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Austria criticized after wrong Klimt was returned to wrong family

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Gustav Klimt’s Apple Tree II (1916) was pulled from exhibition "Gustav Klimt: Artist of the Century" after it turned out that its restitution was wrong.
Earlier, Austria was criticized for not rushing to return work that had been looted in the Nazi era. Now the country is accused of returning a painting too hastily, not figured out, and to the wrong Jewish family.

Gustav Klimt's Apple Tree II was one of the 300 works included in the Gustav Klimt exhibition at the Leopold Museum in Vienna (until November 4), which marked the centennial of the beloved Austrian artist’s death. The artwork was removed the day after the press preview because, according to the museum statement, "it is currently the subject of a dispute between several people and institutions, which has not yet been resolved".

It was loaned by the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, established by the luxury goods mogul and art collector Bernard Arnault.
Bernard Arnault in front of the painting "Red Room (Harmony in Red)" (1908) by Henri Matisse.

STÉPHANE FEUGÈRE
"The dispute was caused by the fact that while the painting was restituted
by the Republic of Austria 18 years ago, it has recently transpired that a mistake
was made with the decision to return this work."

The Art Newspaper
Part of the problem is due to a confusion of two paintings: Roses under Trees from 1905, and Apple Tree II from 1916. The first painting was the property of Viktor Zuckerkandl and part of the collection of the Purkersdorf Sanitorium in Vienna, a gathering place for Viennese literati. Klimt painted several portraits of Zuckerkandl’s wife, Amalie.
The Klimt painting that the Republic of Austria apparently should have restituted nearly two decades ago was Roses under Trees (1905), which Nora Stiasny, Zuckerhandl’s niece, sold to a Nazi official before or during World War II in hopes of escaping Austria. Stiasny died in the Belzec death camp in 1942 and her Klimt eventually passed from the Nazi official to his girlfriend, then to the Swiss art dealer Peter Nathan, and eventually into the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, where it now hangs.
The provenance of Apple Tree II is even more complicated. Before the war it had belonged to Jewish collector Serena Lederer; the Nazis seized many of her family’s paintings after her death in 1943. It eventually turned up in the collection of Gustav Ucicky, an alleged illegitimate son of Klimt’s who made Nazi propaganda films. After his death, in 1961, it was donated, along with other Nazi-looted paintings, to the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna until the Austrian government restituted the work to the wrong family 18 years ago.
Gustav Klimt. Apple II

In the early 2000s, the Austrian Art Restitution Advisory Board ruled that Apple Tree II had belonged to Nora Stiasny and restituted it to an heir — Hermine Müller-Hoffmann. Apple Tree II was eventually put up for sale and acquired by the Fondation Louis Vuitton for about $ 22.5 million. And until the institution rented a picture of the Leopold Museum for the exhibition, the current owner remained anonymous.

In 2015, the Commission for Provenance Research found that the work owned by Nora Stiasny was actually Roses under Trees. An heir of the Lederer family is now exploring heirs to recover Apple Tree II.

Left: Gustav Klimt, Apple Tree II, 1916. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Although the matter is not new, experts say the mistake was an "open secret" for many years — the prosecutor representing the Austrian government rejected Lederer’s family claims on Apple Tree II last year, and the Austrian government is now considering the legal consequences of returning the picture to the wrong family.
Now the work has been returned to Arnault’s foundation.
Based on materials from Artsy.net, The Artnewspaper, official site of Leopold Museum

Title illustration: Gustav Klimt, Rosebushes under Trees, 1905, in the Musée d’Orsay; Apple Tree II, 1916, owned by Bernard Arnault and his Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris.
Artists mentioned in the article
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