Vienna's Leopold Museum under fire over looted art allegations

11th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

A legal study by Austria's main Jewish body says that at least 11 artworks in the collection of Vienna's Leopold Museum were stolen.

Vienna-- At least 11 paintings in an Austrian art collection were looted by the Nazis from their original owners, Austria's Jewish community said, just days before Austria commemorates the 70th anniversary of the annexation by Nazi Germany in March 1938.

A legal study, commissioned by the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde (IKG), Austria's main Jewish body, came to the conclusion that at least 11 artworks in the collection of Vienna's Leopold Museum were stolen.

The six owners of the works by Egon Schiele and other leading Austrian artists of the turn of the 19th century were "deprived of their possessions during the Nazi rule," study author Georg Graf said.

Art collector Rudolf Leopold, founder of the collection, should have been aware of the questionable provenance in all 11 cases, Graf said.

The museum, home to 5,500 works mainly by Austrian artists like Schiele or Gustav Klimt, immediately disputed the study's findings.

Andreas Noedl, board member of the Leopold Foundation, questioned the study's validity, arguing that the study author focused only on information provided by the IKG.

There was no legal basis for returning any of the paintings, he argued, ruling out any goodwill gestures on the part of the museum. The legal question of the Leopold case was "returned to the filing cabinet," he said.

A private foundation set up by founder Rudolf Leopold and the Austrian state, the museum has been in the spotlight since 1998, when two paintings by Schiele from the collection, Wally and Tote Stadt, were confiscated in the United States.

IKG President Ariel Muzicant called on the government to expand restitution legislation, as the current restitution laws are only applicable for museums run by the Austrian federal state.

Were these applicable to the Leopold collection, the paintings were to be returned, he concluded.

In a first reaction, Minister for Culture Claudia Schmied stressed Austria's "moral obligation" for restitution.

She was working on clearly defined restitution regulations for the Leopold Collection, analogous to the rules applicable in federal museums, Schmied said.

DPA with Expatica

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