Friday, October 31, 2014

Morgenthau Thanked For Recovery of Rare Stolen Schiele Painting - Museum of Jewish Heritage

New York, NY—Following a historic restitution settlement regarding the Stadt am Blauen Fluss -Krumau  (Town on the Blue River - Krumau), a 1910 watercolor painting by artist Egon Schiele,  a press conference will be held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust on October 31, 2014 at 10:15 a.m. The event will take place before the painting is offered for auction at Christie’s as part of the Impressionism & Modern Art Evening sale on November 5, 2014. 

The Museum of Jewish Heritage was chosen by the Grünbaum family to host the conference as a setting that would provide a place for reconciliation and healing, yet appropriately memorialize Franz Friedrich (Fritz) and Elisabeth Grünbaum in the context of the suffering of so many in the Holocaust and the resilience and resolve of those who resisted, escaped or survived. Speakers at the event will include former Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, Museum Director Dr. David G. Marwell, and Timothy Reif, who will represent the Grünbaum family. Additional family members will be in attendance and available for interviews.

Robert M. Morgenthau, former Manhattan District Attorney who is now of counsel at Wachtel Lipton Rosen and Katz, said, “I am pleased to see families working together through difficult and painful issues and have nothing but praise for the role of Christie’s in bringing these families together and bringing this beautiful artwork into the public view in a way that we can all admire.  I believe that this resolution is the embodiment of the spirit of the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art that the United States signed in 1998 and that the museums and auction houses of our nation pledged to uphold.”

Timothy Reif — a Grünbaum family member who participated in launching in 1998 the effort to call attention to and reclaim Fritz Grünbaum’s art collection, which includes 81 works by the Austrian Expressionist master Egon Schiele — will be present.  In 1998, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau seized Egon Schiele’s Dead City III and Portrait of Wally.  The seizure led to the Washington Conference on Nazi-Confiscated Art of 1998.  Dead City III, which was looted from Fritz Grünbaum by Nazi authorities, was returned to Austria, where it is currently at the Leopold Museum, subject to the claims of the Grünbaum heirs. 

Timothy Reif said, “Today’s ceremony is a tribute to the courage of Fritz Grünbaum, who ridiculed the Nazis in his movies and cabaret performances throughout the 1930s, as well as to the courage of Mr. Morgenthau and his relentless commitment to the pursuit of justice.  We thank Christie’s and the Estate of Ilona Gerstel for acknowledging Fritz Grünbaum and his loss and acting appropriately.”

Museum Director, Dr. David G. Marwell said, “We honor the memory of victims of the Holocaust every day at this Museum and we remember the millions who, while they may have themselves survived, lost their communities, families, homes, and property.  While they can never recover what they have lost, it is important to set some things right when at all possible—no matter how long it takes.  Commemorating Holocaust victims and compensating the heirs of Holocaust victims and survivors represents a small measure of justice, and we commend all parties for their dedication to this cause.  We are honored to host these family members at the Museum to help us understand an important element of Holocaust Remembrance and make clear that justice – even delayed – is worthy of pursuit.”

On five other occasions the Museum of Jewish Heritage has held ceremonies for stolen paintings or artifacts.  Portrait of Wally, painted by famed Austrian artist Egon Schiele, which was the personal property of Lea Bondi Jaray, a Jewish art dealer in Vienna, who fled in 1939 to London, where she died in 1969. The painting subsequently became the subject of court proceedings in New York City from 1998 to 2010, after it was loaned in 1997 to the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) by the Leopold Museum as part of an exhibition of Schieles from the Leopold Museum's collection.  Following a seizure  of the painting from the Museum of Modern Art and subsequent litigations and proceedings, the Leopold Museum agreed to pay the Estate a substantial sum that the painting was to be loaned by the Leopold Museum to this museum. The Seamstress, painted by famed German artist Lesser Ury in 1883, was subjected to a forced sale by the Nazis in 1940, but was returned to the Lowenthal Family in 1999. The Loewenthals immediately loaned the painting to the Museum of Jewish Heritage to ensure that the public was able to see it and enjoy it. In February 2001, the Museum hosted the news conference in which Olevano, painted by Alexander Kanoldt in 1927, was returned to the heirs of Holocaust victim Dr. Ismar Littmann. The painting was displayed at the Museum through April 2001. In April of 2009, the 17th-century Dutch painting Portrait of a Musician Playing a Bagpipe was returned to collector Max Stern’s estate and in November of 2009, a rare 16th century Viennese bible was returned to representatives of the Jewish community of Vienna.

About the Painting
Egon Schiele (Tulln 1890-1918 Vienna)
Stadt am blauen Fluss – Krumau (Town on the Blue River – Krumau), 1912
Signed with initial and dated “S. 10.” (lower right)
Gouache, watercolor, metallic paint and black Conté crayon on paper
17 ¼ x 12 ¼ in. (45 x 31.4 cm)
Executed in 1910
Among the exceptional works on paper featured in Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale on November 5, 2014 is Egon Schiele’s Stadt am blauen Fluss (Krumau), executed in the summer of 1910, at a critical turning point in the artist’s career (estimate: $800,000-1,200,000).  Schiele traded the claustrophobic confines of Vienna for the summer in favor of the Bohemian landscape, seeking to pare down his style of landscape painting to its most essential elements, just as he had with figure painting previously.  The metamorphosis can be seen in ten land- and townscape paintings from that summer though the present landscape is one of only three outdoor subjects executed that year in non-opaque watercolor.  Schiele visualized the scene from a bluff overlooking the Moldau River, gazing toward a bend in the river on the eastern outskirts of the medieval Bohemian town of Krumau.  In contrast to the technique of post-Impressionist brushwork, Schiele allowed his fluid colors loose rein, contained within a framework of quickly drawn lines; the composition of Stadt am blauen Fluss is a startling demonstration of distance and space, stacked vertically in the flat modernist manner.    This  rare landscape represents one of the most stunning stylistic transformations to have been achieved in 20th century painting.   Stadt am blauen Fluss is being offered for sale pursuant to the successful resolution of a restitution settlement agreement between the Estate of Ilona Gerstel and the Gruenbaum Heirs, which allows for clear title to the work.  The proceeds will benefit several Holocaust-related charities that are beneficiaries of the Estate.

About the Museum of Jewish Heritage

The Museum’s exhibitions educate people of all ages and backgrounds about the rich tapestry of Jewish life over the past century—before, during, and after the Holocaust.  Current special exhibitions include Against the Odds: American Jews and the Rescue of Europe’s Refugees, 1933-1941 and A Town Known as Auschwitz: The Life and Death of a Jewish Community. It is also home to the award-winning Keeping History Center, an interactive visitor experience, and Andy Goldsworthy’s memorial Garden of Stones. The Museum offers visitors a vibrant public program schedule in its Edmond J. Safra Hall and receives general operating support from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

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