stay at the museum after some of its most senior staff joined a controversial new foundation associated with Klimt's illegitimate son, film director Gustav Ucicky, whose works included Nazi propaganda.

The so-called Klimt Foundation has 14 Klimt works - four oil paintings and 10 drawings. The ownership of at least one, a portrait of Gertrude Loew, has been disputed for years by her heirs, who say it was stolen by the Nazis and want it back.

The Leopold Museum has recently tried to open a new chapter in its history after fighting numerous claims and in some cases settling financially with heirs of the previous Jewish owners of art works stolen after Hitler's 1938 annexation of Austria.

Many were sold at auction in Vienna after 1945 and then bought from their new owners by Rudolf Leopold, who began amassing his collection in the 1950s and resisted restitution claims until his death in 2010.

The museum last year settled a claim over Schiele's "Houses by the Sea" with the heirs of Jenny Steiner, a silk factory owner whose valuable art collection was seized by the Nazi regime in 1938.

"It's a sad truth that for years the museum was known worldwide as being synonymous with looted art. Why should we besmirch ourselves with this theme again?" asked Natter in a telephone interview with Reuters.

Natter was director of the museum for just two years. His shows included "Naked Men", an exhibition which invited nudists to its opening night and became so popular that it later moved to Paris.   Continued...

 
Designated artistic director of Leopold Museum Tobias Natter attends a news conference in Vienna September 6, 2011. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer