Thursday, March 16, 2006

LACMA to Exhibit Repatriated Klimts

Gustav Klimt
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
138 x 138 cm oil and gold on canvas 1907
Altmann Collection, Los Angeles

A legal arbitration panel in Austria recently decided that five Gustav Klimt paintings, stolen by the Nazis from a Jewish family during World War II, should be returned to Maria Altmann who lives in Los Angeles- the legal heir to the looted collection. The two sides began mediation following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that Altmann could sue the Austrian government.

It was announced today (thanks for the heads up Tyler), that the five paintings will go on display from April 4 through June 30 at LACMA. Suzanne Muchnic in the Los Angeles Times reports that "the exhibition was initiated by Stephanie Barron, LACMA's senior curator of modern art, in January after the Austrian arbitration court ordered its government to turn over the paintings to Altmann, ... Barron proposed the show in a letter to Altmann's attorney, Randol Schoenberg, who presented the idea to Altmann."

"LACMA was kind enough to offer, and I thought it was a beautiful thing," Maria Altmann said. "The paintings have been in Vienna for 68 years, and people in Europe saw them all the time. I thought it would be a beautiful thing to show them in this country."

“In gratitude to the City and County of Los Angeles,” stated Maria Altmann, “which provided me a home when I fled the Nazis, and whose courts enabled me to recover my family’s paintings at long last, I am very pleased that these wonderful paintings will be seen at LACMA. It was always the wish of my uncle and aunt to make their collection available to the public.”

Adele Bloch-Bauer, Maria Altmann’s aunt, was 26 in 1906 when Gustav Klimt painted her first portrait. After her death in 1925, all five paintings remained in the family. Adele Bloch-Bauer's will asked her husband to give the paintings to an Austrian museum. Adele’s husband fled to Switzerland in 1938. Shortly afterward, the Nazis took control of the Klimt paintings. After World War II, the paintings were exhibited in Vienna and temporarily became part of the Belvedere Gallery's Collection. The Altmann legal team argued that the Holocaust made Austria’s claim, to be the rightful owner of the paintings, moot. The recent decision by the arbitration panel in Austria stated that after the Nazis grabbed power in Austria, the family was no longer bound by the terms of the will.

Gustav Klimt
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II
190 x 120 cm oil on canvas 1912
Altmann Collection, Los Angeles

“We are extremely grateful to Maria Altmann and her family for sharing these iconic works with the people of Los Angeles,” said Michael Govan, who has recently been appointed LACMA’s Director. “These paintings are extraordinary examples from this rich period of art history and we are especially pleased to tell the story surrounding the family, its relationship to the artist, and their ownership of the paintings to our visitors from around the world.”

New director Michael Govan officially begins his tenure on April 1st. Not a bad way to begin.

More on the subject:

LACMA has an interesting page on their website on art provenance.
LACMA Provenance Page

Tyler Green and I both suggest Lynn Nicholas' "The Rape of Europa" which goes into great detail on the Nazi's "cultural rape and its aftermath".

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