Sunday, July 11, 2010

Art Litigation: Egon Schiele's Prison Converted To A Museum, Image At Center of Stolen Art Controversy

Egon Schiele's "I Love Antitheses" 1912 (Estee Lauder Trust)

Artkabinett has an article Schiele Prison Attracts Collectors on the prison that housed Egon Schiele in Austria when he was imprisoned for scandalizing public morals.   Today the prison is a museum dedicated to Schiele's works.  Above is an image of one of the works that Schiele created while in prison.  According to Schiele expert Jane Kallir, "I Love Antitheses" was part of the collection of Fritz Grunbaum, a Jewish cabaret performer who was murdered in the Dachau Concentration Camp.  Jane Kallir testified at trial that "I Love Antitheses" was one of the few works that Schiele himself titled, and that the work is documented as belonging to Fritz Grunbaum by a 1925 Wurthle Catalog and a 1928 Hagenbund - Neue Galerie catalog.  Today it is held in an Estee Lauder trust.

Neue Galerie was the name of Otto Kallir's art gallery in Vienna that organized a 1928 exhibition to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Schiele's death.  Otto Kallir borrowed 22 works from Fritz Grunbaum's collection to include in the 1928 exhibition.  The 1928 correspondence shows that Otto Kallir had full access to Fritz Grunbaum's Schiele collection and selected the works that he wanted to borrow.

Grunbaum's collection was stolen by the Nazis and surfaced in Switzerland in 1956 where some of it was sold off by Eberhard Kornfeld of Galerie Kornfeld to Otto Kallir.  Kallir bought 20 of Fritz Grunbaum's Schieles from Kornfeld, including Dead City III
Kornfeld shipped the Grunbaum Schieles to New York and sold them through the Galerie St. Etienne, the gallery today owned by Jane Kallir and named after St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom)  in Vienna.  Otto Kallir knew that the works had belonged to Fritz Grunbaum and was aware that Fritz and his wife had been murdered by the Nazis.   In the period Kallir was selling the stolen artworks from his gallery on 57th Street in New York, the U.S. State Department had issued warnings to art dealers, museums and collectors not to acquire artworks from Europe that did not have a clear provenance.   Schiele was unknown outside Austria prior to World War II and many of Schiele's top collectors were murdered Jews such as Heinrich ReigerOskar ReichelKarl Maylander and Fritz Grunbaum.

Galerie St. Etienne's Inspiration  -  Stefansdom - Vienna - Image from Wikipedia

Dead City III was seized as stolen property by D.A. Robert Morgenthau in 1998. After Morgenthau's subpoena was quashed, MoMA gave Dead City III to Rudolph Leopold.

A lawsuit alleging that Fritz Grunbaum's art dealer, Otto Kallir (and for a time monarchist supporting the restoration of the Hapsburgs) laundered the Grunbaum collection through Switzerland is still pending. See New York Observer, Dealer with the Devil.   The heirs of Fritz Grunbaum have been battling to regain the artworks stolen from him.  More information at Art Stolen From Fritz Grunbaum.   Museums and private collectors who purchased the stolen works have not returned them and the issue on appeal now to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is whether the 147 days that the stolen artworks passed through Switzerland was sufficient to apply Swiss law to "launder" the title to these stolen works.  Massachusetts collector David Bakalar sued Fritz Grunbaum's heirs to obtain a declaration of title to one of the stolen artworks.   My firm represents Fritz Grunbaum's heirs in the litigation and I was lead trial counsel in the action in the Southern District of New York, story here.

Along with Dead City III in the September 1956 of artworks from Eberhard Kornfeld was the work "I Love Antitheses" and "Girl With Black Hair" that is now at Oberlin College.   Oberlin's Allen Museum has refused to share its research or to publish a full provenance of "Girl With Black Hair" with Fritz Grunbaum's heirs in violation of the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art.   The earliest provenance given of Girl with Black Hair by Oberlin College is Switzerland, 1956.

Artkabinett also has a story Infamous Collector Leopold Dies at 85 on Rudolph Leopold, the art collector who amassed a number of stolen artworks that Austria has never returned to the Jewish families from whom they were stolen.

Work stolen from Fritz Grunbaum at Oberlin College here.  More on the battles over Fritz Grunbaum's collection and Oberlin's falsification of the provenance of Girl With Black Hair here.

Watch the Boston College video here.

More information and coverage of the 1928 Hagenbund/Neu Galerie correspondence in the following Powerpoint:

 Purchase Copyright Litigation Handbook from West here  

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