In the new movie “Woman in Gold” a Jewish World War II survivor sues the Austrian government for the return of artwork stolen from her family by the Nazis. The will of the woman who was depicted in the Gustav Klimt painting “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” figured prominently in the real-life dispute. One of the main arguments of the Austrian government was that Adele Bloch-Bauer had bequeathed several of the paintings to the Austrian Galerie in her will before her death in 1925.1
Through the litigation, according to a news report on the film, it was found that the actual language of Bloch-Bauer’s will did not specifically bequeath the paintings to the museum—it actually contained a non-binding request. The paintings belonged to her husband Ferdinand (who had paid for them). Thus, the paintings were not Adele’s to give away, regardless of her expressed desire in her will. Ferdinand’s last will and testament bequeathed all of his possessions (including the paintings) to his nieces and nephews. In 1998 when the proceedings began, Maria Altmann, the petitioner in the proceeding, was the only surviving niece.
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