Vienna Restitution Opens Door for New Cases

Artinfo 3 April 2009

VIENNA—The city of Vienna decided this week to restitute an artwork sold under the Nazi regime in 1934, outside the period covered for such cases in Austrian law, setting a precedent for expanding the scope of cases that can be considered, reports Reuters.

The city council chose to return to the heirs of Herbert Gutmann an artwork the German Jewish banker was forced to auction in 1934. According to Austrian law, any such sale made between 1938, when Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany, and 1945, when the Third Reich was defeated, is considered to be a forced sale. Prompted by criticism from the Austrian Jewish community that the government wasn't doing enough to guarantee restitution of wrongly taken property, the government said last year that it wanted to extend that range to 1933 to 1945.

Gutmann was forced out of the banking world by Nazis in 1933, after which he sold his artworks and other possessions and fled to Britain in 1936.

The Museum of Vienna acquired the work in question, Pappenheim's Death, by the 19th-century Austrian painter Hans Makart, from a Danish art dealer in 1968.

The painting was returned to Gutmann's grandchildren this week.

"This is a milestone in the history of the restitution process," said Michael Wladika, a historian and restitution specialist at the Museum of Vienna.

"We hope the other pieces once belonging to our grandfather and which we are currently pursuing will be restored to the family soon," Gutmann's heirs said in a statement.
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