Restitution of Works of Art
The 1998 Art Restitution Act and its 2009 Amendment
"Restitution is a historical obligation that the Republic of Austria must uphold to the best of its ability. The amendment to the Art Restitution Act is another important step towards compensation," said Federal Minister Dr. Claudia Schmied in a release ("Der Standard"/APA June 17, 2009).
Art Restitution Act 2009
The Federal Law on the Restitution of Works of Art (Federal Law Gazette I 181/1998) (Legal Foundations) – shortened to Art Restitution Act – has been in force since December 1998.
In the fall of 2009 the amendment to the Art Restitution Act (Federal Law Gazette I 117/2009) was passed. The IKG Vienna welcomes the amendment it had advocated for quite some time.
Restitution is carried out ex officio: Therefore it is not necessary to submit an application, and there are no possibilities for legal claims as well as e no parties to the proceedings.
Sec. 1. Of the Art Restitution Act as amended describes the "objects subject to restitution":
"Sec. 1 (1) The Federal Minister of Finance is empowered to transfer free of charge those works of art and other movable cultural assets from Austrian federal museums and collections, including the collections held by the Federal Furniture Administration, and from other direct federal holdings to the original owners or their legal successors causa mortis, which
- 1. were the object of restitution to the original owners or their legal successors causa mortis or should have been restituted in accordance with the prevailing legal provisions at the time and had been transferred to the ownership of and were still owned by the Austrian federal government after May 8, 1945, in close connection with resulting proceedings pursuant to the Federal Law on the Prohibition of Export of Objects of Historical, Artistic or Cultural Significance (State Legal Gazette No. 90/1918);
- 2. had legally been transferred to the ownership of the Austrian federal government, but had previously been the object of a legal transaction or a legal action pursuant to Sec. 1 of the Federal law on the nullity of all legal transactions and other legal actions taken during the German occupation of Austria, Federal Law Gazette No. 106/1946, and were still owned by the Austrian federal government;
- 2a. had legally been transferred to the ownership of the Austrian federal government, but had been the object of a legal transactions are a legal action between January 30, 1933, and May 8, 1945, in the sovereign territory of the German Reich outside of the territory of what today constitutes the Republic of Austria, which are comparable to legal transactions or legal actions pursuant to Sec. 1 of the Federal law on the nullity of all legal transactions and other legal actions taken during the German occupation of Austria, Federal Law Gazette No. 106/1946, and were still owned by the Austrian federal government;
- 3. could not be returned to their original owners or their legal successors causa mortis upon the completion of restitution proceedings and were transferred free of charge as unclaimed assets to the ownership of and were still owned by the Austrian federal government."
"Sec. 1 (2) If the Austrian federal government has provided a consideration for the transfer of ownership pursuant to para 1 subpara 1, this or its value is to be reimbursed to the Austrian federal government by the original owners or their legal successors causa mortis at the time of restitution. The sum of money received is to be valorized in accordance with the consumer price index issued by the Austrian Federal Statistical Office. Payments pursuant to Sec. 2b of the Federal Act on the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism, Federal Law Gazette No. 432/1995, as amended, are not subject to reimbursement."
The practice of restitution established over a period of more than ten years has shown that individual provisions stipulated by the 1998 Art Restitution Act were too narrow in order to guarantee the comprehensive restitution of confiscated works of art and cultural assets.
The following changes were introduced as a result of the 2009 amendment:
- As the term "works of art" has been shown to have been too narrow, the term was supplemented by the wording "and other movable cultural assets".
- The restitution of confiscated objects, which were obtained by the Austrian federal government for a fee as a result of the coercion resulting from export prohibitions (Export Prohibition Act), is possible.
- The territorial and chronological area of application of all confiscations carried out within the territory subject to the National-Socialist regime was expanded.
- Not only objects from the holdings of the federal ministries or the Federal Furniture Collection, but also "other federal property" were taken into account. The restriction of the designation to objects found in the inventories of the federal museums and collections is therefore no longer applicable.
- Uncertainties in connection with waivers of restitution, which had come about in the application of the Export Prohibition Act in the post-war era, were clarified.
- The duration of validity for exceptions from the Monument Protection Act/Export Prohibition Act for restitution objects has been extended to 25 years from the transfer of ownership.
- The mandate for the Art Restitution Advisory Board was extended to three years.
- The responsibilities of the Commission for Provenance Research are now expressly enumerated in the law.
The issue of including the Leopold Collection in the provisions of the art restitution act remains unresolved. The IKG Vienna intends to continue to uphold its demand to include also the Leopold Museum.