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France to return Klimt art taken by Nazis to owners' heirs

The Austrian Jewish owner of Rosebushes under the Trees died in a concentration camp in 1942, four years after she was forced to sell the piece

France is to return a Gustav Klimt masterpiece to the family of its rightful owner, 83 years after the Nazis had forced her to sell it.

Holocaust victim Nora Stiasny, a member of a well-known Austrian Jewish family, was forced to sell the artist's 1904 work Rosebushes under the Trees in August 1938, shortly after her home country was annexed. She died in a concentration camp in Poland in 1942.

She had inherited the painting from her uncle, Austrian industrialist and art collector Viktor Zuckerkandl, French culture minister Roselyne Bachelot told a news conference at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, adding that restoring the work to its rightful owners was an acknowledgement of the crimes they suffered.

The French state bought the work, the only Klimt work in the national collection, in 1980 without knowing its history. It was exhibited at the Musée d'Orsay before its origins were recognised.

Read more: Museums convey complexities of France’s wartime role

The family formally requested the painting's return at the end of 2019.

The work is part of the national collection and protected under French law, so the government will have to present a bill to the National Assembly to allow it to be returned to Ms Stiasny's family.

Ms Bachelot said this would happen 'as soon as possible'.

"The decision we've taken is ... a difficult one," she said. "It results in taking a masterpiece out of the national collection - the only painting by Gustav Klimt which France owned.

"But this decision is necessary. Eighty-three years after the forced sale of this painting by Nora Stiasny, this is ... an act of justice."

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