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Gustav Klimt handpainted oil-on-canvas Fine Art reproductions are available at Galerie Dada



Klimt Packs His Bags




Thousands of art lovers lined up outside a Vienna museum on Sunday for a final glimpse of five treasured Gustav Klimt oil paintings that a court has ordered to be returned to a California woman who says the Nazis stole them from her family.



Officials said 4,OOO+ visitors were expected to view the oil paintings before they are taken down on Monday and packed up at Vienna's prestigious Belvedere Art Galley, housed in the Austrian capital's ornate Belvedere castle. The art gallery said it would remain open until on Sunday as a concession to the hundreds still queuing in the winter chill. At least as many visitors passed through the art gallery on Saturday to gaze at the oil paintings, which are considered part of Austria's national heritage, art gallery spokesman Klaus Pokorny said. "For us, this confirms that these oil paintings don't leave people cold," he said.



Last week, Austria's government said it could not afford to buy back the oil paintings, which were valued collectively at 248 million euros and said it would return them to Maria Altmann of California, who says the Nazis confiscated them from her Jewish family in the run-up to World War Two. An arbitration court upheld her claim last month. Altmann, 89, a retired Beverly Hills clothing shop operator, was one of the heirs of the family that owned the oil paintings before the Nazis took over Austria in 1938. Although she waged a seven year legal battle to recover them, she had also made it clear that she preferred the oil paintings to remain on public display rather than disappear into a private collection.



Austria's decision to give up the oil paintings, which have been displayed for decades at the Belvedere, represents the costliest return since it began surrendering valuable oil paintings looted by the Nazis under a cultural property return law enacted in 1998.



Among the Klimt oil paintings is the gold­flecked Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which has been widely reproduced in poster form. The other oil paintings are a lesser known Bloch Bauer portrait as well as Apfelbaum (Apple Tree), Buchenwald/Birkenwald ( Beech  Forest) and Haeuser in Unterach am Attersee (Houses in Unterach on Attersee  Lake).



Altmann is the niece of Bloch-Bauer. After Bloch-Bauer died in 1925, the five oil paintings remained in her family's possession. Her husband fled to Switzer­land after the Nazis took over Austria. The Nazis then took the oil paintings and the Belvedere art gallery was made the formal owner. Art Gallery director Gerbert Frodl said a multimedia presentation would be created so future visitors would be able to learn the history of the oil paintings. "We still don't know who will pick them up and when, but it can happen very quickly," he said.


Austria has returned more than 5,000 stolen pieces of art to their rightful owners in recent years, including 16 other Klimt oil paintings. Chancellor Wolf gang Schuessel told the Kurier newspaper in an interview on Sunday.


Asked if he would miss the five Klimt oil paintings being restored to Altmann, Schuessel said, "The oil paintings are not lost. They're only changing hands from an art gallery  to another owner, and hopefully will still be accessible to the public in the future."