According to a Guardian report, a painting stolen by the Nazis is set to be auctioned by the Im Kinsky auction house in Vienna next week. Van der Helst’s “Portrait of a Man,” a 17th century Dutch Master work, was stolen from the collection of Adolphe Schloss in 1943, a Jewish-German businessman who lived in France, whose collection has, according to the article, been described by the French foreign Ministry as “the last great Flemish and Dutch art collection to be assembled in the 19th century in France.”
The painting was purchased by a collector from a German art dealer in 2004. In Austria (and until recently, Germany) looted paintings can be legally purchased if purchased in “good faith,” and if legally purchased, those paintings can be legally sold. Ernst Ploil, an executive of Im Kinsky, asserts that he is justified in putting the work up for sale because he was legally allowed to do so, though he also asserts that “the main reason for going ahead with the auction was to highlight what he referred to as huge and damaging discrepancies in laws regarding the acquisition of stolen art by private parties” (which is akin to punching a person in the face to make a point about assault and battery laws).
The Schloss family, meanwhile, maintains that the painting could not possibly have been purchased in good faith because “For years it has shown up on every database of stolen assets as well as on the Interpol register.” They have been approached by Ploil and the owner of the artwork to establish some sort of agreement in regards to splitting the proceeds of the sale, but the Schloss family has stated that they will accept nothing less than the restitution of the painting.
For now, though, the Schloss family lawyer has said that there are no more legal channels in Austria through which to stop the sale.