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Charity set to receive £450,000 after art taken by Nazis returned

07 Jan 2021 News

A view of Irma Löwenstein’s apartment in Vienna which shows the Beggar hanging to the left.

BDA Archive

A charity is set to benefit from art sold almost 50 years after the benefactor’s death after recovering three paintings seized by Nazis in the 1930s. 

The Vision Foundation, formerly the Greater London Fund for the Blind, now could receive around €500,000 (approximately £450,000) via sales from art stolen by the Nazis in the run-up to the Second World War. 

Irma Löwenstein Austin fled Vienna for London soon after Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938. She and her husband, Oscar Löwenstein, were prominent members of Vienna’s Jewish community and owned a large collection of fine art. 

In 1938 they were forced to divulge their artworks under the Nuremberg Laws and these were sold under duress.

Irma Löwenstein died on 24 April 1976, and she left the majority of her estate to the Greater London Fund for the Blind.

In 2018 three paintings by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, one of the most influential Austrian artists of the Biedermeier period came to light in German galleries. They were known to have been part of the Löwenstein collection which had been intended for the Führermuseum in Linz. 

As Irma Löwenstein Austin’s heir, the Vision Foundation had rights of restitution.

In May 2019, with pro bono advice from international law firm specialist art lawyers on the complex cross-jurisdictional interplay of Austrian, German and English law, the three Waldmüllers were formally restituted to the Vision Foundation by the German Federal Government.  

Tim Maxwell, art lawyer at Charles Russell Speechlys, said: “A tragic yet fascinating case and a wonderful legacy, the restitution of these artworks was complex and required careful navigation of various laws.”

Two of the paintings, Preparing the Celebration of the Wine Harvest and The Grandparents’ Visit, were brought to auction at the Dorotheum in Vienna with the help of art advisors Cadell + Co who undertook the work pro bono.

The paintings attracted great interest, selling for a total of €383,900. The third painting, The good-natured child (The Beggar) will be auctioned at the Dorotheum in spring 2021 with an estimate of €150,000 – 200,000.

Tamsin Baxter, director of development at the Vision Foundation, said: “It is very rare for a charity to be the benefactor in a restitution case of this nature. We felt truly humbled.” 

She added: “After everything Irma Löwenstein Austin must have gone through in her life, it is truly remarkable that almost 50 years since her death she is still supporting a cause that meant so much to her during her life. Our pledge to Irma is that these paintings will be used for good through our work with blind and partially sighted people.” 

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