Heirs of Erich Lederer, whose family
fled Vienna when the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, have filed a
claim demanding the return of Gustav Klimt’s monumental 1902
“Beethoven Frieze,” the heirs’ lawyer said.
The “Beethoven Frieze” celebrates the German composer’s
Ninth Symphony. It was created for an exhibition and is today
one of the main attractions at the Secession building in Vienna.
The Lederer heirs entered their request with the Ministry
for Education, the Art and Culture under a law regulating
restitutions of Nazi-looted art, their lawyer Marc Weber of
Lanter Rechtsanwaelte in Zurich said by telephone.
“Through a change in the law, there’s a chance for the
heirs to ask for the frieze to be returned,” Weber said.
The restitution claim was possible only after the Austrian
law was broadened in 2009 to cover cases where previous owners
were forced to sell below value after World War II, Weber said.
Before that, heirs could only demand restitution if they had
received no compensation.
The frieze was seized by the Nazis and returned to the
Lederers after World War II. Yet the Austrian state only allowed
them to export other restituted artworks on condition they sold
the frieze to the state for the equivalent of $750,000, half the
value as estimated by Christie’s, according to the New York
Times, which first reported the filing.
The ministry hasn’t yet received the Lederer heirs’ filing
and will act on it according to the law once it does, spokesman
Raimund Lang said by telephone. The heirs’ claim has so far only
been reviewed under the pre-2009 law, so the frieze is among the
works due to be considered under the amendment, Lang said.
Austria was forced to relinquish five Klimt paintings in
2006 after a court ordered their return to Maria Altmann of
California, a descendant of the Bloch-Bauer family.
The works included the 1907 portrait known as “Golden
Adele,” which was seized by the Nazis in 1938 and later given
to the Belvedere art museum in Vienna. After the restitution, it
was bought by Ronald S. Lauder for $135 million for his Neue
Galerie in New York.