Vienna Museum Insists Jewish Owner Willingly Sold Klimt's Beethoven Frieze for $750K

Kin Charge 'Cynical' Officials Pushed Sweetheart Deal


By Reuters

Published November 20, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The Viennese museum that houses one of Gustav Klimt’s greatest artworks says it has evidence that its previous Jewish owner sold it to the Austrian state in an amicable transaction, rather than too cheaply under duress.

The Secession museum is defending itself against a claim from some of the heirs of art collector Erich Lederer, who sold the monumental 1902 Beethoven Frieze to the state for $750,000 in 1973.

Lederer’s family, prominent collectors who were friendly with Klimt and fellow artist Egon Schiele, fled to Switzerland and Hungary after Hitler’s Germany annexed Austria in 1938, and their collection was seized by the Nazis.

The frieze was returned to Lederer after the war but, despite decades of trying, he was unable to export the rapidly deteriorating work to Switzerland because of a ban on exports of objects of historic, artistic or cultural significance.

He sold some works to the state in return for export licences for other paintings. But he was never reunited with the 2.15 metre by 34.1 metre (7 foot by 111 foot) frieze, a homage to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that was originally painted onto the wall of the Secession for an exhibition, and later kept in storage for decades, in eight pieces.

Last month, a lawyer acting for a Swiss branch of Lederer’s family said heirs were reclaiming the frieze because its sale had been effectively forced at too low a price.

The case is set to test Austria’s laws on restitution of looted art, which it amended in 2009 to include property that was acquired at a discount because of the export ban.

The discovery this month in Munich of a billion-dollar art hoard, much of it believed to have been looted or extorted by the Nazis, has reignited a debate over how Germany and Austria have dealt with restitution claims.

DETAILED DEFENCE

This week, the Secession published a detailed defence of Austria’s ownership of the frieze, including correspondence that it said showed Lederer had agreed freely to sell the work after the personal intervention of Chancellor Bruno Kreisky.

“I thank you … for your friendly lines,” Lederer wrote in 1970 to the newly elected chancellor, according to documents sent to Reuters by the historian Oliver Rathkolb, whose research formed part of the museum’s case.

“May I also thank you for that fact that you have personally taken on the case of the Klimt Frieze, especially as talks over the possible acquisition of the frieze have been going on since the year 1946 - which is 24 years, after all.”

The museum said Lederer had sold the frieze for a price “voluntarily negotiated by him and considered by him to be reasonable”.

Rathkolb, who has written books on Austria’s Nazi legacy, said that although Lederer was “absolutely badly treated, like many other Jewish victims and survivors”, things changed after Kreisky, himself of Jewish origin, became chancellor in 1970.

Rathkolb said the deal to sell the frieze was agreed in 1972 with Austria’s then science minister, Hertha Firnberg, over dinner at Lederer’s home in Geneva, at which Lederer gave Firnberg an original Klimt drawing as a thank-you gift.

Marc Weber, the lawyer for Lederer’s Swiss heirs, said the documents proved nothing, and that Lederer had sold only because he believed there was no chance of getting the frieze out of Austria.

He called the Secession’s argument “truly cynical”.

“The government had previously refused for decades to allow the export. Without signals to the contrary, Lederer, in making his decision to sell, must have assumed that Austria would not change its attitude on this decisive point,” he said.

A commission of art provenance experts will now look into the case and make recommendations to an advisory board on art restitution, probably next year. The final decision will be made by the minister of culture.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.