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Gustav Klimt’s L’Accomplissement (1909), a large watercolour and gouache 6ft 4in x 3ft 10in (1.92 x 1.18m), also known as The Kiss or Tristan & Iseult, was removed from the Modern & Contemporary Art Museum in Strasbourg on December 8 after a French court ruled that it belonged to the heirs of Viennese Jewish dealer Karl Grunwald, who sent his works of art to France after the Nazi Anschluss in 1938. The City of Strasbourg acquired the work for Fr5000 (around £470 in current value) in 1959. The court accused the City of “bad faith” in claiming it had no reason to doubt the provenance of a major work acquired for such a low price.

The Musée National d’Art Moderne at the Pompidou Centre also stands accused of keeping a work looted by Nazis. The museum bought Georges Braque’s 1915 L’Homme à la Guitare from dealer Heinz Berggruen in 1981. The picture was plundered by Nazis from the villa of Alphonse Kann at St-Germain-en-Laye in 1940, and sold at auction a few months later; it has had several owners since.

Kann’s descendants first contacted the Pompidou Centre in 1997, without success, and filed a suit “against X” for receiving stolen goods in 1999. They have now decided to accuse the Musée National d’Art Moderne and its president, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, in name, claiming that the museum’s claim to have acquired the work in good faith does not give it legal title to ownership, as the museum should have investigated the work’s history; accessible records show that the Braque was stored at the Jeu de Paume – the Paris transit venue used by the Nazis for looted artworks – in 1940.

Court ruling

The City of Lyon has said that it will restore a Portrait of a Young Sculptor by Vittorio Ghislandi (1655-1745), which has hung in its Musée des Beaux-Arts since being bought from dealer François Heim in 1958, to the descendants of Federico Gentili di Giuseppe, a Jewish Italian businessman based in Paris.

The portrait was sold at Drouot after Gentili’s death in 1941 for a price estimated at Fr9100 (£850) at today’s value, but a French court has ruled that the Drouot sale was spoliatrice (an act of spoilation, and therefore illegal) as the work should have passed to Gentili’s two children, who had fled occupied Paris.

Gentili’s descendants have proposed to provide the City of Lyon with Fr9100 as compensation for the return of the portrait, but city authorities are reportedly trying to negotiate a higher price and are understood to have suggested Fr1m (£93,000). The Gentilis’ lawyer says the museum has no right to negotiate a price.

Gentili’s descendants have already recovered four paintings from the Louvre, including a Tiepolo found among Hermann Goering’s collection in 1945, and another Tiepolo from a Berlin museum. Three US museums have agreed to compensate the Gentilis so as to keep works already in their possession.

Meanwhile a court in Nanterre (Paris suburbs) ruled on December 14 that a Frans Hals portrait of pastor Adrianus Tegularius is to be kept by France’s Office Central de Lutte contre le Trafic des Biens Culturels (Central Agency to Counter Trafficking in Cultural Goods) pending judgment in a case of recel (dealing in stolen goods) involving New York dealer Adam Williams, who bought the work at Christie’s London in 1989.

The Hals portrait was seized by the agency from Williams’ stand (Newhouse Galleries) at the 1990 Paris Biennale, as one of 300 paintings looted by the Nazis from the Schloss family in 1943.

The court said the picture was “useful evidence” and should not be returned to the Schloss family until after the court hearing next May, even though an agreement between Williams, Christie’s and the Schloss family has called for the picture to be returned to the Schloss family.