Works of art taken from Jews by the Nazis were returned to the descendants of their owners in New York
A huge trial involving works of art looted by the Nazi regime ended Wednesday, September 20, in which paintings were handed over to the descendants of a Jewish collector killed during the Holocaust, Gothamist reports.
The works of renowned Austrian artist Egon Schiele were forcibly taken from Fritz Grünbaum, a Jewish cabaret performer who died in the Dachau concentration camp in 1941, according to the artist’s descendants.
For many decades, these works were in various museums, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Morgan Library in New York. They eventually became the subject of federal and state litigation.
“I don’t think this is an exaggeration. Today is historic and groundbreaking,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office hosted the handover ceremony and who helped organize the return. “We are returning these beautiful works, these drawings to their rightful home.” Their family.”
The moment of triumph of justice
Federal prosecutors and Gruenbaum’s descendants attended the ceremony, including Timothy M. Reif, a judge at the U.S. Court of International Trade, who said it was a “bittersweet” event and asked those in attendance to “remember all those who died in the Holocaust.” .
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“We ask you to remember Fritz’s career as a cabaret performer, librettist, comedian, film and radio star,” Reif said, noting that Grünbaum remained an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime until his death. “He didn’t hide his views.”
Descendants have fought for decades to return the works of art that Grünbaum carefully collected. Raymond Dowd, a lawyer for Grunbaum’s descendants, says the turning point in the lawsuit was the state Supreme Court’s decision that Grunbaum did not sell his collection voluntarily.
“They put him in a concentration camp, then forced him to sign a power of attorney in which he was forced to liquidate all his property and give all the proceeds to the Nazis,” Dowd said. “If this is not theft, then what?”
The history of the wandering paintings
Bragg’s office had jurisdiction in the case in part because some of the works passed through the hands of the late Manhattan art dealer Otto Kallir, who prosecutors said in a news release purchased the works for his Galerie St. gallery. Etienne in 1956 “without any confirmation of their origin.”
According to the press release, “Kallir himself knew that the works belonged to Fritz Grünbaum, having seen them in Fritz Grünbaum’s Vienna apartment when Kallir exhibited them at the Neue Gallery in Vienna in 1928.” Kallir’s granddaughter Jane Kallir, who is currently co-director of Galerie St. Etienne, said it could not comment on pending litigation.
The works will go up for auction later this year to raise funds for a newly created organization, the Grünbaum-Fischer Foundation, which provides scholarships to young musicians, Reif said. One of Schiele’s works, “I Love Antithesis,” formerly owned by the Ronald Lauder collection, is valued at $2.75 million, Manhattan prosecutors said, while two works from the MoMA collection are valued at $1.5 million and $1 million each.
The Museum of Modern Art had no immediate comment on the restitution of Grünbaum’s works, but said on its website that it adheres to the 2001 American Association of Museums (AAM) Guidelines on Misappropriation of Nazi-era Objects.
According to Erin Thompson, a professor of art criminology at John Jay College, “MoMA tried to be thorough and transparent about all the works they examined.”
Thompson noted that museums are increasingly being forced to verify the provenance of works of art in ways they might not have done before. “It used to be that it only dealt with art that was directly stolen: the Nazis would break in the door and steal from the walls,” Thompson said. “Now we are arguing about a forced sale.”
Among the returned works:
- “I Love Antithesis” from the collection of Ronald Lauder, valued at $2.75 million;
- “Standing Woman” from the MoMA collection, valued at $1.5 million;
- “Girl Putting on Shoe” from MoMA, valued at $1 million;
- “Self Portrait” from the Morgan Library worth $1 million;
- “Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Edith,” SBMA, worth $1 million;
- “Portrait of a Boy,” Valley Sabarsky Trust, valued at $780,000;
- “Seated Woman,” Valley Sabarsky Trust, valued at $1.5 million.
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