On Monday, the French government made the announcement that it will be returning a Gustav Klimt painting to its true Jewish owners after the artwork was stolen by Nazis over 80 years ago.
The painting, “Rosebushes under the Trees,” is an oil work created in 1905. It was taken from a Jewish family in Austria in 1938 and has reportedly been on display in the Parisian museum, Musee d’Orsay, for decades.
French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin said at a news conference in Paris that “the decision to return a major work from the public collections illustrates our commitment to the duty of justice and reparation vis-à-vis plundered families.”
Bachelot-Narquin clarified that the French officials did not originally know that the painting had been taken without permission, but the facts were revealed recently after the French government began investigating the topic.
“It is in recent years that the true origin of the painting has been established,” she said, noting that it was “the only Gustav Klimt painting owned by France.”
The mesmerizing painting will be given back to Nora Stiasny’s family. Stiasny was a victim of the Holocaust who was “dispossessed during a forced sale in August 1938,” according to The Associated Press.
The New York Times reports that Stiasny was born in Vienna in 1898. Her uncle, Viktor Zuckerkandl, was a collector of art and an affluent steel industrialist. He bought the oil artwork in 1911. Stiasny died in 1942 after being deported to Poland. Her husband and son also passed away.
Determining the origins of the painting was a difficult task. Bachelot-Narquin said, “All the necessary verifications had been carried out,” and the course was “particularly arduous because of the destruction of most proof and the erosion of family memories.”
Technically, the painting belongs to the country of France since it was bought in 1980 and is legally seen as the nation’s “inalienable” property. Bachelot-Narquin explained how France came to be in possession of the painting, stating that the Nazi sympathizer who originally bought the artwork in 1938 died in 1960. After his death, France bought it at an art gallery. Authorities stated on Monday that the country looked into the original sourcing of the painting when it was purchased, but there were no signs that it had been sold in the manner discovered later.
In order for the painting to be returned to Stiasny’s family, Parliament will need to vote to pass legislation to allow the transfer. Bachelot-Narquin said this would take place as soon as possible.
An Austrian lawyer who represents the family of Stiasny said that her heirs are “very satisfied and very grateful.”
The painting is not alone in its difficult history. Thousands of other pieces of art ended up on display in French museums after the Allies triumphed over Nazi Germany in 1945. While many have been returned to their rightful owners, in recent years, French officials have reportedly increased their attempt to solve the mysteries of where certain works of art truly belong.