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Archive for Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Stolen Nazi art sold at record price

June 20, 2006

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— A gold-encrusted portrait by Gustav Klimt that was at the heart of a battle over Nazi-looted art and is one of the world's most recognizable paintings has been purchased for a record price, the seller's attorney said.

The 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer was purchased by a New York museum co-founded by cosmetics mogul Ronald S. Lauder, attorney Steven Thomas said Sunday.

It was sold by Bloch-Bauer's niece Maria Altmann and her family. Altmann, a Los Angeles resident, had battled the Austrian government for seven years to recover the painting.

Thomas refused to disclose the price but said it eclipsed the record of $104.1 million paid at auction for Picasso's 1905 "Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice)." The New York Times, citing experts familiar with the negotiations, reported the portrait sold for $135 million.

The painting - "Adele Bloch-Bauer I" - will head to the Neue Galerie, a museum of German and Austrian art.

"This is our Mona Lisa. It is a once-in-a-lifetime acquisition," Lauder told the Times.

Maria Altmann, center, chats with Michael Govan, left, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and her attorney E. Randol Schoenberg in front of a Gustav Klimt painting of Altmann's aunt titled "Adele Bloch-Bauer I," at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in this April 4 file photo. The painting, looted from Altmann's family in 1938 by the Nazis, was sold to the Neue Galerie in New York for a record-setting amount.

Maria Altmann, center, chats with Michael Govan, left, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and her attorney E. Randol Schoenberg in front of a Gustav Klimt painting of Altmann's aunt titled "Adele Bloch-Bauer I," at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in this April 4 file photo. The painting, looted from Altmann's family in 1938 by the Nazis, was sold to the Neue Galerie in New York for a record-setting amount.

"It was important for the heirs and for my aunt Adele that her work be displayed in a museum," Altmann said in a statement released by the family.

Altmann, 90, was a newlywed when she watched the Nazis seize power in 1938 and steal the portrait and four other Klimts from her aunt and uncle's home.

Since then, the portrait has primarily been in the Austrian Gallery Belvedere in Vienna, near Klimt's famous painting "The Kiss." Altmann feared she had no hope of recovering the collection until a 1998 law in Austria required museums to return art seized by the Nazis.

Attorneys for Austria argued that Altmann's aunt, who died in 1925, had specified that it be donated to the government gallery. But with the help of attorney E. Randol Schoenberg, Altmann sued for rightful ownership of the paintings.

The case worked its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 2004 that Altmann could sue the Austrian government.

The two sides began mediation and Austrian authorities agreed in January to return all five paintings after an arbitration court ruled in her favor.

The collection has been on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art since April and will remain there until June 30, Schoenberg said.

"I'm sad it's not going to Los Angeles," county museum director Michael Govan told the Los Angeles Times. "But the fact that it's going to a museum in America is great. "

Altmann wanted to ensure the art would remain in public view.

"One of the things we always wanted to do was for this to tell the story of what happened to Maria and her family and Jews in the Holocaust," Schoenberg said. "Now by having this painting on the wall, it will allow this story to be told and retold."

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