The Museé d’Orsay Will Restitute a Klimt, the Only One Owned by a French Museum, to the Heirs of a Jewish World War II-Era Art Collector

The heirs will take possession of the work some 80 years after it was sold under duress at a fraction of its value.

Gustav Klimt, Rosebushes Under the Trees (1905). Courtesy the French Ministry of Culture.

Eight decades after its rightful owner was forced to sell it under Nazi rule, a painting by Gustav Klimt will be returned to its heirs, French culture minister Roselyne Bachelot said at a press conference today.

Nora Stiasny, a member of a prominent Austrian Jewish family, was forced to sell Klimt’s Rosebushes Under the Trees (1905) to artist Philipp Häusler for just 400 Marks, far below its assessed value of 5,000 Marks, to survive after the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938.

According to the Canadian, Häusler had a relationship with Stiasny during their youth and had gone on to join the Nazi party by 1933.

Stiasny was deported to Poland in 1942 and died there that year.

The French state bought the work at Zurich’s Peter Nathan Gallery in 1980, not knowing that it had been stolen. Its provenance came to light only recently, said Bachelot, adding that it was the only Klimt in French state museums.

“The decision to return a major work from the public collections,” said Bachelot, “illustrates our commitment to the duty of justice and reparation vis-à-vis plundered families,” according to the Washington Post.

Klimt’s paintings have risen to astronomical price levels in the market. A portrait sold by Oprah in 2016 brought $150 million. The artist’s Flower Garden, which is more similar in subject to the Orsay work, fetched $59.3 million at Sotheby’s London the next year.

Rosebushes Under the Trees is witness to those lives that a criminal pursuit has tried to make disappear,” Bachelot said.

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