Czernin Family Seeks Return of Vermeer Painting from Austria

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (09/04/2009)

Heirs of Jaromir Czernin want the painting entitled “Malkunst” (“The Art of Painting”) returned. Lawyer states selling it to Hitler “was the price paid for survival”

Vienna – In a letter written to the Republic of Austria the heirs of Jarmir Czernin asked for restitution of the painting, “Malkunst” (“The Art of Painting”), by Jan Vermeer (1632-1675) housed in Vienna’s Museum of Art History. As the daily newspaper, “Der Standard” reported, the Czernin family claims that Jaromir Czernin sold the painting “under duress” in 1940 to Adolf Hitler for the Führer’s museum planned to be built in Linz. Since 1946 the work which was painted in 1665 is owned by the Museum of Art History.

According to the daily newspaper “Der Standard” the Czernin family commissioned a report, to be conducted by provenance researcher Michael Wladika. Based on his conclusions, the family has suggested restitution with the assistance of their lawyer, Alexander Theiss. In that the family has only “suggested” and currently doesn’t wish to file a suit, the situation is the following, explains Theiss: “We are convinced that Austria will confront the issue openly and honestly so that further steps are not deemed necessary. 

Theiss stated that Czernin had no other choice than to sell the painting. “He had to sell it in order to protect the life of his family,” and “that was the price paid for survival.” According to “Der Standard,” Czernin was the son-in-law of the Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg and his wife, Alix May, and according to the Nürnberg Laws a second grade cross breed. Moreover, in 1935 Hitler was more than anxious to have it.

Restitution requests after the war failed, according to the newspaper. Theiss is convinced that Austria will not subscribe to the “harrowing” argumentation of the post-war era. At the time it was argumented that the sale was “negotiated on equal footing,” that Czernin sold the painting without being under any duress and received an appropriate sales price. “This take on things is shocking. This is how one argued during the Third Reich,” said their lawyer.

“The Art of Painting” was the greatest painting by the Dutch painter, from whom there are only some forty paintings. In this article, “Der Standard” characterized the painting as “the most expensive painting owned by Austria.”