The French National Assembly unanimously adopted a law to return 15 works of art, including a painting by Gustav Klimt and one by Marc Chagall, to the beneficiaries of Jewish families looted by the Nazis.
Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot welcomed the passing of the “historic” bill last Tuesday, which was observed by the artworks’ owners who were present in the gallery.
The development still requires final approval from the Senate, which will vote on the matter on February 15.
Nazi looting was “the negation of humanity (of these Jewish families), of their memory, of their memories,” Bachelot said.
Among the 15 works is “Rosiers Under the Trees” by Gustav Klimt, kept at the Musée d’Orsay — the only work by the Austrian painter belonging to the French national collections.
Extensive research has established that it belonged to Austrian Eleonore Stiasny, who was forced to sell it in Vienna in 1938, during the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany.
The painting was bought by Stiasny’s former lover Philipp Haeusler, who had joined the Nazi party and managed to hide his past after the war.
Stiasny died in 1942 along with her husband and son. It is not clear whether they were in the Polish ghetto of Izbica or the Belzec concentration camp.
France acquired “Rose Bushes Under Trees” from a Swiss gallery in 1980 for the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, knowing nothing of its violent history.
Beaucoup d’émotion ce soir avec l’adoption à l’unanimité par l’@AssembleeNat d’un projet de loi crucial. Il permettra la restitution aux ayants droit de leurs propriétaires d’œuvres spoliées durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale en raison des persécutions antisémites. pic.twitter.com/cOeyXNV6X8
— Roselyne Bachelot (@R_Bachelot) January 25, 2022
Eleven drawings and a waxwork kept at the Louvre, Orsay and Château de Compiègne museums, as well as a painting by Utrillo — “Carrefour à Sannois” — kept at the Utrillo-Valadon Museum, are also part of the planned restitutions.
A painting by Chagall entitled “Le Père,” kept at the Center Pompidou and made part of the national collections in 1988, has been also added. It was recognized as the property of David Cender, a Polish-Jewish musician and luthier, who immigrated to France in 1958.
For 13 of the 15 works, the beneficiaries were identified by the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation (CIVS), created in 1999.
Bachelot noted “it is the first time since the post-war period that the government has passed a bill allowing the restitution of works from public collections” which were looted during the Second World War worldwide or acquired during the Nazi occupation of France by “anti-Semitic persecution.”
Some 100,000 works of art were seized in France during the 1939-1945 war, according to the Culture Ministry. Some 60,000 goods were found in Germany and returned to France. Among them, 45,000 were returned to their owners between 1945 and 1950.
About 2,200 were selected and entrusted to the custody of national museums, which could be returned by simple administrative decision, and the rest, about 13,000, were sold by the state in the early 1950s. Many looted works were thus returned to the art market.