Restitution after decades
While doing research in 2019 for the exhibition “The Ephrussis. Travel in Time,” the curators Gabriele Kohlbauer-Fritz and Tom Juncker became aware that the painting “Scene from the Italian Campaign1848/49, Encamping Troops in a Village” at the Museum of Military History should have been restituted according to a decree from 1948.
In 1950, the Museum of Military History nevertheless wanted a painting by August Pettenkofen, owned by the Ephrussi family, to be blocked from export. However, the painting had already been restituted to Iggie Ephrussi, which is why the president of the Federal Monuments Office, according to an internal memo, assured the Museum of Military History that the Franz Adam painting would be blocked instead of the Pettenkofen work. As part of the Ephrussi’s art collection, Adam’s painting was confiscated by the National Socialists after the “Anschluss” during the plundering of Palais Ephrussi. In 1939, it was handed over to the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere and subsequently loaned to the Museum of Military History. In 2019, the painting was still at the Museum of Military History in Vienna. Since the acquisition of the Adam painting was “closely related to the process for the export of the Pettenkofen painting,” the Art Restitution Advisory Board recommended restitution of the artwork to the heirs of Viktor Ephrussi.
Director Danielle Spera stated: “It is a great joy that, after the Jewish Museum Vienna had received the generous donation of the Ephrussi family archive, we were able to help get this picture restituted. This is also thanks to the excellent research carried out by our team, which investigated the history of this work.”
“Following the recommendation of the Art Restitution Advisory Board, which is operated by the federal government, the Museum of Military History and our ministry wanted to hand over this picture to Viktor Ephrussi’s rightful heirs within the framework of the legal options. In 2019, however, the legal inheritance had not yet been investigated, so this was not possible. Therefore, I would like to thank Dr. Spera for suggesting this good solution, so that the painting can return to the family,” said Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner.
Many of Viktor Ephrussi’s innumerable possessions are still missing today, including 19 paintings from a collection consisting of around 70 works at the time. The painting “Scene from the Italian Campaign1848/49, Encamping Troops in a Village” will be on view as of November 19, 2021 in the exhibition “The Hare with Amber Eyes” at the Jewish Museum in New York.