A woman who secured the return from Austria of five Gustav Klimt paintings stolen by the Nazis from her Jewish family died aged 94.
Maria Altmann, the niece of the works' original Jewish owners, died at her Los Angeles home on Monday after a long illness, said E. Randol Schoenberg, the lawyer who helped her reclaim the famous Austrian artist's canvases. "She died yesterday afternoon. She was a wonderful, elegant lady and I was lucky to have been a part of her life," he told AFP in an email.
The five major paintings -- together worth a staggering $300 million -- were put on display in Los Angeles after Vienna's Belvedere museum returned them in 2006. They include two portraits of Altmann's aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, and three landscapes -- "Beechwood" (1903), "Apple Tree I" (1911) and "Houses in Unterach on Lake Atter" (1916). The Bloch-Bauer family was close to Klimt and commissioned the paintings directly from the artist. The couple left their art collection to Altmann and two of her siblings.
Altmann was forced to flee Austria after Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler occupied and annexed the country to Nazi Germany in 1938, but the paintings were taken by the Nazis and ended up scattered across Europe. The Altmann siblings meanwhile survived the war and settled in North America. They later launched legal action to reclaim the masterpieces.