Nazi-looted Klimt sells for $45.4M

CBC 4 February 2010

Montreal man to split proceeds with current owner

 Workers hang Kirche in Cassone (Church in Cassone) by Gustav Klimt at Sotheby's auction house in London in January.
Workers hang Kirche in Cassone (Church in Cassone) by Gustav Klimt at Sotheby's auction house in London in January. (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

Gustav Klimt's Kirche in Cassone (Church in Cassone) went for $45.4 million in an auction in London on Wednesday, and part of the proceeds are to go to the Montreal heir to the Nazi-looted work.

Georges Jorisch, born in Vienna in 1928 and now a retired camera shop manager, is to get a share of the proceeds as part of a settlement with the current owner.

Sotheby's estimated the painting could go for $19 million to $29 million Cdn, but lively bidding on the work pushed it above the record price for a Klimt landscape.

A Giacometti sculpture sold for a record price at the same auction. Picasso painting Tête de femme (Jacqueline), was sold for $13.7 million on Tuesday night at Christie's auction house in London, double its pre-sale estimate.

Jorisch, a descendant of a wealthy Jewish family that once owned the Klimt, has agreed to split the auction proceeds with the current owner of the work, who bought it in good faith without knowing its past, Sotheby's said. The current owner wishes to remain anonymous.

The painting in greens, blues and orange once hung in the Vienna home of Jorisch's grandmother. Her brother, Viktor Zuckerkandl, a steel magnate deeply involved in Vienna's art scene, had bought it directly from the artist.

She put the painting in storage during the war, but it disappeared, possibly taken by Nazis, possibly by Soviet soldiers. She was deported to the Lodz ghetto in Poland with Jorisch's mother and never heard of again, while he and his father lived in hiding in Brussels.

Work changed hands

In 1950, Jorisch moved to Montreal and started a new life. His father sought out the paintings in storage, but the crates were empty.

The Klimt didn't resurface until 1962 and it changed hands several times before reappearing at a show in 2002-03.

Jorisch had been in discussions with the current owners for several years trying to reach a settlement, Sotheby's said.

There has been a wave of restitutions of Nazi-looted art in recent years, as international dealers improved their investigations of the provenance of paintings and as countries around the world established laws regarding works stolen during the Holocaust. An online database provides information about works lost during the Holocaust.
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