Database Launched of Looted Art

The fate of Europe's art treasures during the Second World War has inspired dozens of books and scores of court cases. Even today, many of Central Europe's oldest museums are embroiled in complex restitution processes as claims emerge from the heirs of former collectors.

In Austria and Germany, matters are further complicated by the requisition of Jewish property during the years of National Socialism. In Vienna alone, the wealthy Jewish bourgeoisie represented a vast source of art patronage, with some of Austria's finest artists being championed by families of Jewish origin. Earlier this year, a Vienna-born lady caused a sensation when she successfully recovered some Klimt portraits from the Belvedere Gallery. The paintings were subsequently sold to Ronald Lauder for an unprecedented 135 million dollars.

Yesterday, the Austrian government launched a major initiative to highlight works of art in national collections that appear to have a shaky provenance. Kunst Restitution draws on work that got underway in 1995 under the aegis of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism. The new project embodies a fully interactive database of controversial artworks, ranging from furniture to oil paintings. A full English version of the site will be active in the new year.

The National Fund hopes that the exposition of individual works on the site will help true owners to track down their lost heirlooms. Items that cannot be traced will eventually be sold, and the proceeds donated to victims of National Socialism.

The Kunst Restitution Site


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