Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Altmann Wins Battle for Klimt Paintings

An Austrian arbitration court has ordered the return of five multi-million dollar paintings by Gustav Klimt to the rightful owner, Maria Altmann. The best coverage is from the L.A. Times, which has interviews of Maria Altmann and her attorney Randol Schoenberg, both of whom reside in Los Angeles. Another report stated that the world-renowned 1907 portrait of Altmann's aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, is the "the most important painting that has ever been restituted (in a Nazi art case)".

The Altmann case gained notoriety after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Austria v. Altmann that the case could go forward, notwithstanding the government claims of sovereign immunity.

Schoenberg has a chapter in our book Holocaust Restitution, entitled Whose Art is It Anyway? He explains in the chapter how the parties in May 2005 agreed to resolve the dispute through binding arbitration rather than trial. "The agreement calls for each party to choose an arbitrator, with the two arbitrators then selecting a third arbitrator, and this panel of arbitrators will render a decision binding upon the parties. All three arbitrators will be Austrian nationals, and the panel will decide the case under Austrian law." Schoenberg concluded the chapter with the following: "Holocaust-related litigation is incredibly difficult and time consuming, and the prospects of success, even in exceptional cases such as Mrs. Altmann's, are very low. Nevertheless, in cases concerning Nazi-looted artworks, there is a glimmer of hope." Indeed.
UPDATE: Randol Schoenberg has sent me an English translation of the arbitral award, available here.

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