The Vienna auction house Im Kinsky is embroiled in an ownership dispute between the descendants of the Schloss family and the current owner of a seventeenth-century Dutch Old Master painting, Kate Connolly of The Guardian reports. Bartholomeus van der Helst’s Portrait of a Man, 1647, was one of hundreds of works owned by the Jewish German collector Adolphe Schloss that were confiscated by the Nazis during World War II. It is now lot number 476 in Im Kinsky’s upcoming Old Master paintings auction on April 26. Despite the heirs’ protest of the sale and the questionable provenance of the work, the auction house claims it has the right to sell it.
“Right now what we have is a legal mess, a clash of national laws across Europe leaves private art collectors exposed and I wanted to demonstrate that,” said Ernst Ploil, one of the managing directors of Im Kinsky, when asked about the sale. Though the work was originally stolen from Schloss’s chateau in France, where it is illegal to sell artworks that were looted, in Austria and Germany owners of stolen works bought in good faith are not required to restitute them.
Lawyer Antoine Comte, who represents the Schloss heirs, said the family wants the painting returned to them. “As long as we don’t get the painting back that was unlawfully taken from the family, this amounts to an appalling continuation of Nazism and the crimes of Nazism. The Austrians fall back on their own legal system to say they are in the right, but they don’t give a damn about the moral aspect of this.” He added, “The only satisfaction we have is knowing that it’s unlikely to be able to leave Austria. It will not get very far.”
The work was supposed to go under the hammer in 2016 but was pulled at the request of the French culture ministry. After the descendants of Schloss failed to retrieve the painting through Austria’s legal channels, the auction house decided to allow the sale. According to Ploil, the owners of the work had offered to give the heirs half of the proceeds of the sale, but they refused.