Maria Altmann who in 2006 successfully reclaimed five paintings by Gustav Klimt, from Austrian museums that were seized by the Nazis in 1938, has died age 94. The case was one in a string of high profile disputed ownership cases that has rocked the art world in the last decade. The successful outcome resulted in a sale at Christie’s realizing 180 million pounds.(330.7 million dollars).
The Klimts, three landscapes and a portrait, were part of a group of five reunited with Maria Altmann by the Austrian government. The Nazis plundered the paintings along with other arts treasures owned by this prominent Jewish family who were friends and patrons of the Vienna Secession elite. The government of Austria had stubbornly refused to give them back but after seven-year campaign by Altmann they came to symbolize the international effort to seek property-rights justice for the surviving victims of Nazi crimes. Maria’s uncle, Ferdinand, was the original owner of the Klimts. Two of them are portraits of his wife Adele. Bloch-Bauer fled his home in Austria in 1938 when the Nazis took over and seized his property,this included the paintings. The Nazi government placed the Klimts in various Austrian art museums, where they remained until Austria acknowledged that they legally belonged to Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer’s heirs.
After recovering the works Maria Altmann lent them to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and then to the Neue Galerie, a New York City museum for modern German and Austrian art, founded by cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder. The best known painting was later purchased by Neue Gallery for 73 million pounds (135 million dollars) a record price for a Klimt.