Hunting for a Bargain

Der Standard (02/04/2010)

Emile Zuckerkandl wants to reclaim Klimt’s painting, “Mohnwiese“ (“Poppy Meadow“) from Belvedere that he sold to Rudolf Leopold after the war.

According to Attorney Alfred Noll, the case fulfills the conditions of the Law on Restitution.

Vienna / Los Angeles – For the Zuckerkandl family, there remained no other alternative than to flee: In 1938 the Westend Sanatorium in Purkersdorf designed by Josef Hoffmann with all its art objects were aryzanized and sold to a member of the Nazi Party, Hans Gnad. Emile Zuckerkandl, who was born in Vienna in 1922 as the son of the former owner of the Westend Sanatorium, Fritz Zuckerkandl lives today in Los Angeles and is still fighting for the return of property.

After WW II, the family was granted some of the art works, among them, “Poppy Meadow,” painted by Gustav Klimt in 1907. However, the federal agency responsible for the preservation of historical monuments refused to allow them to be exported. Reason: “Interest in Klimt’s paintings is increasing, particularly among the Austrian public who have a right to see the landscapes of their native painter, Gustav Klimt.”

Zuckerkandl’s appeal was defeated by the Ministry of Education. It was well known that Austria’s Belvedere gallery had a strong interest in acquiring the oil painting and that the Zuckerkandl family received the recommendation to contact the Belvedere gallery, which they did. In July 1949, the Austrian gallery informed the Zuckerkandl family that it was prepared to pay 15,000 Schilling for it.

Emile Zuckerkandl answered that he was assured that the value of the painting was worth much more and asked for 20,000 Schilling – “a price, that according to specialists, is still very modest indeed.” Nevertheless, Belvedere refused to discuss the matter and also turned down Zuckerkandl’s offer of compromise of 17,500 Schilling.

A few years later, in 1955, the Viennese ophthalmologist, Rudolf Leopold, expressed his interest. Zuckerkandl took a risk and asked for an “exorbitant” price. At the end of 1956 Leopold recommended a compromise: “Since your painting would fit very well into my collection, I am prepared to pay you an extraordinary price of 30,000 Schilling.” In January of 1957, Zuckerkandl agreed to accept the offer.

One Klimt for Two Schiele

Leopold didn’t really want to acquire the painting for his collection because a few days later, he turned around and offered Austria’s Belvedere gallery the painting, “Poppy Meadow,” in exchange for two works by Egon Schiele, which interested him much more – “Cardinal and Nun,” as well as “Two Crouching Women” from the former Rieger Collection.

Belvedere agreed since it considered the two immoral paintings as inappropriate for exhibition. The result was a real bargain since the two Schiele paintings were acquired for 11,500 Schilling and received in turn for a Klimt painting, for which Leopold had paid 30,000 Schilling. Moreover, Leopold was required to add on “Dutch Landscape” by Rudolf Ribarz together with “Holy Aegydius.” Leopold quickly struck the deal on February 16. Today Egon Schiele’s “Cardinal and Nun” are considered his main piece of art work, and it is more valuable than Klimt’s “Poppy Meadow.”

Emile Zuckerkandl would like, however, to have the painting back. In 2003 his attorney, Alfred Noll, turned to Ernst Bacher, the former head of the Commission on Provenance Research. In Bacher’s view, based on the Law of Restitution, the facts of the case excluded right of return.

In November 2009, however, the law was amended. Since then, not only art works previously prohibited by federal law from being exported that were acquired by the Republic of Austria are to be returned without charge, but also all works of art that became objects of restitution procedures. Noll is convinced that “Poppy Meadow” must therefore be returned.