For decades, the Vienna Philharmonic, a 172-year-old institution, held in its storage facility a painting by French artist Paul Signac paintend in 1883.
The painting, taken by a German official in 1940 from a French Resistance fighter, was given as a gift to the Viennese orchestra for performances given to German soldiers in France in the towns of Salins-les-Bains, Dijon and Besançon. The Philarmonic was aware since the early ’80s that the painting was stolen but was unable to trace its owners.
Clemens Hellsberg, president of the Philarmonic and an archivist is quoted by the New York Times as saying:
‘We are thrilled that this property from Vienna will be transferred to France and to the right persons. It was always a knowledge and a responsability. It was really a moral problem.’
The development stems from efforts by the Philarmonic to shed light on its activities during the Nazi era but also, on increasing outcry from the public to open its archives to external historians and archivists. The Philarmonic had been under increasing criticism for its slowness in taking action to return objects of dubious provenance. However, it had retained the services of a law firm to identify the owner of this work.
The Philharmonic was apparently unable to identify the owners of the Signac, the heirs of Marcel Koch, only just a few days ago.
On the question of the provenance of other holdings currently held by the Philharmonic, Mr. Hellsberg replied unequivocally: ‘After this, we will go again through everything’.