Masterpiece drawings by Austrian Secessionist movement artist Gustav Klimt that were plundered by the Nazis are now in Canada as a result of a successful claim by the Canadian heirs of the works' Jewish owners.
Some of the drawings, all studies for Klimt's sumptuous 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, said to be the highlight of the Viennese painter's golden period, will go on display in June as part of a Klimt exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Canada.
It will be the first Canadian showing of the works, which entered the country in the summer after descendants of the once-prominent Bloch-Bauer family of Vienna repatriated them from an Austrian gallery, The Globe and Mail has learned.
Eight are in Canada, and their presence is another side of the Holocaust-era art story -- what happens to the work once reclaimed by its legal heirs.
In the case of the Klimt drawings, four pieces returned to Francis Gutmann of Montreal are designated for public viewing.
Mr. Gutmann's late mother was a Bloch-Bauer, and the subject of Klimt's studies was his great-aunt.
Mr. Gutmann sold two of the drawings to the National Gallery in November and another to Queen's University in Kingston.
"I feel very strongly that these things should be seen," Mr. Gutmann said in an interview yesterday. "I don't think that they should stay in my living room."
Four other drawings from the same collection went to Mr. Gutmann's sister in Vancouver, while another grouping went to Maria Altmann, his aunt in Los Angeles. Mrs. Altmann, at 84 the only living Bloch-Bauer, is embroiled in her own lawsuit against the Austrian government for repatriation of six Klimt paintings.
She has sold her share of the drawings to a New York dealer, who has since resold them to a private collector. Mrs. Altmann told The Globe that each drawing is worth $20,000 (U.S.).
"These drawings are worth quite a lot," Mr. Gutmann said. "The Austrians didn't keep them for nothing all these years."
Until recently, they were housed in the Albertina, one of Vienna's finest art galleries. They entered that collection shortly after Germany absorbed Austria in 1938.
The Nazis stole them directly from the palatial Bloch-Bauer residence in central Vienna.
Nazi officials kept some of the looted treasures for themselves. Others they handed over to musems like the Albertina.
After the war, the Austrian government used some of the illicitly gained art as barter, selling and exchanging pieces for works of greater value.
Up for trade were several of the Bloch-Bauer drawings, with the exception being a core group of 16 deemed of extraordinary quality and value.
But a few months ago a bill was passed in Austria that now views partial restitution as unlawful.
"That's how we finally got the drawings out," Mr. Gutmann said. "The Austrian government now sees it as an illegal way of proceeding, of letting some things out and keeping other works behind."
A 67-year-old physicist who teaches science at a Montreal college, Mr. Gutmann does not feel an emotional attachment to the artworks. But, he says, "I felt that Canada has been very good to me," said Mr. Gutmann, a native of Austria. "I'd like the drawings to stay here."