France to return Klimt painting sold during Nazi era to Jewish heirs

Written by Antonella FranciniAmy Woodyatt, CNN

France will return a painting by artist Gustav Klimt to the heirs of a Jewish family who were forced to sell the work of art during World War II.

The painting, bought by the French state in 1980, was kept in the French Musée d’Orsay, one of the leading museums in Paris.

It previously belonged to Nora Stiasny, who lived in Purkersdorf near Vienna.

Austria was annexed by the Nazis during the Anschluss in 1938. Stiasny’s property was gradually confiscated, and in August of that year she had to sell her painting – now titled “Rosiers sous les Arbres” or “Rose Bushes Under the Trees” – to a friend at a reduced price in order to survive, France said Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot.

In April 1942, Stiasny and her mother Amalie were deported and killed in Nazi-occupied Poland, the Izbica ghetto, or the nearby Belzec extermination camp, Bachelot said. Stiasny’s husband Paul and her son Otto were deported to the Theresienstadt camp near Prague and then to Auschwitz.

French culture minister Roselyne Bachelot said the painting's return was France

French culture minister Roselyne Bachelot said the return of the painting was France’s “deep duty”. Recognition: Alain Jocard / Pool / AFP / Getty Images

In 2019, the French Ministry of Culture tried to identify stolen works in its collections.

Bachelot said that after a lengthy process of identifying the artwork’s original owners, the painting would be returned to Stiasny’s descendants.

She added that the return of confiscated Jewish property was France’s “deep duty”.

“The decision we have made is obviously difficult. It means getting a masterpiece out of the national collections that is also the only painting by Gustav Klimt that France owned,” she said.

“It’s not a heartache for me, on the contrary,” she said.

“We know that the persecution of the Jews has taken many forms. Very often before the methodical elimination, before the extermination, there were thefts of the goods of the Jews who were ordered to give up everything.”

Klimt was born in Austria in 1862 and was one of the founding members of the painting school known as the Vienna Secession, an avant-garde group of artists around the turn of the century.

The artist is perhaps best known for his painting “The Kiss”, one of the most famous works in the world.

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