VIENNA (AP) — An Austrian panel ruled Friday against returning one of the country's most stunning works of art to heirs of the original Jewish owner, and the government said it would keep the masterpiece in line with that recommendation.
The monumental "Beethoven Frieze" was claimed by heirs of Erich Lederer. It was painted by the Austrian symbolist Gustav Klimt directly on the walls of Vienna's gold-domed Secession Building at the turn of the century and is on permanent display there.
The panel, which examines claims over art works looted by the Nazis, has no enforcement powers. But its recommendations are normally acted on by the government, and Culture Minister Josef Ostermayer said "that is the case now as well."
"I said before the ruling that I would follow the recommendation," he told reporters.
Lederer gained restitution of the frieze after the war. He sold it to the state for $750,000 (now 680,000 euros) in 1973 — an amount that lawyers for the heirs say was less than half its value back then and sold under duress only after decades of government refusal to let Lederer take it out of the country under laws prohibiting the export of valuable art works.
Lawyer Alfred Noll, who represents some of the heirs, said he was disappointed by the panel's ruling but suggested it would be accepted.
The 34-meter (37-yard) painting is a celebration of composer Ludwig van Beethoven. Tapestry-like, and rich in gold leaf and mother of pearl, its allegorical figures include a knight symbolizing armored strength, a woman representing ambition holding a victory wreath and another woman, her head lowered and hands clasped, signifying sympathy.
In Austria's most famous restitution case, the government acted on the panel's recommendation nine years ago and returned Klimt's "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer" to its Jewish heirs. That painting now hangs in the Neue Galerie, in New York.
Austria's restitution laws were amended five years ago to include property the government bought at a discount because of the export ban.