Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gustav Klimt: Litzlberg am Attersee

Public Domain Image: Litzlberg am Attersee (Litzberg on the Attersee) oil painting of 1914-1915 by Gustav Klimt

Yet another Nazi-looted Gustav Klimt painting ‘Litzlberg am Attersee’(Litzberg on the Attersee), the image of which can be seen above fetched $40.4m at an auction at Sotheby's in New York in November 2011, after it was returned to the rightful owner by the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Austria.

Litzlberg am Attersee, painted in 1914-1915 by the Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), features the scenes on the shores of Lake Attersee in Austria. Litzlberg is an island of the lake.

Since 1900, during the summers, Klimt usually visited a château at Litzlberg in Lake Attersee (also known as the Kammersee), the largest lake of the Salzkammergut area of Austria.

The landscape, inspired by pointillism and painted just before Klimt’s death, shows his perfect mastery of color and visual imagery through dots and brushstrokes, though it is just a routine painting that he used to produce during his visits of Attersee. Klimt is reported to have painted over fifty landscapes, mostly inspired by the area around Lake Attersee, especially in the last years of his life.

During the Second World War, the Nazis looted ‘Litzlberg am Attersee’ from the house of the Austrian Jewish woman Amalie Redlich after deporting her to Poland in October 1941. She was later killed in a Nazi concentration camp. Georges Jorisch, her ten-year-old grandson, escaped from Vienna with his father when the Nazis captured the city. The young Jorisch and his father had to spend two years in a cellar in Brussels, hiding, to escape capture by the Nazis.

After 1941, the Salzburg-based art collector and dealer Friedrich Welz the acquired the painting. Later he exchanged it against another work of art with Salzburg’s modern art museum (Museum der Moderne Salzburg).

Recently, Jorisch, who retired as a camera shop manager in Montreal, Canada, succeeded in convincing Museum der Moderne Salzburg that he is the lawful sole heir to ‘Litzberg on the Attersee’ which once had hung on the wall of the apartment of his grandmother Amalie Redlich.

The museum returned the painting, which had an estimated value of €30m (£26m) then, to Jorish in early 2011, but, after Jorisch promised to donate €1.3m (£1.1m) to the museum to construct an extension which would be named after Amalie Redlich. In November 2011, at an auction at Sotheby's in New York, the landscape painting was bought by the Zurich-based art dealer David Lachenmann on behalf of an anonymous client.

The return of this painting by the museum reminds one of the history of the seven-year long legal battle fought by the late Maria Altmann (18 Feb 1916 – 7 Feb 2011) against the Austrian government, claiming five Gustav Klimt paintings belonging to her family and looted by the Nazis. She finally won the case and retrieved the paintings which were sold in auction for a total of $327m for the five paintings, making it the most expensive single lot return of Nazi-looted art by Austria.

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