Return of art works to rightful owner approved by Austrian court

An Austrian arbitration court said Monday that art stolen from a family by Nazis, and now in possession of the Austrian government, should be returned. Maria Altmann, 90, has fought since 1998 to reclaim six valuable Gustav Klimt paintings from the Austrian government, including a colorful, gold-infused portrait of her aunt.

The two sides began mediation in March following an earlier United States Supreme Court decision that Altmann could sue the Austrian government.

The case stems from a 1998 law passed in Austria that required federal museums to review their holdings to see if they included works seized by the Nazis and to find out whether the works were obtained by the museums without renumeration. The Nazis seized the paintings from Altmann's rich Jewish family, including works that now are exhibited in the Austrian Gallery, soon after they came to power in Austria in 1938.

Austria contends rightful ownership of the brilliant pictures because Altmann's aunt, who died in 1925, had specified that they be donated to the government gallery.

But Altmann's uncle, who died in terrible exile in Switzerland many years later, in 1945, specified that his possessions should go to Altmann and two other family members. Altmann is the only one of the three still living, the AP reports.

D.M.