French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot announced today that the country will return a painting by Gustav Klimt, Roses under the trees (Roses under the Trees) (1904-05) to the heirs of its former Viennese owner Nora Stiasny, who sold it under duress during the Nazi era. As the work is currently suspended at the Musée d’Orsay, as part of the national collection, the restitution will involve a long legal process. “The French government will present a bill intended to authorize the release of this work from the collections,” says Bachelot, adding that this is the first time that a work of art from the national collection has been returned.
Roses under the trees, was acquired by Austrian Jewish industrialist and collector Viktor Zuckerkandl in 1911. After the death of Zuckerkandl and his wife Paula, it was bequeathed to his niece, Eleonore “Nora” Stiasny. She was forced to sell it for a small fee in August 1938, shortly after Hitler annexed Austria to Germany, to Philipp Häusler, a professor acquaintance who was a member of the Nazi Party. Four years later, Stiasny and his family were deported and killed by the Nazis.
The French state acquired the painting from the future Musée d’Orsay in 1980 at the Peter Nathan Gallery in Zurich; it belonged to Herta Blümel, Häusler’s companion, who had inherited it. At the time, the French state was unaware of the origin of the painting.
Two Austrian researchers, Monika Mayer of the Belvedere Museum in Vienna and Ruth Pleyer, discovered Blümel’s identity in 2016 while exploring the provenance of the painting after archived documentation on how Häusler obtained the work became accessible to the late 1990s. The rightful owners filed a claim for the painting through their attorney, Alfred Noll, in 2019.
“Reconstructing the route of this work, until its acquisition for the prefiguration of the Musée d’Orsay, was particularly difficult because of the destruction of most of the evidence and the erosion of family memory,” explains Bachelot.
The restitution movement has been part of the broader mission of the French Ministry of Culture since 2019 to identify works seized from Jews by the Nazis which have since entered its institutions: “It is necessary to identify the goods that could have been be seized for anti-Semitic persecution prior to their entry into the collections. The task is “long and difficult”.
Laurence des Cars, president of the Musée d’Orsay, declares: “Removing such an important painting from the national collections is a heavy decision, which honors our collective commitment to the memory of the victims of Nazi barbarism.