On December 4, 1998 the Bundesgesetz über die Rückgabe von Kunstgegenständen (Kunstrückgabegesetz / Austrian Law on the Return of Artefacts) was passed; its aim is to return artworks now housed in Austrian Federal Museums and Collections that entered these federal collections during or because of the Nazi tyranny to their original owners or their legal heirs.
For this purpose the Kommission für Provenienzforschung (Commission for Provenance Research) was established in 1998; its research associates check all the inventories, archivalia and objects in every federal museum for information on a work’s provenance. In 2009 an amendment to the law was passed. Today, the Commission answers to Chancellery Minister Josef Ostermayer.
Provenance Research in the Kunsthistorisches Museum
Even before the Kunstrückgabegesetz was passed in December 1998, Dr Herbert Haupt, a historian and at the time the Director of the Museum Archive, researched the provenance of all artefacts that had entered the museum holdings during or immediately after the Nazi era. In June 1998 Haupt, assisted by Dr Lydia Gröbl, published a comprehensive and detailed account of the facts entitled “Die Veränderungen im Inventarbestand des Kunsthistorischen Museums während der Nazizeit und in den Jahren bis zum Staatsvertrag 1955“(Changes in the Holdings of the Kunsthistorisches Museum during the NS Era and the Years before the Signing of the Austrian State Treaty in 1955).
His report focused on extant sources in the archives from the period 1938 – 1955, and, together with some later research, it forms an important basis for all subsequent provenance research. Until his retirement at the end of 2008 Haupt remained both Director of the Museum Archive and the provenance research officer of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
A number of suspect paintings in the Picture Gallery listed in the art data base compiled by the Nationalfonds (National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism) were researched by Dr Sabine Pénot, curator of the Picture Gallery. Additional research was carried out by Mag. Ulrike Nimeth from the Commission. In 2009 Dr Franz Pichorner, Deputy Director of the Kunsthistorisches Museum and Director of its Archive, was installed as the Kunsthistorisches Museum’s provenance research officer. In April 2009 the Commission selected Dr Susanne Hehenberger and Dr Monika Löscher, who are systematically checking all acquisitions by the Kunsthistorisches Museum since 1933.
The results of their work are summarized in dossiers that form the basis for the recommendations made by the Kunstrückgabebeirat (Advisory Council for the Return of Stolen Artworks) to the relevant ministry. The decisions of the advisory council must be unanimous; it either endorses or rejects a restitution within the meaning of the law. The council‘s reasoning is subsequently published on the commission’s website. If the council endorses a restitution the law empowers the minister in charge to return objects illegally removed from their rightful owners to them or their legal heirs.
Elizabeth Bondy, recommendation issued on Oct. 27, 1999
Oscar Bondy, recommendation issued on Nov. 30, 2011
Jaromir Czernin, recommendation issued on March 18, 2011
Siegfried Fuchs, recommendation issued on April 20, 2012
Hermann Eissler, recommendation issued on June 24, 2009
Otto Feist, recommendation issued on May 3, 2013
Leo Fürst, recommendation issued on Oct. 10, 2000
Jacques Goudstikker, recommendation issued on Dec. 14, 2005
Rudolf Gutmann, recommendation issued on May 9, 2008
Marianne Hamburger-Löw, recommendation issued on May 9,2008
Leo Heymann, recommendation issued on Dec. 3, 2002
Bruno Jellinek, recommendation issued on Sept. 28, 2007
Moritz Kuffner, recommendation issued on Oct. 10, 2000
Anton Lanckoronski, recommendation issued on Oct. 27, 1999
Erich Lederer, recommendation issued on May 10, 1999
Felix und Josefine Löw-Beer, recommendation issued on March 20, 2009
Alfred Menziles, recommendation issued on June 6, 2002
Richard Neumann, recommendation issued on March 16, 2005
Richard Neumann, recommendation issued on June 10, 2010
Albert Pollak, recommendation issued on Jan. 23, 2001
Moritz Rothberger, recommendation issued on June 18, 2003
Moritz Rothberger, recommendation issued on Nov. 20, 2003
Alphonse, Clarice & Louis Rothschild, recommendation issued on Feb. 11, 1999
Alphonse, Clarice & Louis Rothschild, recommendation issued on June 28, 1999
Valentine Springer, recommendation issued on May 3, 2013
Since 1998, a total of 787 artefacts have been returned to heirs or legal successors of original owners. Broken down according to collection this means (counted by inventory numbers)
- Greek and Roman Collection: 8
- Picture Gallery: 21
- Collection of Arms and Armour: 36
- Kunstkammer: 44
- Coin Collection: 668
- Collection of Historical Musical Instruments: 10
updated Jan. 29, 2014
Provenienzbeauftragter des Kunsthistorischen Museums:
Dr. Franz Pichorner
Provienzforscherinnen im Auftrag der Kommission:
Dr. Susanne Hehenberger
T +43 1 525 24 - 5611
Dr. Monika Löscher
T +43 1 525 24 - 5602
Neue Burg (Archiv)