The painting 'Rosiers sous les Arbres' will be returned to the descendants of Nora Stiasny, who lived in Purkersdorf, near Vienna, Austria.
During World War II, a Jewish family was forced to sell an original painting completed by the artist Gustav Klimt, an Austrian symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement. The French state consequently purchased the painting in 1980 and has been so far housing it in France's Musée d'Orsay. Formerly, it belonged to Nora Stiasny, who lived in Purkersdorf, near Vienna, Austria. Now, 'Rosiers sous les Arbres,' which translates to 'Rose Bushes Under the Trees,' will be returned to its rightful heirs: Stiasny's descendants. The act of returning the painting has been called a "profound duty" by France's Minister of Culture, CNN reports.
Rosiers sous les arbres est le témoin de ces vies qu'une volonté criminelle a obstinément cherché à faire disparaître.— Roselyne Bachelot (@R_Bachelot) March 15, 2021
La restitution à venir est une reconnaissance des crimes subis par les familles Zuckerkandl et Stiasny, et le juste retour d’un bien qui leur appartient #klimt pic.twitter.com/27oo7Wr81H
"The decision we made is obviously a difficult one," France's culture minister Roselyne Bachelot stated during the painting's return. "It means bringing out from the national collections a masterpiece, that is moreover the only painting of Gustav Klimt that France owned. It is not a heartbreak for me, quite the opposite." She then elaborated on one of the several ways Jews have been persecuted during and after the Holocaust. She said, "We know that the persecution of the Jews has taken many forms. Very often, before the methodical elimination, before the extermination, there were thefts of the goods of the Jews, ordered to abandon everything."
Le musée d'Orsay va devoir se séparer d'une de ses œuvres majeures : "Rosiers sous les arbres" de Gustav Klimt. La seule œuvre du maitre autrichien en possession de la France est un tableau spolié peu après l'Anschluss, en 1938 ! https://t.co/5eoD3AArhc pic.twitter.com/DwaLuLdV0m— France Culture (@franceculture) March 16, 2021
When Austria was annexed by the Nazis in 1938 during the Anschluss, original owner Stiasny had her personal property gradually confiscated. In August that same year, she was forced to sell the painting to an acquaintance at a reduced price in order to survive. Four years later, in 1942, Stiasny, as well as her mother Amalie, were both deported and killed in either Poland's Izbica ghetto or in the nearby Belzec extermination camp, both Nazi-occupied regions at the time. Meanwhile, her husband Paul, and their son, Otto, were also deported. First, they were deported to the Terezin camp near Prague, and then to Auschwitz.
It was in the year 2019 when France's Ministry of Culture set out to identify stolen works in its collections, that they tracked down the painting's rightful owners. After the tedious and lengthy process to track down the original owners, 'Rosiers sous les Arbres' will now be returned to Stiasny's descendants. Created in 1905, the oil painting features a landscape of trees, under which are rose bushes. It is one of Klimt's lesser-known works, particularly in comparison to 'The Kiss,' his most famous work. This is not the first time his paintings have transferred ownership. In 2006, a national arbitration board in Austria called on the Austrian National Gallery to return five paintings by the artist to a Los Angeles-based woman, the heir of a Jewish family that had its art stolen by the Nazis. The paintings were, at the time, estimated to be worth at least $150 million.