Thursday, March 12, 2015

It will stay in Austria.

Clemons Jabloner, head of the Austrian Art Restitution Advisory Board, announced on March 6 2015 that the Gustav Klimt work "Beethoven's Freise" would not be returned to the heirs of August Lederer.

Gustav Klimt was born in Austria in 1862 and was raised in poverty until he enrolled in the Vienna Public Arts Schools at age 14.  He immediately was recognized as having immense talent and received his first commission while he was still studying.  By 1893, Klimt and Franz Matsch were commissioned to paint the ceiling of the cathedral in the new University of Vienna but they have a falling out.  The work dragged on and both artists had a different view as to how the works for the university should be done.  Worse still, the local community does not approve of the work as well because of it's extremely nature.

Klimt broke away from Matsch and in 1897 he began the Secessionist Movement in the art community.  The movement becomes a hugely popular one with the art community as well as with certain members of the public.  In 1900, he presented the works that he had done for the university at the Paris World Fair and won the Grand Prix award for it.  This vindicated his ideas and he continued the works at the university even though the local community still disliked them.

He left the Secessionist Movement in 1905 to create several pieces that were not accepted by the art community or the locals because they were extremely erotic and exotic.  Klimt died on Feb 6 1918 still not being very accepted by the Vienna art community or locals.  His works today are seen as some of the very best to come out of Vienna and he is viewed as an artist who was far before his time.

The Beethoven Frieze was painted in 1902 on three walls of the Art Nouveau Secession Building in Austria and it is a painted interpretation of the final chord movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.  The work was meant to be a temporary one but it has managed to survive decades longer then Klimt could ever have imagined.  It is now considered to be one of the most important pieces of the Art Nouveau period and the beginning of Klimt's golden period of painting.  He had painted the work directly on the walls for an exhibition there and it was meant to be destroyed at the end of the exhibition but they chose to leave it there for his exhibition the following year.

In 1903 the work was sold to Carl Reinighaus, an art patron and collector and he had the work cut up into 8 pieces so that it could be removed.  It sat in storage until 1915 when the work was sold to August Lederer, a Jewish industrialist and one of Klimt's most important supporters.  Lederer had one of the most important and largest collections of klimt's art work in private hands at the time until it was taken from him in 1938 by the Nazi's.  The Beethoven Frieze was held in state custody until it was returned to to Erich Lederer, the family heir, after WWII.

He had stayed in Switzerland where the family had fled to after the war and was unable to take possession of the work because it had been placed on an export ban list.  The ban was put in place to prevent important artwork from leaving the country but it also prevented Lederer from selling the piece in the international market.  Lederer was forced by the ban to sell the piece within Austria and the piece was purchased by the Republic of Austria in 1972 for $750,000.  They also paid for the restoration of the work and it has been on display in the Secession since 1983.

When the Secession was renovated in 1985, a separate room was built especially for the work and it has been on display there since.  The Lederer family renewed their restitution claim after the laws changed in the 1990's to allow for restitution based on a fire sale being forced by the ban.  The panel ruled against the family citing that in the 1970's the Austrian government was no longer demanding that the piece remain in the country and they had not been forced to fire sale it.  They also felt that the piece should stay were it currently is because it is now where it had begun it's life and it is an important part of Austrian art history.

While they may not have demanded that the piece remain in the country, Lederer had been forced to hand over several restituted works to Austria in exchange for being able to export other pieces of the collection.  It has been stated that there is no recourse to appeal the decision but the Lederer heirs have stated they will continue their fight.

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