The Jewish Museum Vienna has enabled the restitution of the Franz Adam painting “Camp Scene from 1848 in Italy” to the Ephrussi family. More specifically, rightful ownership of the painting has been given to the heirs of Austrian Banker Viktor Ephrussi.
The Ephrussi family is a Russian Jewish banking and oil dynasty descending from Charles Joachim Ephrussi. In 1938, the family’s properties and bank in Austria, controlled by Viktor Ephrussi, were seized by the Nazis after the Nazi annexation of Austria.
The museum was authorized by the federal government, on behalf of Austrian Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner, to carry out the restitution. Thanks to the research for the 2019 exhibition “The Ephrussis. A Journey through Time,” it was now possible to restitute the painting located in the Museum of Military History.
Restitution after decades
During the research work for the exhibition “The Ephrussis a Journey through Time” in 2019, the curators Gabriele Kohlbauer-Fritz and Tom Juncker became aware that the painting in the Museum of Military History “Camp Scene from 1848 in Italy” should have been restituted according to a decision from 1948.
In 1950, however, the Museum of Military History wanted to block the export of a painting by August Pettenkofen owned by the Ephrussi family. However, the painting had already been restituted to Iggie Ephrussi. This is why the President of the Federal Monuments Office, according to a memo, assured the Museum of Military History that the Franz Adam painting would be blocked instead of the Pettenkofen painting.
The painting was part of the Ephrussis’ art collection and was confiscated by the Nazis after the annexation of Austria during the raid on the Ephrussi Palace. In 1939, it was given to the Austrian Gallery and subsequently loaned to the Army Museum.
In 2019, the painting was still in the Museum of Army History in Vienna. Since the acquisition of the Adam painting was “closely related in time and fact to the proceedings concerning the export of the Pettenkofen painting,” the Art Restitution Advisory Board recommended the restitution of the painting to the heirs of Viktor Ephrussi.
Regarding the restitution, the Director of the Jewish Museum Vienna Dr. Danielle Spera said, “It is a great pleasure that after the Jewish Museum Vienna received the generous donation of the Ephrussi family archive, we were able to help achieve the restitution of this painting. This is also thanks to the excellent research work of our team, which determined the history of this painting.”
Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner, who assisted in the restitution, said “The Museum of Military History, or rather our department, wanted to hand over this painting to the rightful heir of Viktor Ephrussi within the limits of legal possibilities, following the recommendation of the Art Restitution Advisory Board, which are in the possession of the federal government. However, in 2019, the rightful heir had not yet been researched, so this was not possible. Therefore, I thank Dr. Spera for proposing this good solution and thus the painting can return to the family.”
The Managing Director of Wien Holding, the company that owns the Jewish Museum Vienna, Kurt Gollowitzer expressed similar sentiments, “With the exhibition at the Jewish Museum Vienna ‘The Ephrussis – A Journey through Time,’ the public was given an interesting insight into the history and life of one of the most important European-Jewish families of the 19th and 20th centuries in 2019 and 2020. I am delighted that our museum was able to make this restitution possible as part of the research for the exhibition.”
Of Viktor Ephrussi’s countless possessions, many are still lost today, including 19 paintings from a collection of about 70 works at the time.
The painting “Camp Scene from 1848 in Italy” will be on view in the exhibition “The Hare with Amber Eyes” at the Jewish Museum New York beginning 19 November 2021.