France to return Klimt painting taken during Nazi era

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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 Jewish family in Austria - 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.

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

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

The restitution would acknowledge the crimes suffered by the Zuckerkandl and Stiasny families and return a property that belongs to them, Bachelot said

"Rosiers sous les Arbres is witness to those lives that a criminal pursuit has tried to make disappear," she added.

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