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Austria will not return Klimt painting to heir of Jewish owners

An Austrian panel has recommended that Gustav Klimt's painting "The Beethoven Frieze" should not be returned to the heirs of its former Jewish owners. Vienna intends to follow this decision.

Gustav Klimt's famous painting "The Beethoven Frieze" once belonged to the Lederer family. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, the Jewish family fled to Switzerland and their valuable art collection, including the Klimt masterpiece, was seized by the Nazis.

After the Second World War, Erich Lederer got the painting back. But the family's lawyers claimed that Austria would not let him export the Klimt masterpiece, forcing him to sell it to the state at a discount price of about $750,000 in the 1970s. The Secession Museum in Vienna, where the 1902 "Beethoven Frieze" is on display, disputed this claim.

An Austrian government advisory board on Friday unanimously recommended that the 34-meter long (112-foot) artwork should not be returned to Lederer's heirs because it had been lawfully sold to the state. Austria's government declared that it would follow the panel's decision.

Lederer's heirs filed their claim for the return of the "Beethoven Frieze" in 2013, after Austria changed its laws on restitution and looted art. From the year 2009 on, restitution laws included works which had been sold rather than stolen, but whose owners had been put under pressure to sell them.

Austria passed a law in the 1990s covering the restitution of artworks stolen by the Nazis, and thousands of them, including some worth millions, have been returned.

das/sms (dpa, Reuters)

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