Investigators confiscated three works by Austrian painter Egon Schiele from American museums. The reason for the confiscation is a lawsuit filed by the heirs of an Austrian of Jewish origin, murdered by the Nazis in the Dachau camp. Before the war, the works in dispute belonged to him. The man’s descendants claim they were “stolen” from their family.
The works have been confiscated, for now temporarily, from museums in Chicago, Pittsburgh and Oberlin. They were confiscated on the basis of a certificate issued by New York Supreme Court order, which stated that there were “reasonable indications” that the works of art were “stolen property.”
CNN explains that the order is the result of a civil lawsuit filed by the descendants of Fritz Grünbaum, an Austrian of Jewish origin, pre-war comedian and cabaret star, murdered in 1941 in the Dachau concentration camp. Grünbaum, according to the website, had over 450 works of art in his collection, including 81 works by the Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele.
As we read in a CNN article, in 1938 the Jewish cabaret artist was sent to Dachau, where, according to his heirs, before his death “he was forced to grant an illegal power of attorney to his wife”, Elisabeth. Documents filed in a New York court show that the woman was then “forced to liquidate his assets.” The art collection was to be robbed and divided among the Nazis. Elisabeth Grünbaum later shared her husband’s fate and was murdered in a German concentration camp.
The subject of the lawsuit cited by CNN are the following works: “Russian Prisoner of War” (Chicago Institute of Art), “Portrait of a Man” (Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh) and “The Girl with Black Hair” (Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin). These works – two watercolor paintings and a pencil graphic – were created in the years 1911-1917. Investigators estimate the value of each of them at between one million and one and a half million dollars.
Dispute over Schiele’s paintings. Museums respond
Museums do not accept that they are in possession of “stolen property”. A spokesman for the Chicago Institute of Art, quoted by CNN, emphasized that the institution’s authorities are confident of “legally acquiring the work and possessing it in accordance with the law.” A spokesman for the Allen Memorial Art Museum told the website the same thing. In turn, a representative of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh noted that his institution is “deeply committed” to the mission of “protecting art by acting in accordance with ethical, legal and professional requirements and standards.”
CNN reports that the paintings, according to the order, were secured “in place”, which means that they remain in museums for now.