An Austrian museum plans to return a precious Gustav Klimt painting to the heir of its rightful owner after researchers discovered it was confiscated by Nazis during World War II, officials said Thursday.
The painting, "Litzlberg am Attersee," currently owned by Salzburg's modern art museum, MdM Salzburg, is estimated to be worth as much as euro30 million ($44 million).
Research by various experts tasked with tracing the origin of the work showed that the Nazis seized the now 96-year-old painting from an apartment in a village near Vienna of a woman named Amalie Redlich after deporting her to Poland in October 1941, where she was killed, Salzburg deputy governor Wilfried Haslauer and the head of the museum, Toni Stooss, told reporters.
The painting was bought by Salzburg art collector and dealer Friedrich Welz who exchanged it in 1944 for a piece from Salzburg's state gallery. It was subsequently taken over by the state gallery's successor, the Salzburger Residenzgalerie, in 1952 and later became part of the inventory of Salzburg's modern art museum.
"This is looted art, there's absolutely no question about that," Haslauer said in comments carried by Austrian radio Oe1.
Redlich's heir is her 83-year-old grandson, Georges Jorisch, who lives in Montreal, Canada, according to Haslauer's spokesman, Thomas Kerschbaum.
Salzburg's government now has to decide whether to proceed with the restitution, as recommended by Haslauer. It is expected do so by this summer, Kerschbaum said.
Jorisch's lawyer, Alfred J. Noll, appeared impressed by the way the matter has been handled so far.
"In no other case have I experienced such openness and objectivity during the discussion of individual points," Noll said in comments also carried by Oe1. He said Stooss met personally with Jorisch.
The likely restitution is a reminder of the return in 2006 of five other Klimt paintings by Vienna's Belvedere gallery to the late Maria Altmann of Los Angeles, niece of a Viennese art patron. Altmann had waged a seven-year fight for their return. An arbitration court had ruled that they were improperly seized by the Nazis who annexed Austria in 1938.
Austria has returned looted works of art held by federal museums to their rightful owners or heirs, most of them Jewish, under a 1998 restitution law.