Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Story Of Property Rights

Legal Justice

Woman in Gold:
“Maria Altmann fought her way to the Supreme Court to force the Austrian government to give
back this painting by Gustav Klimt of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer.”

Photo Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images
Source: NPR

 An article, by Nina Totenberg, in NPR discusses how a combination of determination, courage and moral legal arguments helped return a Klimt painting to its rightful owner—Maria Altmann—after it was stolen by the Nazis when they took over Austria in 1938.

In “After Nazi Plunder, A Quest To Bring ‘The Woman In Gold’ Home,” Totenberg writes:
 This week, Mrs. Altmann's amazing and triumphant story comes to the big screen in Woman in Gold, a film about one of the great legal battles in art history. The movie, starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds, begins with the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938. Newlyweds Maria Altmann and her husband are wealthy Jews fleeing for their lives, leaving her family's famous artworks behind.

Against all odds more than a half century later, she fought her way to the U.S. Supreme Court in her quest to force the Austrian government to give back the painting of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, the Woman in Gold of the film title.

Painted by Gustav Klimt in 1907, the enormous, shimmering gold and oil on canvas was one of six Klimt paintings confiscated by the Nazis from the Bloch-Bauer home.

After the war, the works turned up in Austria's federal art museum, the Galerie Belvedere. The Austrian government claimed the paintings had been willed to the museum, a claim that would later be found to be fraudulent.

But even after the falsehood was finally exposed in 1998, it was a long road to getting the paintings back, especially the painting of Altmann's aunt, the Woman in Gold.
Randol Schoenberg, the grandson of Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, represented Maria Altmann, and became the winning lawyer in what was an eight-year legal banner, culminating in a U.S. Supreme Court decision. (The George W. Bush Administration sided with the government of Austria, not a real surprise.) The paintings were returned and auctioned, in 2006, selling for hundreds of millions of dollars; the Woman in Gold (officially known as Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer) was purchased by Jewish philanthropist Ronald Lauder for $135 million, where it is on display at the Neue Galerie in New York. Altmann died in 2011, aged 94. The question to ask is why the Austrian government fought so viciously to keep a painting it knew was not theirs to keep.

For more, go to [NPR]

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