Jewish Family Demands Austria Return Klimt Frieze Looted by Nazis

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A wealthy Austrian Jewish family, whose works of art were seized – and mostly destroyed – by the Nazis during World War II, is asking for the restitution of one of Austria's most renowned art treasures – Gustav Klimt's "Beethoven Frieze."

The monumental frieze, which is over two meters tall, 34 meters long and weighs 4,000 kilograms is currently displayed in a climate-controlled hall in Vienna's Secession building, which dates back to 1902. The work was Klimt's allegorical depiction of the composer's Ninth Symphony.

At issue is not the Nazi's seizure of artworks, but the Austrian state's handling of the stolen art following the war.

The frieze belonged to the Lederer family of industrialists, who had been patrons of the artist. The family managed to escape to Switzerland after the Nazi's 1938 invasion of Austria, but their art collection – including the frieze and 18 other works by Klimt - was seized.

The surviving artworks, including the frieze, were returned to Erich Lederer, the family's heir, after the war. But Austria refused to allow Lederer to export them to Switzerland unless he sold the "Beethoven Frieze" to the state – at a significant discount.

After fighting the proposed deal for many years, Lederer finally sold the frieze to Austria in 1973.

In 2009, Austria amended its restitution law to apply to property that had been sold at a discount, due to the export ban. In terms of that amendment, the family's Zurich-based lawyer Marc Weber filed a request for the restitution of the painting with the Culture Ministry in Vienna on Tuesday.

Klimt was a leader of the Vienna Secession movement also known as the Jugendstil. His works fetch some of the highest prices in today's art market, with his portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer selling for $135 million in 2006, according to media reports.

Detail from Gustav Klimt's 'Beethoven Frieze.'Credit: Creative Commons

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