National Council Expanded Scope of Restitution of Looted Art

Austrian Federal Chancellery (11/02/2010)

The scope of rules governing the restitution of works of art looted by the Nazis has been expanded. On October 21, 2009, the National Council adopted an amendment of the Art Restitution Act contrary to the votes of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ).

In addition to works of art, the amendment also covers “other movable cultural assets,” which are held by federal museums or owned directly by the Federal Republic. A legal basis has been created for returning assets that were seized by the NS regime outside Austria in the German Reich between 1933 and 1938.

Based on the Art Restitution Act, about 10,000 works of art thus far have been returned to their legitimate owners.

Minister of Culture Claudia Schmied welcomes the resolution passed by Parliament. “It is impressive that in 1998 the support of a broad majority was won, and I regret that we have now failed to motivate all the parties to vote in favor,” said the Minister. It had been very important to establish a legal framework for the Commission for Provenance Research as well as its duties and term of office.

Regarding the much discussed question whether the Leopold Museum Private Foundation is subject to the Art Restitution Act, the Minister explained: “an inter-ministerial working group examined this issue during the previous legislative term, and arrived at a legally clear conclusion.

As the name implies, it is a private foundation. In this case, constitutional safeguards for private ownership have also to be taken into account.” The Art Restitution Act could only cover the legitimate ownership of the Federal Republic. “Of course, I achieved that the managing board of the private foundation agreed to conduct provenance research of the Leopold Museum. By the end of the year, a report will be issued, which will then be assessed.” Minister Schmied hoped that the managing board of the private foundation would act with due responsibility.

The president of the administrative court, Clemens Jabloner, who has chaired the advisory board on art restitution since 2007, expressed a similar opinion in the newspaper, “Die Presse” on October 28, 2009, stating: “The Leopold Foundation is not the Republic of Austria.

The paintings belong to the Leopold Foundation and are therefore not subject to the Art Restitution Act. The Leopold Museum is not a state-owned museum, but a museum belonging to the Leopold Foundation. To subject a private collection to statutory regulations is a controversial issue for constitutional law. I do not say that it is impossible.”