Restitution of Works of Art
Art Restitution Practice
Since the end of the 1990s, the Republic of Austria and all of its federal provinces (with the exception of the federal province of Tyrol) have created the legal foundations for the restitution of the works of art expropriated during the National-Socialist era. Art restitution primarily consists of an unlimited ex officio procedure where path of the confiscated objects present today in publicly owned collection leads to the victims or their legal successors.
The Republic of Austria's activities and the measures applicable to its federal museums and collection are carried out over a number of steps: The work of provenance researchers in museums and collection identifies confiscated and/or suspicious objects and retraces their previous owners and the objects' history subsequent to confiscation. These findings form the basis for the Art Restitution Advisory Board, set up by the Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture (BMUKK), to make its legal assessment. As a rule the competent minister follows the board's decisions.
Afterwards the legal successors entitled to restitution are researched – most often thanks to work carried out by the IKG Vienna – and identified. The object to be restituted can then be handed over to the entitled heirs.
Commission for Provenance Research
The Commission for Provenance Research (located in the Federal Office for the Care of Monuments) has been tasked with systematically sorting through the holdings of the federal museums and collections for confiscated works of art. The Federal Act of the Restitution of Works of Art (Federal Law Gazette I 117/2009) forms the basis for its work.
To fulfill this statutory mandate it is necessary to systematically and comprehensively examine the holdings of the Austrian federal museums and collections from 1933 to the present day. The members of the Commission are active in the individual federal museums and collections where they inspect the inventories, the archival holdings and the objects themselves for clues to their provenance. These findings are then put in context, tied to the results from research in archival holdings relevant to the issue of National-Socialist asset confiscation and laid out in research reports. These research files are submitted to the office of the Commission for Provenance Research for editing. In the end the files form the basis for the decisions made by the Art Restitution Advisory Board, which subsequently issues recommendations to the respective competent minister(s).
The experts on the Commission have participated in numerous past projects involving basic research and the capturing of source materials.
Art Restitution Advisory Board
Restitution recommendations are issued on the basis of the files compiled by the Commission for Provenance Research and the Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture's advisory board set up as stipulated by the Art Restitution Act (Federal Law Gazette I 181/1998) and made up of seven members (experts and representatives of the federal ministries). In summer 2007 the chair of the board was newly appointed. For the first time the chair is no longer an official from the Education Ministry (and therefore the supervisory authority for the federal museums and collections affected by the restitutions) bound by ministry instructions, but rather – as the IKG Vienna had urged for some time – an independent arbiter: the President of the Administrative Court and the former chair of the Historical Commission, Univ.-Prof. Dr. Clemens Jabloner. The decisions are published on the website of the Commission for Provenance Research.