Kirche in Cassone in Auction

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Brings “Kirche in Cassone” to Auction: Sotheby’s Sells a Rare Klimt from the Collection of the Late Viktor and Paula Zuckerkandl

by Andreas Cwitkovits and Irina Tarsis

On February 2, 2010, Sotheby’s London auctioned a rare Klimt landscape, Kirche in Cassone. The painting, promoted as the only surviving depiction of Lake Garda executed by the artist(1),was es­timated to fetch between 12 and 18 million pounds, but it sold for almost 27 million pounds (ham­mer price and buyer’s premium) to set the record on a Klimt land­scape sold at auction. Unlike many other collectors of Klimt’s works acquired during or after World War II, the new owners of this precious painting need not worry about title claims.

Better known for his sensual portraits and allegorical mu­rals, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), the seminal Austrian Symbolist painter, stood at the forefront of the modernism in Austria. He was a co-founder of the Viennese Secession, an artistic movement that broke away from the tradi­tional academic art association, and embraced decorative arts coupled with international artistic move­ments of cultural renewal and experi­mentation. Klimt, who started painting landscapes relatively late in his life at the age of thirty-five, produced about fifty-four landscape canvasses, most of them painted during summer vacations on the Attersee and Garda.

Klimt’s paintings were prized and col­lected by famed art patrons, including Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer as well as the Austro-Hungarian iron magnate and collector, Victor Zuckerkandl. Klimt enjoyed public appreciation during his lifetime, but due to his early death and the mounting popularity of Expres­sionists, he was overshadowed and argu­ably forgotten by the collectors until the 1950s, when American collectors and collections started adding his works to their holdings. The first painting to en­ter an academic institution in the United States was a landscape, Pear Tree (1903), housed at Harvard University’s Busch-Reisinger Museum. Otto Kallir, A New York City art gallery owner, presented Pear Tree to Harvard Museum in 1956 in his effort to revitalize appreciation of the famed Austrian painter. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City bought another Klimt landscape from Kallir less than a year later.

Painted almost 100 years ago in 1913, Kirche in Cassone was originally pur­chased by Victor Zuckerkandl directly from the painter. Following Zucker­kandl’s death in 1927, title to the painting passed to Zuckerkandl’s sis­ter, Amalie Redlich. Together with her daughter Mathilde, Redlich was deported to Lodz in 1941. Both women likely perished. The painting, which was stored by a shipping company on behalf of Redlich, went missing during the war. Accord­ing to the Sotheby’s cata­log description, around 1947 Kirche in Cassone was acquired by Galerie Welz in Vienna, then it passed to Hans Fritz in Gerlitzen and in 1962 it was acquired by the anonymous owner and it remained in the collection of that family from the 1960s to this year. While it took decades to negoti­ate a settlement, the latest owner agreed to offer the painting for sale and split the proceeds with the heirs of Zucker­kandl and Redlich to clear the title.

The present case is illustrative of the advan­tages that alternative dispute resolution offers in title negotiations between two innocent parties, bona fide purchasers of stolen art and the heirs of the rightful owners of art works looted during World War II.

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(1) In 2006, an Austrian court of arbitration ruled to remove five Klimt paintings from the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, and to restore them to the heirs of Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, whose estate was illegally kept by the Nazi government following the Annexation of Austria in 1939. The lot of returned paintings included three landscapes Beech Woods (1903), Apple Tree I (1911 or 1912), and Houses in Unterach on Lake Attersee (1916).

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Andreas Cwitkovits is an Art Attorney in Vienna and represented the heir of the good faith purchaser of the painting to help broker the settlement.

Irina Tarsis is a student at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and co-founder and co-president of the Cardozo Art Law Society.

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ART LAW BUSINESS

Anwaltskanzlei für Kunst

Art Law Office

 

Dr. Andreas Cwitkovits

Rechtsanwalt/Attorney

 

Schwindgasse 7

1040 Vienna, Austria

 

T: +43 1 503 07 80

 

office(at)artlaw.at

office(at)kunstrecht.at