To accelerate restitutions, the French parliament authorised the return of fifteen artworks, including paintings by Gustav Klimt and Marc Chagall, to the heirs of Jewish families looted by the Nazis.
On Tuesday evening, February 15, the French parliament unanimously authorised the return of fifteen artworks to Jewish families. Following the National Assembly’s unanimous vote on January 25, the Senate approved the return of works by a show of hands.
The vote authorises public museums holding the works to hand over the property to the heirs of the original owners. French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot called the move “historic”, adding that it was the first time in 70 years that the French government had made serious steps to return artworks “that were acquired in troubling circumstances during the occupation because of antisemitic persecution”. “This is a “first step” because “spoiled works of art and books are still kept in public collections. Objects which … should never have been there”, she added.
Among the 15 artworks is “Rosiers under the trees” by Gustav Klimt, kept at the Musée d’Orsay, acquired by the State in 1980 from a merchant. Following extensive research, it has been established that the piece belonged to the Austrian Eléonore Stiasny, who sold it during a forced sale in Vienna in 1938, during the Anschluss, before being deported and murdered.
Another famous piece to be returned is the “Le Père” by Marc Chagall, kept at the Center Pompidou, acquired in 1988, which was recognised as the property of David Cender, a Polish Jewish musician and luthier, who immigrated to France in 1958.
In addition, eleven drawings and a waxwork, as well as a painting by Maurice Utrillo, will also be returned.
France has long been accused of lagging behind several European neighbours as regards to restitutions. A research and restitution mission for cultural property looted between 1933 and 1945 was created within the Ministry of Culture two years ago. A “framework law” could facilitate restitutions in the years to come. According to French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot, “we will get there”.