France will return a painting by artist Gustav Klimt to the heirs of a Jewish family forced to sell the artwork during World War II.
The painting, purchased by the French state in 1980, was being kept at France’s Musée d’Orsay, one of Paris’ leading museums.
It previously belonged to Nora Stiasny, who lived in Purkersdorf, near Vienna, Austria.
Austria was annexed by the Nazis in 1938 during the Anschluss. Stiasny’s property was gradually confiscated, and in August of that year, she was forced to sell to an acquaintance her painting — now titled “Rosiers sous les Arbres,” or “Rose Bushes Under the Trees” — at a reduced price in order to survive, France’s culture minister Roselyne Bachelot said.
In April 1942, Stiasny and her mother, Amalie, were deported and killed in Nazi-occupied Poland, in the Izbica ghetto or in the nearby Belzec extermination camp, Bachelot said. Stiasny’s husband, Paul, and their son, Otto, were deported to the Terezin camp near Prague, and then to Auschwitz.
In 2019, France’s Ministry of Culture set about trying to identify stolen works in its collections.
Bachelot said that, after a lengthy process to identify the original owners of the artwork, the painting would be returned to Stiasny’s descendents.
She added that the restitution of confiscated Jewish property was France’s “profound duty.”
“The decision we made is obviously a difficult one. It means bringing out from the national collections a masterpiece, that is moreover the only painting of Gustav Klimt that France owned,” she said.
“It is not a heartbreak for me, quite the opposite,” she said.
“We know that the persecution of the Jews has taken many forms. Very often, before the methodical elimination, before the extermination, there were thefts of the goods of the Jews, ordered to abandon everything.”
Born in Austria in 1862, Klimt was one of the founding members of the school of painting known as the Vienna Secession, an avant-garde artistic group at the turn of the century.
The artist is perhaps best known for his painting “The Kiss,” one of the world’s most recognized works.