France to return Klimt painting 'sold' during Nazi era

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French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot looks at the painting "Rosebushes under the Trees" by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt in Paris

PARIS (Reuters) - France will return a masterpiece by Gustav Klimt to the heirs of its owner more than 80 years after she was forced to sell it in the Nazi era, Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot said on Monday.

The original owner - Nora Stiasny, from a well-known Austrian Jewish family - had to sell the painting "Rosiers sous les Arbres" at a knock-down price to survive financially after the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, Bachelot said.

She was deported to Poland in 1942 and died the same year.

The art dealer, a Nazi sympathiser, held onto it until his death in the 1960s and France, unaware of its history, eventually bought it at auction for the Musee d'Orsay in Paris in 1980, the minister added.

"This decision to return a major artwork from the public collections illustrates our commitment to justice and to reparation for the looted families", Bachelot said

Stiasny had inherited the painting from her uncle, Austrian industrialist and art collector Viktor Zuckerkandl, who bought the work in 1911, Bachelot said.

(Reporting by Geert De Clercq and Matthieu Protard; Editing by Toby Chopra and Andrew Heavens)