Austria sets up Internet database for Nazi art loot

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People who left behind artwork when they fled Austria during the Nazi regime of 1938-1945, or had them stolen, as of Tuesday, trawl through an internet database for their long-lost possessions. The National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism, set up by the Austrian government in 1995, compiled a databank of looted art on the internet that is now accessible.

It contains several thousand objects of art that are in the possession of state-run museums, galleries and other official institutions but which are considered looted.

A virtual catalogue, organized in sections such as Prints, Painting or Furniture, facilitates the search for stolen objects that are described in great detail, often with photos. The location of the object and the institution in charge of it are also listed.

The National Fund was tasked with investigating the origin of art of uncertain origin owned by the state or official institutions, clarifying questions of ownership and examining possible restitution to the owner of their heirs.

While Austria had been initially very reluctant to tackle the restitution of looted art, the issue gained momentum with the case of Maria Altmann, who fought many years for the return of several paintings by Art Nouveau painter Gustav Klimt.

Altman, who currently lives in Los Angeles, has been deemed the rightful heir of five Klimt paintings, among them a world famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, Altmann’s aunt, that were on display at the Austrian Gallery in Vienna.