Four early twentieth century works by Gustav Klimt sold in a record-setting auction at Christie’s last week. Maria Altmann, now of Los Angeles, began her efforts to reclaim the paintings – taken from her family by the Nazis in 1938 – soon after passage of legislation in Austria in 1998, requiring that artwork acquired because of the German occupation be returned to its rightful owners. Litigation between Austria and Mrs. Altmann reached the United States Supreme Court in 2004, but was subsequently discontinued in favor of arbitration in Vienna. An arbitration court awarded the five paintings to Mrs. Altmann’s family earlier this year.
Soon after their arrival in the United States, all five paintings were exhibited in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. One – Adele Bloch Bauer I – was then purchased for the Neue Galerie in New York where the paintings were displayed last summer.
A 1903 painting by Pablo Picasso, Portrait de Angel Fernández de Soto, was withdrawn from the Christie’s auction at the last minute because of a separate dispute concerning its ownership.