Three works by the Austrian artist Egon Schiele claimed by the heirs of their former owner, a Jewish collector and artist who was a victim of the Nazis, were seized by American justice in major museums in the United States, Agence France has learned. Press (AFP), Thursday September 14, from a judicial source, confirming information from the New York Times.
In seizure orders dated Tuesday, and of which AFP was aware, the Supreme Court of the State of New York considers that "there are reasonable grounds to believe" that these drawings by the Austrian expressionist artist " are stolen” and “illegally detained.”
Russian Prisoner of War (1916), a watercolor and pencil on paper worth $1.25 million, was seized from the Art Institute of Chicago. Portrait of a Man (1917), a pencil-on-paper drawing worth $1 million, was seized from the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, while Girl with Black Hair (1911), a watercolor and pencil on paper, worth $1.5 million, was seized from the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin University (Ohio). The orders specify that works may remain “on site” for a period of sixty days.
The work Russian Prisoner of War “remains in our custody at the museum at this time,” the Chicago museum said. “We are convinced that we have legally acquired this work and that we legally possess it,” added the museum, saying it wanted to defend itself in the context of “civil litigation [opened] in federal court.”
Death at Dachau
Ownership of the works is claimed by the heirs of Fritz Grünbaum, an Austrian Jewish cabaret artist, great art collector and critic of the Nazi regime, who died in the Dachau concentration camp in 1941.
According to the New York Times, the current investigation concerns a dozen works by Schiele looted by the Nazis. The heirs of Fritz Grünbaum have been taking legal action for years to recover works that belonged to him. They rely on the fact that he signed an official document for the benefit of the Nazi regime in 1938, while he was a prisoner in Dachau. The American justice system ruled against them in 2005, considering that they acted too late, but they won their case regarding two works in 2018. Meanwhile, in 2016, the American Congress adopted a law extending the deadline to request the return of a work.
The subject remains current in other countries. In France, Parliament adopted a framework law in July to facilitate the restitution by public collections of cultural property stolen from Jews under Nazi Germany.
According to figures published at an international conference in the Czech Republic in 2009, 100,000 works out of 650,000 stolen had still not been returned at the time.