Austria will not return Klimt's Beethoven Frieze to former Jewish owner's heirs

VIENNA (Reuters) - One of Gustav Klimt's most famous paintings, the Beethoven Frieze, will not be returned to the heirs of its Jewish former owner in a case that has tested Austria's laws on restitution of looted art.

The law, often covering cases linked to the country's Nazi past, were changed in 2009 to include works which were sold rather than stolen, but whose owners had been put under pressure to part with their property.

The 34-metre long Beethoven Frieze, a homage to the German composer's Ninth Symphony, used to belong to the Lederer family, Jews who fled to Switzerland when Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938 and the family's extensive art collection was seized.

Erich Lederer got the 1902 painting back after the Second World War but Austria would not let him export his other artworks unless he sold it to the state at a discount, the family's lawyers say. He sold it for US$750,000 (S$1.03 million) in the 1970s.

Austria's government, which returned several works by Klimt's near contemporary Egon Schiele to Lederer's heirs in 1999, said it would follow the panel's decision that the painting was lawfully sold to the state.

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