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February 13, 2023 12:17 pm

World Jewish Congress President Agrees to Restitution Agreement With Jewish Heirs of Klimt Painting: Report


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder spoke at Poland’s official ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Photo: World Jewish Congress

Ronald Lauder, the president of World Jewish Congress, has agreed to return a painting by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt to the heirs of a Jewish woman who owned the artwork before World War II and repurchase it for an undisclosed amount.

Lauder originally bought The Black Feather Hat (1910) in 1973 in Austria, according to a press release on Feb. 10 announcing the restitution agreement.  The artwork has been displayed in several exhibits at New York City’s Neue Galerie, which the billionaire philanthropist and art collector co-founded in 2001 to showcase German and Austrian art.

The painting previously belonged to Irene Beran, who was born in 1886 and lived in the city of Brno, which is now part of the Czech Republic. Research showed that she owned the painting as early as 1928 though it became a part of her family’s art collection years earlier through her father-in-law, Lauder and Beran’s heirs said in a joint statement. Beran maintained possession of the painting through at least 1934.

Beran and her husband fled Europe during World War II, fearing Nazi persecution, and first traveled to Canada before moving to New York in 1947 while their family members that remained in Europe were killed at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, The New York Times reported. Beran died in 1979.

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It remains unclear what happened to the painting between 1934 and 1957 despite much research into finding its whereabouts, according to Lauder and Beran’s descendants. The oil-on-canvas was then discovered in an exhibit in Stuttgart, Germany, co-organized by Australian art dealer and former Nazi party member Friedrich Welz.

In 2018, Lauder agreed with Beran’s heirs to look into the work’s provenance history.

“Together with the Beran family, we have worked arduously to uncover the full history of this artwork and trace its trajectory through time,” Lauder said in a statement. “While our joint research leaves gaps remaining, I have long championed the importance of restitution. In the spirit of the Washington Conference Principles, I felt it was of utmost importance to arrive at a just and fair solution that recognizes the family’s history with this painting.”

Beran heirs said in a joint statement that they are “confident that Irene would be delighted to know that The Black Feather Hat found a home in New York, a city that had, at an important juncture in her refugee life, also been Irene’s home.”

Lauder owns other Klimt paintings as well, including a gold portrait that he reportedly paid $135 million for in 2006.

Update: the article previously incorrectly stated that Lauder also owned a Klimt painting titled Blooming Meadow.  

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