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Austria may return more Nazi-looted artwork

April 07, 2006|From the Associated Press

VIENNA — An advisory panel handling claims for paintings, sculptures and other items looted by the Nazis during World War II has recommended that 6,292 artworks be returned to their original owners, Austria's culture minister said.

Only a few of the requests received through March 31 have been rejected, said the minister, Elisabeth Gehrer, adding that the government usually follows the panel's recommendations.

Austria has been returning hundreds of works to their owners or heirs -- most of whom were Jewish -- under a 1998 culture property restitution law.

Details on most of the artwork and their claimants were not released, but Gehrer said Wednesday that investigations have been launched to clear up murky circumstances surrounding two of the rejected requests.

Those cases involve a pair of figurines by Belgian symbolist sculptor George Minne and "Summer Evening at the Beach," a painting by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.

The return of the Minne figurines was requested by heirs to Maria Altmann, the Los Angeles woman who recently regained custody of five Gustav Klimt paintings. Marina Mahler, a granddaughter of the late composer Gustav Mahler, is seeking custody of the Munch.

The Minne figurines and the Munch painting are in the possession of Vienna's Austrian Gallery Belvedere, the same museum that was forced by a court order to return the Klimts to Altmann, who had waged a seven-year legal battle.

Gehrer said a website would be set up by the end of the year to help owners track down works.

Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938, one year before the war began in Europe.

Many of the works being returned made their way into state-run museums or art collections under questionable circumstances before, during or after the war.

Austria's first postwar government also effectively confiscated hundreds of paintings from Jewish owners and their heirs, using a 1923 law preventing export of artwork.

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