Gustav Klimt’s murals, The Beethoven Frieze should not be returned to the family of the original Jewish owners, an Austrian panel has decided. The paintings were looted by the Nazis from the family of the Jewish industrialist August Lederer. They were returned after WII to the decedents but as the members had emigrated to Switzerland they were unable to transport the works, as the Austrian government had placed an export ban on the masterpiece. The heirs argued this forced Lederer’s son Erich to sell the work for next to nothing.
The decision against returning the masterpiece was announced on Friday by Clemens Jabloner, head of the Austrian Art Restitution Advisory Board, who said: “It is not the case that the export procedure was used as a tool to force Lederer into an agreement.”
Heirs of the Lederer family stated that in 1972 Austrian officials negotiated that it would let him export his other returned artworks only if he sold the frieze to the state at a discount price. Family lawyer Marc Weber said, ‘The work was sold in 1973 for $750,000, half of its estimated worth at the time, according to a valuation by fine art auctioneer Christie’s’. In 2013 Lederer heirs filed a claim for the return of the frieze, following Austria’s amended restitution laws which applies to property sold at a discounted rate because of export bans. The Secession museum, where the frieze is housed said Mr Lederer voluntarily sold the artwork for $750,000 (£490,000; €680,000) and added that the Austrian government paid for the frieze’s restoration as it had fallen into disrepair. The mural is now worth at least £100,000,000 having increased considerably in value over the last 40 plus years.
The Beethoven Frieze is considered one of Gustav Klimt’s most celebrated works of art. It depicts Wagner’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The masterpiece was painted directly on the wall for the 1902 Secessionist Exhibition and is considered one of the worlds most important high Art Nouveau creations. The mural executed in bright colours with gold leaf inclusions was intended to be a temporary installation for the 1902 exhibition. it was purchased in 1915 and carefully removed from the gallery walls to the home of the industrialist. Mr Lederer’s art collection, including the the work in question, was seized by the Nazis in 1938.