Austria returns Nazi stolen art to French heirs

A painting stolen by the Nazis after the invasion of France during the Second World War has been returned to it’s rightful owner by authorities in Salzburg.

Austria returns Nazi stolen art to French heirs
Jeanne Pontillon à la capeline by Berthe Morisot. Photo: Museum der Moderne Salzburg

The artwork “Jeanne Pontillon à la capeline” by artist Berthe Morisot was painted in 1884 and belonged to the David-Weill family in France until it was stolen by the Nazis after the invasion in 1940.

The piece was since bought by gallery owner Friedrich Welz, who then donated his collection to the state-owned Museum der Moderne Salzburg.

According to the museum, Welz's “questionable role” in the Austrian art trade during the Nazi regime became obvious towards the end of the 1990s, leading to the institute carrying out provenance research on the collection.

After Salzburg researcher and historian Susanne Rolinek identified in 2009 that the painting was without doubt stolen artwork, the museum set about returning the piece to it’s rightful owner.

“That was very complicated,” said local Green politician Sepp Schellhorn responsible for art and culture in the region, speaking to the ORF. “There are twenty different heirs spread about in three different lands.”

This week in a ceremony in Salzburg the piece, worth today between €50,000 and €80,000, was handed to French gallery owner Elizabeth Royer-Grimblat who is representing the French heirs.

There have been several cases of Nazi-plundered artwork held in Austria being returned to owners in recent years.

A long dispute about five works from the artist Egon Shiele was finally resolved earlier this year after Vienna’s Leopold Museum agreed with the artwork’s rightful owner to return two pieces to her.

Experts say the latest case in Salzburg is somewhat unusual for Austria as efforts to reunite the artwork with it’s owner were led by Austrian authorities, rather than from the side of the heirs.

“In this case the province of Salzburg decided to give back the picture to it’s rightful owners,” said Royer-Grimblat.  “That is quite a rare case, because very often the rightful owners must themselves search in museums for stolen pictures.”

In a statement released by the regional government when the painting was first exposed as stolen, they said that they felt “obliged for moral and historical reasons” to return the work.

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Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.