Maria Altmann’s Impact On WWII Art Restitution
During the Third Reich of WWII, Nazis looted and destroyed tens of thousands of pieces of art. This included the Bloch-Bauers, a wealthy Jewish family and patrons of the arts, who lost The Woman in Gold by Gustav Klimt and other paintings. When Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer died after the conclusion of …
During the Third Reich of WWII, Nazis looted and destroyed tens of thousands of pieces of art. This included the Bloch-Bauers, a wealthy Jewish family and patrons of the arts, who lost The Woman in Gold by Gustav Klimt and other paintings. When Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer died after the conclusion of WWII, he gave part of his estate to his niece, Maria Altmann, and by then, the pieces were possessed by the Austrian government.
The repercussions of Nazi art theft were long ignored before 1998, the year that Maria Altmann first tried to reclaim her family’s paintings. The year before that, in 1997, the London Nazi Gold Conference was held, where potential solutions to owner disputes were discussed. These ideas would eventually lay the foundation for the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art Agreement, passed in December of 1998. However, restitution efforts before Altmann’s were largely unsuccessful.
When Maria Altmann first attempted to broker with the Austrian government, she wasn’t taken seriously and her claim was denied. Although angered, Altmann did not file a lawsuit right away, as it would have been difficult to do so through the Austrian court system. Instead, two years later in 2000, she filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Central District of California. By 2004, the case had made its way to the US Supreme Court as Republic of Austria v. Altmann. Advised by her lawyer, E. Randol Schoenberg, Altmann agreed to donate the Klimt paintings in exchange for export permits for the family’s other recovered art pieces, and it worked.
Maria Altmann’s case had brought a lot of international attention to restitution efforts. From her first negotiations in 1998 to finally repossessing her family’s paintings in 2006, Altmann’s battle lasted a total of eight years. Altmann set a precedent, and she greatly improved the odds of restitution for those who followed after her.