Will the Vienna Kunthistorisches lose its Vermeer?March 16th, 2011
Friday March 18, the Austrian art restitution advisory committee will meet to discuss the ownership of the most important work of art still disputed in the aftermath of WWII, Vermeer’s Art of Painting. The case is not closed in favor of the Viennese art institution. Randol Schoenberg, the heavy-weight Los Angeles attorney who represents Helga Conrad, the step-daughter of Jaromir Czernin-Morzin who in turn sold the work to Hitler, has litigated several prominent Nazi-looted art cases., including Republic of Austria vs. Altmann. Schoenberg won the return of five paintings by Gustav Klimt valued at over $300 million.
in a nutshell (source: Wikipedia):
After the Nazi invasion of Austria, top Nazi officials including Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring attempted to acquire the painting. It was finally acquired from its then owner, Count Jaromir Czernin by Adolf Hitler for his personal collection at a price of 1.65 million Reichsmark through his agent, Hans Posse on November 20, 1940. The painting was rescued from a salt mine at the end of World War II in 1945, where it was preserved from Allied bombing raids, with other works of art.
The Americans presented the painting to the Austrian Government in 1946, since the Czernin family were deemed to have sold it voluntarily, without undue force from Hitler. It is now the property of the State of Austria.
In August 2009 a request was submitted by the heirs of the Czernin family to Austria’s culture ministry for the return of the painting. A previous request was submitted in 1960s however it was “rejected on the grounds that the sale had been voluntary and the price had been adequate.” A 1998 restitution law which pertains to public institutions has bolstered the family’s legal position.