Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Art Litigation: Will Austria Return Egon Schiele's Portrait of Wally?

Today's New York Times obit of Rudolph Leopold makes passing reference to the fact that he was to stand criminal trial in the United States on July 26 on the issue of whether he knew that "Portrait of Wally" (above) - was stolen.  After the Justice Department seized the work, my understanding is that it's been sitting in a warehouse in Long Island City, unseen by the public for over a decade.   So Austria will now have to decide whether it wishes to continue to fight the US government or to throw in the towel and give Portrait of Wally back to the family of the art dealer from whom it was stolen.

I understand that an Austrian paper reported yesterday that Austria would have a majority of the Board positions on the Leopold Museum, which makes it much tougher for Austria to continue to pretend that the Leopold Museum is a "private" institution, the fiction it has used to avoid returning stolen property up until now.

Readers of Austrian tea leaves predict that the death of Hans Dichand, Austria's most powerful man and long-term Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite, is more significant in determining Austria's approach to the problem.   Leopold was under Dichand's political protection in Austria - he was an extremely powerful media mogul who made and broke politicians daily.  Now that Dichand is dead, there is a much greater likelihood that many of the stolen artworks in the Leopold Museum will be restituted.   Apparently, Dichand had a vast art collection that is not free of controversy.

My previous posts on Rudoph Leopold, the Leopold Museum, and Austria's dithering here.  Perhaps the New York Times will show a renewed interest in the topic of Nazi art looting.   If U.S. papers like the New York Times cover these issues, it has a major impact in Austria.    When U.S. papers ignore the topic, Germany and Austria seem to lose any momentum towards restitution.

Rudolf Leopold, Art Collector, Dies at 85 - Obituary (Obit) -

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