The decision to return the painting Pappenheim’s Death by Hans Makart (1840-1884) to the heirs of the German Jewish banker Herbert Gutmann is likely to set a precedent which effectively extends the timeframe for restitution cases in Austria to works seized beyond the 1938-45 period.
Currently, Austria restitution law covers only the period between the Anschluss with Germany in 1938 and the end of the Second World War.
However, the painting in question was part of the art collection which Herbert Gutmann had been forced to sell after he was ousted from his banking role by the Nazi regime in Germany before fleeing to Britain in 1936.
Pappenheim’s Death was sold at auction in 1934, and acquired by The Museum of Vienna from a Danish art dealer in 1968.
With the Austrian government facing criticism that it has not been doing enough to guarantee art restitution, the Vienna council decided to apply special measures to restore the work to Gutmann’s grandchildren after ruling that the case for expropriation was overwhelming.
After The Museum of Vienna handed over the painting last week, the Gutmann heirs released a statement saying: “We hope the other pieces once belonging to our grandfather and which we are currently pursuing will be restored to the family soon.”
It is not yet clear whether the picture will remain with the family or be sold. But many of the thousands of works which have been returned to their original owners in Austria have ended up being sold at auction or through a dealer.
These include the five paintings by Gustav Klimt restored to the Bloch-Bauer family in 2006.