Art Stolen, Art Rescued
Rape of Europe

Restitutions To-Date

Alain Monteagle | Maria Altmann | Marei von Saher

Museum officials and volunteers in Europe took extraordinary measures to protect art from Hitler and the ensuing war. When U.S. forces landed in Europe, they assembled a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, and art historians known as the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section. These “Monuments Men” attempted to minimize damage to European monuments and architecture, then track down stolen works of art. Their effort would become one of the greatest “treasure hunts” in history. In the end, Allied Forces located more then 1,000 repositories, in mines and castles, many of which contained art, sculpture, furniture, and other treasures stolen by the Nazis. But many pieces are still missing. Noted below are several of the more prominent recent cases.

Mr. Alain Monteagle

The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, agreed to restitute an important painting by the great British artist, J.M.W. Turner, to the heirs of John and Anna Jaffé.  Prior to his meeting in Fort Worth with Kimbell Museum officials, author of Rescuing da Vinci, Robert M. Edsel, had a delightful visit in Dallas with Mr. Alain Monteagle, one of the Jaffé heirs. After reading Rescuing da Vinci, Mr. Monteagle contacted Mr. Edsel to discuss his family’s long struggle to locate and have restituted to them paintings stolen from the collection of their family in 1943 by pro-Nazi Vichy France.  To-date he and the other heirs have been successful in recovering several paintings including important works by the Italian painter Francesco Guardi and the great Spanish artist Francisco Goya.  Some of these paintings were in the collection of the Louvre Museum in Paris before they were identified and returned by French officials.  The Jaffé heirs subsequently sold the painting by Guardi last summer for $7.6 million.  It is suspected that the Turner will, in time, also be sold.  Its market value is estimated to be between 5 and $6 million.

Robert M. Edsel with Alain Monteagle
Robert M. Edsel (left) with Alain Monteagle (right)

Interestingly, more than 50 paintings from their collection remain missing.  It is a virtual certainty that many if not all of them exist somewhere, perhaps unknowingly in the possession of a private collector or museum, or in hiding.  In time, we believe they, too, will be located and returned–one way or another–to Mr. Monteagle and the other heirs. This announcement is but a precursor. Kimbell officials are to be complimented for handling this complicated and painful matter openly and quickly.  In doing so, they restore a measure of dignity not just to the Jaffé family and their heirs, but to all victims of Hitler and the Nazi’s looting of Europe and Russia.

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Maria Altmann

Five paintings that were taken by the Nazis and recently returned after a seven-year legal battle will be exhibited beginning April 4.

By Suzanne Muchnic, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Five multimillion-dollar paintings by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt — looted by the Nazis and recently returned by the Austrian government to the family of Maria Altmann in Los Angeles — will go on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Two portraits of Altmann's aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, and three landscapes will be exhibited from April 4 through June 30.

"It's a great thing for Los Angeles," said Michael Govan, who was recently appointed director of LACMA and will take charge of the museum April 1 — three days before the exhibition opens. "There are so many of these stories about works moving around and leaving. It's nice to see such extraordinary works arriving in Los Angeles."

Altmann fought a seven-year legal battle for the paintings on behalf of her family. One of five heirs to the works — valued at about $300 million — she led the fight because the others live in Canada, which does not sue foreign governments, she said.

Maria Altmann with Robert M. Edsel

Maria Altmann with the author of Rescuing DaVinci, Robert M. Edsel, in Los Angeles.

The exhibition was initiated by Stephanie Barron, LACMA's senior curator of modern art, in January after an Austrian arbitration court ordered its government to turn over the paintings to Altmann, whose family fled Vienna in 1938. Barron proposed the show in a letter to Altmann's attorney, Randol Schoenberg, who presented the idea to Altmann.

"LACMA was kind enough to offer, and I thought it was a beautiful thing," Altmann said. "The paintings have been in Vienna for 68 years, and people in Europe saw them all the time. I thought it would be a beautiful thing to show them in this country."

The museum paid for transportation and to insure the paintings, she said, adding that the most famous work — a 1907 portrait of Bloch-Bauer known as the best of Klimt's highly coveted "gold paintings" — "is protected like the Hope diamond."

The Austrian government had hoped to buy back the paintings, but officials said they couldn't afford the $300-million price tag.

The exhibition at LACMA is "a privilege and an opportunity," Barron said. "Klimt paintings are incredibly famous, but they are very rare in the United States. There are a few on the East Coast, none on the West Coast." The nature of the exhibition has yet to be decided, she said, but the paintings may be shown with works from the same period in the museum's collection.

Klimt, who lived from 1862 to 1918, is known for ornamental figurative works and mosaic-like landscapes. His paintings, executed with a profusion of flickering patterns in shallow space, epitomize turn-of-the-century artistic splendor in Vienna.

The Altmann family paintings, made between 1903 and 1916, were willed to Maria and two of her siblings by their uncle. But the artworks had been taken by the Nazis. Until the recent resolution of the legal battle, they were a major tourist attraction at the Gallery Belvedere in Vienna.

Some of the works have been exhibited in the United States, but the LACMA show will be the first in the U.S. to display them together. Together, they will provide a multifaceted view of the artist's work.

The "gold painting," titled "Adele Bloch-Bauer I," which portrays a feminine beauty dissolving into gold patterning, is one of the three remaining paintings in Klimt's best-known style. The second portrait depicts Bloch-Bauer in a broad-brimmed hat and vivid colors. "Beechwood" is a woodland scene of tree trunks rising from a bed of fallen leaves. In "Apple Tree," a tree fills most of the picture. "Houses in Unterach on the Attersee" portrays a hillside of houses in a bold, architectonic style.

The exhibition is sure to raise questions about the possibility that the paintings might join the Los Angeles museum's permanent collection.

That will be up to the heirs, and no decision has been made, Schoenberg said.

But the museum's staff can hope. "Should there be some way to make this exhibition something that would be forever available," Barron said, "that would be extraordinary."

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Marei von Saher

In February 2006, the Dutch government returned 202 old master paintings to Marei von Saher, heir of prominent art dealer Jacques Goudstikker whose collection was forcibly sold to the Nazis after his escape from Amsterdam in May 1940.

Marei von Saher
Goudstikker died in an accident aboard a boat as he fled in advance of invading German forces with his wife Desi and his infant son Edward. Found on his body was a small black notebook filled with a typed inventory of 1,113 paintings from his collection that had been left behind in Amsterdam. During World War II, Göring purchased around 780 of the best paintings, and the rest were bought by one of his art dealers, Alois Miedl. Of these, 335 were restituted to the Dutch government by Allied Forces after the war.

Desi approached the government in the following years, but her claims were largely ignored. She bought back 165 paintings and some of the family’s real estate, and in 1952 signed an agreement with the Dutch government renouncing her claims to works purchased by Miedl. However, she attached a statement to the agreement stating her “grave dissapointment” and opinion that the sale was “extremely unfair.” A large number of works from the Goudstikker collection were given to national museums and government buildings, where they hung for decades.

Of the 267 Goudstikker works still in the Dutch national collection, the Restitutions Committee ruled that 202 be returned to von Saher, daughter in law of Jacques Goudstikker. These paintings had previously hung in museums such as the Rijksmuseum, the Mauritshuis in the Hague, and the Bonnefantenmuseum in Masstricht. Previously, von Saher has had 32 other Goudstikker paintings returned to her.

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