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Heirs Claim Nazi-Looted Klimt From Austria, Lawyer Says

Gustav Klimt
A detail from the "Beethoven Frieze" by Gustav Klimt at the Secession in Vienna. The frieze was seized by the Nazis and returned to the Lederers after World War II, yet the family was pressured to sell it at half price to Austria in return for getting back other looted artworks. Photographer: Oliver Ottenschlager/Secession, Vienna via Bloomberg

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.

Golden Adele

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.

Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on arts, Jorg von Uthmann on Paris culture, Ryan Sutton on New York dining, Hephzibah Anderson on books and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.

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