BlogOctober 1, 2010

A Letter from Grandma

Klinkhoff Family Donates Koch Painting Once Looted by Nazis to Vienna Museum


I am relating the following to my grandchildren who I think would be interested in this bit of family history. When my son in law, Drew, had told me that he had found on the internet that the Vienna Museum was looking for the owners of the Kaisers Dank I really thought he was hallucinating!  However, after going to their website I realized that this was indeed the painting your granddad, Walter, often reminisced about which had been hanging in his home in Vienna.   


Ludwig Koch, Kaisers Dank (The Emperors Thanks), 1915

oil on canvas, 45.2 " x 33.4 "

Vienna Museum, Inventory No. 70.233 


At the time, I was fortunate enough to have been corresponding at the time with a Professor (history) Dr. Palmer in Vienna on another matter and told him the story.   I could not have had a better guide.  He had a colleague who was a Professor at the Historical Museum in Vienna (where the painting was being stored) and on a subsequent trip to Vienna Dr. Palmer came and introduced me to Dr. Wladika.   From then on all my correspondence concerning the ownership of the painting was through him. Of course I had quite a lot of data with me; marriage certificates, death certificate, wills etc. and most important of all was your Granddad’s memoirs and the excerpts from the video that your parents, Eric, Alan and Alice, had made as a birthday gift for him in 1995.  I believe you all have a copy of this video in which your Granddad talked about this painting and how your great-granddad happened to be in the painting. 


I only learned later that there was a committee of eight people to decide if the Klinkhoff family were the legitimate owners of the Kaisers Dank.  Dr. Wladika was not part of this committee. It was in June of 2008 when we (my daughter Alice, her husband, Drew, and myself accompanied by Dr. Palmer) had our first visit.  Over a year later, in July of 2009, Alice and Drew thought the process was going nowhere and had suggested one or two people they knew who would be interested in acting on my behalf and thought their influence and intervention would help things along. They thought because of my age that the museum was just dragging things along.  However, I was never under that impression and I did not want to get anyone else involved.  All the work had already been done and to get someone else involved would mean more explanations and, I believed, delays. I was quite confident it would only be a matter of time before the committee would come to a decision one way of another.  After all, their mandate was to find out the owners of the painting. 


Only about a month later, after a lot of correspondence back and forth, I received an email from Dr. Wladika to say that the committee had decided that The Emperor’s Thanks did indeed belong to the Klinkhoff family.  However, from the very outset I had decided that if this was the case - and I had already discussed this with Eric, Alice and Alan - I should like it to stay in the museum should they wish to have it.  It is of quite historical interest as it shows Emperor Franz Joseph thanking the soldiers who had returned from the war.  It had already been in the museum since 1945 and thankfully they also seemed eager to accept its donation to them.  So that was the next step.  I had to get her to agree to the donation.  I was able to get it.  I don’t even know if she was aware of the existence of this painting until then!


Hans Klinkhoff, father of Klinkhoff Gallery founder Walter Klinkhoff, is depicted in the blue uniform (third from the right) in Koch's Kaisers Dank.

Fortunately the museum's decision came at a very opportune time as Alice and I had already planned a visit to Vienna at end of August, when I was to see the painting for the first time and sign the “adoption” papers.  I really was not quite sure what to expect.  After all, it had evidently been confiscated by the Nazis.  I was really overwhelmed at the sight of it.  It was in perfect condition, with vibrant colours and in my opinion wonderfully well painted.  Even the massive beautiful frame did not seem to have a scratch on it.  Although your Granddad had said that if he ever saw it again he would buy it for sentimental reasons, I was convinced that donating it to the Museum was the right decision.  It would not have been a painting for our family to own and I could not see it being handed down from generation to generation.  It is a very large painting and I could easily see it hanging in a castle or some very large mansion.  As we all know paintings need a lot of care andattention.  I am satisfied that the Museum is where it belongs and I am convinced that your Granddad would have approved of this decision.


I was told by Mag. Christian Kircher that there is a book going to be published with the names of about 50 families whose works of art have been restituted and our painting and family will be mentioned.  The painting will probably not always be on view but I was told if any of the family visits Vienna an appointment can be made to view it.  Details of who to contact are enclosed. I am very happy with the outcome and hope that any of the Klinkhoff family visiting Vienna will take the opportunity to go and see it. Grandma Gertrude Klinkhoff P.S. Your great Granddad is the third figure to the left of Franz Joseph (in the blue uniform).  I also have a photo of your great Granddad when he was young and one can see the resemblance.


Letter by Gertrude Klinkhoff

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