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January 31, 2022 1:51 pm

France to Return 15 Nazi-Looted Works of Art to Jewish Owners, Including Chagall, Klimt Paintings

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

A session of France’s National Assembly. Photo: Reuters/Benoit Tessier.

The National Assembly of France last week approved the return of 15 artworks stolen by Nazis during World War II to the heirs of the Jewish families who previously owned them, Artnet reported.

In a bill unanimously passed on Tuesday, members of the lower house of the French Parliament addressed paintings, sculptures, and drawings that have been housed at some of France’s biggest museums, including the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and the Compiègne Castle Museum. These include Marc Chagall’s work “The Father” as well as Gustav Klimt’s “Rosebushes Under the Trees,” the Austrian artist’s only painting in the French national collections.

France’s Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot said the “historic” bill marked the first time that the country passed a law to return WWII-era works to Jewish families. Allowing the French government to maintain possession of these artworks was “a denial of the humanity [of these Jewish families], of their memory, of their recollections,” she said.

The bill will now move to the Parliament’s upper house, where senators are expected to endorse it on Feb. 15.

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Klimt’s “Rosebushes Under the Trees” was acquired by the Austrian Jewish industrialist and collector Viktor Zuckerkandl in 1911, according to The Art Newspaper. After Zuckerkandl and his wife died, the painting was passed down to his niece, Eleonore “Nora” Stiasny, who was forced to sell it in 1938 to a Nazi party member during Germany’s annexation of Austria. She and her family were later deported and murdered by the Nazis. The painting was acquired by France in 1980 and is housed at the Musée d’Orsay.

The painting by Chagall was determined to be owned by Polish Jewish luthier and musician David Cender, who was forced to leave his home and belongings after the German invasion of Lodz in 1940. Cender was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he survived while his wife and daughter were killed. He settled in France in 1958 and the artwork is currently stored at the Center Pompidou.

The other works being restituted as part of the bill include a painting by Maurice Utrillo, which is currently at France’s Utrillo-Valadon Museum, along with 11 drawings and a wax sculpture.

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