Areas of Focus

Restitution of Works of Art

Activities of the IKG Vienna

Cooperation partner in art restitution

The issue of art restitution has formed a focal point of the IKG Vienna's activities since the summer of 1999. Employees of the IKG Vienna are co-opted members of the Commission for Provenance Research as well as non-voting members of the Vienna Restitution Commission. The Federal Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture (BMUKK), as the competent authority for art restitution, regularly approaches the IKG Vienna, as do various provincial museums and collections, with requests to identify the legal successors in art restitution cases. The IKG Vienna acts as a mediator vis-à-vis public institutions; furthermore, in connection with art restitution, its carries out political monitoring activities. It provides online databases, participates in joint basic research projects, provides research tips and carries out additional research of its own.
Over the last few years the IKG Vienna has repeatedly pointed out the existing problems and deficiencies in the 1998 Art Restitution Act. On several occasions and on the basis of well-founded expert opinions the IKG Vienna has criticized the fact that the Leopold Collection is not subject to the Art Restitution Act and has taken corresponding action.

Regarding the investigation involving individual cases, the spectrum of the IKG Vienna's activities range from ascertaining provenance, i.e. the previous owners, of suspicious works of art to the search for looted works of art in Austria and abroad. The IKG Vienna's Department for Restitution Affairs is often sought out both in private as well as in official matters as a center of expertise. However, the IKG Vienna's work does not end in determining and interpreting historical facts.

Basic Research

Over the last several years the IKG Vienna has recorded a number of key sources of holdings in the area of confiscation and restitution of works of art and cultural objects electronically, in cooperation with various institutions (Commission for Provenance Research, Dorotheum, etc.):

Search for Heirs and Critical Monitoring

The IKG Vienna's decision to make art restitution one of the focal points of its work had a pragmatic underpinning, as the searches for the legal successors in restitution cases were insufficiently regulated after the passing of the Art Restitution Act in 1998.
Once the decision to restitute a work of art has been made, the legal successors of the one-time owners must be established. As a rule, the competent ministry contacts the IKG Vienna with requests for help in identifying the legal successors. The in most cases extensive and very complex investigations carried out by the IKG Vienna, as well as the contacting of those entitled to receive the restituted art work, culminate in the documentation of legal successorship, which is then submitted to the Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture. In particularly complicated cases, the Federal Ministry obtains additional expert opinions.

The entitled heirs, who often live in different countries, are subsequently accompanied and supported through the restitution procedure by the IKG Vienna. Among other things, the entitled heirs must sign a liability agreement and in some cases reciprocal powers of attorney so that the official decision of transfer can be issued. Only then can the restitution be carried out in rem.

To date, the IKG Vienna has provided information on or identified more than 250 legal successors in approximately 200 restitution cases involving artworks found in Austria's federal museums and collections.

In its restitution reports the Federal Ministry has regularly thanked the IKG Vienna for its considerable support. In its 2010 Culture Report the Federal Minister Claudia Schmied described the work of the IKG Vienna as "a key contribution".

In October 1999 the IKG Vienna was co-opted into the Commission for Provenance Research where it exercises the function of critical observer. The IKG Vienna is requested by members of the Commission to provide support as early as the research phase in numerous complex restitution cases.

Through constant dialogue with the head and the members of the Commission, the IKG Vienna succeeded in 2004 in setting forth a binding catalogue of questions, increasing the number of Commission meetings and increasing the number of competent employees in museums requiring extensive research work.