World / Europe

Orchestra to return painting looted by Nazis

By Agencies in Vienna (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-14 07:14

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is returning a painting stolen by the Nazis to the descendants of its rightful owners, in the latest high-profile restitution case in Austria.

The orchestra, famed for its annual New Year's concert, sent a letter to the descendants of the painting's former French owner Marcel Koch on Thursday to tell them about the move, a spokeswoman said.

The 1883 painting Port-en-Bessin by French artist Paul Signac was confiscated in 1940 in France's Jura region and given to the orchestra after it performed in the region, the Philharmonic said in a statement.

After more than two decades of research, an art historian commissioned by the orchestra, Sophie Lillie, finally managed to identify the painting's origins.

"We're very happy that thanks to Sophie Lillie's efforts a breakthrough was finally achieved and we found the descendants," Philharmonic musician and president Clemens Hellsberg said in the statement.

"The restitution of this painting was of major concern to us. We've tried for years to deal with the Vienna Philharmonic's past, and we want to face our responsibility in making up for past injustice."

A ceremony will be held to return the painting to the family of Marcel Koch, but it remains unclear when this will be held.

Koch was a French resistance figure who founded the Documentation Francaise, a public publishing service.

The orchestra published details of its conduct during the Nazi era last year, calling it a "dark period" in its history, when the New Year's Concert was invented as a Nazi propaganda instrument.

Austrian Greens party member of parliament Harald Walser, who has long campaigned for more openness from the orchestra, said it should allow an international panel of historians to look into its Nazi-era past.

"The deeper one digs into the Vienna Philharmonic's past, the more 'corpses' emerge from the orchestra pit," he said.

Meanwhile, the Philharmonic said it would continue to search its archive for more stolen artifacts.

Austria, which long considered itself a victim of Nazi Germany and only recently admitted shared responsibility in World War II and the Holocaust, has regularly been at the center of the debate over the restitution of looted Nazi art.

In its highest-profile case in 2006, the state had to return Gustav Klimt's prized Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer to the family of the former owners after a yearslong tug-of-war.

Last year, a Jewish family laid claim to one of Austria's best known artworks, Klimt's Beethoven Frieze, arguing that the state had forced its sale after the war.


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