Philharmonic Orchestra Returns Stolen Paintings

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra during the New Year’s Concert on January 1, 2014 in Vienna (AFP Photo/Dieter Nagl)
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra during the New Year’s Concert on January 1, 2014 in Vienna (AFP Photo/Dieter Nagl)

The Philharmonic Orchestra in Vienna has issued a statement on Saturday, April 12, that they will return a painting that was stolen by the Nazis to the descendants of the rightful owners. The statement was issued as a result of a high-profile restitution case which took place in Austria.

The Philharmonic which is known for its annual New Year’s concert, sent a letter to the relatives of the original owner, Marcel Koch, to inform them of the decision.

The 1883 painting, “Port-en-Bessin” by the French artist, Paul Signac, who was known for his pointillistic style, was stolen in 1940 when the Jura region of France was raided. The painting was given to the Philharmonic after it performed in the region, reported Yahoo News.

Over two decades of research went into finding the origins of the painting, led by Sophie Lillie, an art historian hired by the orchestra. When a discovery of the rightful owners of the painting was made, Clemens Hellsberg, the President and a musician for the Philharmonic, said in a statement. He goes on to say that it was very important for the orchestra to find the owner of the painting and they have decided to take responsibility and correct any injustice created by the Philharmonic’s past.

A ceremony will be held in order to return the painting to the family of Marcel Koch. It is uncertain when this ceremony will take place.

In the meantime, the orchestra will continue to search their archives for more stolen artifacts.

Austria had considered itself a victim of Nazi Germany for a long time. Only recently had they admitted responsibility in WWII and the Holocaust. It has regularly been at the center for debate over the recovery of stolen art.

Austria’s most high-profile case took place in 2006 when they had to return Gustav Klimt’s prized “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” to the family of the former own. It took years for a decision to finally be reached. Only last year, a Jewish family also laid claim to another famous artifact that Austria is famous for–“Beethoven Frieze” is another one of Klimt’s masterpieces. The family argued the state had forced its sale after the end of the war.

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE