A masterpiece of 20th-century art looted from its Jewish owners by the Nazis is expected to fetch up to £7m (€10.2m) at a London auction in June.
Sotheby’s said today that the landscape by Austrian artist Egon Schiele is being sold by the heirs of its original owners. It was returned to them recently after spending half a century hanging in the Neue Galerie in Linz, Austria.
Painted in 1916, Krumauer Landschaft (Stadt und Fluss) or View Of Krumau, is a vibrant depiction of the small town on the banks of the Moldau River that was the home of Schiele’s mother.
It is considered a rarity because its cheerful nature is at odds with the gloomy landscapes or skeletal human figures usually produced by Schiele.
The painting was seized by the Gestapo from the Viennese home of Wilhelm and Daisy Hellmann when the couple fled in 1938. In 1942, it was sold by a Viennese auction house to a collector from Berlin, Wolfgang Gurlitt. He sold his collection to the city of Linz in 1953.
The museum, which purchased the painting without knowing it had been seized by the Nazis, was not legally bound to give the painting to the Hellmann’s heirs. But Linz city officials who announced its restitution in December said it was important to do so.
Erika Jakubovits, executive director of the Presidency of the Jewish Community in Vienna, said: “Sixty years on, it is important to recognise the enduring rights of victims and their heirs.”
Austria was annexed to Adolf Hitler’s Germany in 1938. During the Third Reich, the Nazis confiscated and destroyed nearly all synagogues and other Jewish community property in Austria.
Prices for the work of Schiele, who died of the 1918 flu epidemic aged 28, have been steadily growing over the past decade.
One of his landscapes fetched more than £6m (€8.74m) at a sale in New York 10 years ago and Sotheby’s London sold an early portrait for £7.7m (€11.2m) two years ago.
Sotheby’s said the Krumau painting was expected to fetch between £5-7m (€7.3m-€10.2m) at auction in London on June 23. It is due to go on public exhibition in Sotheby’s New York office in May.