Tag: Raymond Dowd

Press Clipping: A Suit Over Schiele Drawings Invokes New Law on Nazi-Looted Art

The New York Times

A Suit Over Schiele Drawings Invokes New Law on Nazi-Looted Art

By WILLIAM D. COHAN FEB. 27, 2017

Egon Schiele’s “Woman Hiding Her Face” (1912) is one of two drawings at issue in a suit brought by heirs of the collector Fritz Grunbaum.

When the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act was adopted unanimously by Congress in December, it was widely praised as a necessary tool to help the heirs of Holocaust victims recover art stolen from their families during World War II.

Now the efficacy of the HEAR Act, as it is known, may get an early test in New York State Court, where the heirs of Fritz Grunbaum, an Austrian Jewish entertainer, are citing it in efforts to claim two valuable colorful drawings by Egon Schiele.

Read the full article in the New York Times here

Merken

Merken

2010 09 07 New York Law Journal: 2nd Circuit Sends Art Ownership Dispute Back to the Drawing Board

Finden Sie die deutsche Übersetzung hier


Austria / Czech Republic / United States

Who really owns a drawing by the Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele?

Daniel Wise

New York Law Journal

September 07, 2010

Egon Schiele, Self Portrait 1914

The heirs of an art collector who perished in a Nazi concentration camp have been given another chance to establish their claim that a drawing by the Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele was stolen from their family.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week ruled in Bakalar v. Vavra, 08-5119-cv, that Southern District Judge William H. Pauley erred in applying Swiss law as opposed to New York law in determining ownership of the work.

The panel’s ruling vacates Pauley’s finding that David Bakalar, an American art collector, became the rightful owner of “Woman Seated with Bent Left Leg (Torso)” when he bought the drawing from a New York gallery in 1963 for $4,300.

The New York gallery had acquired the black crayon and water-based paint drawing four months earlier from a Swiss gallery. In 2004, Bakalar sold the drawing at an auction conducted by Sotheby’s in London for $675,000.

Sotheby’s put the sale on hold after the heirs to Austrian art collector and cabaret performer Franz Friedrich “Fritz” Grunbaum stepped forward to claim ownership of the piece. Grunbaum was arrested by the Nazis as he fled Vienna in 1938 and died at Dachau in 1941.

The two heirs, Czech citizen Milos Vavra and New York resident Leon Fischer, traded lawsuits with Bakalar in 2005, with both sides seeking to be declared the rightful owner.

In declaring Bakalar to be the owner, Judge Pauley applied Swiss law, under which Bakalar, as a good-faith buyer, would acquire title to the work after five years without a claim being asserted, even if the drawing had been stolen.

New York law on the issue is very different: under no circumstances can a thief pass good title and a person from whom property was stolen has a claim superior to a good faith purchaser.

Writing for the circuit, Judge Edward R. Korman, sitting by designation from the Eastern District of New York, concluded that Pauley had relied on the wrong test in choosing to apply Swiss law. The panel remanded the case to Pauley for further proceedings, and, “if necessary, a new trial.”

Korman also wrote a concurring opinion, questioning Pauley’s finding that the Grunbaum heirs failed to produce “any concrete evidence that the Nazis looted the drawing.”

Korman wrote that his reading of the record suggests to the contrary that Grunbaum was “divested of possession and title [of the drawing] against his will.”

Judges Jose A. Cabranes and Debra Ann Livingston joined in Judge Korman’s main ruling.

Provenance in Dispute

The question of whether the Schiele drawing was stolen by the Nazis is sharply disputed.

Bakalar contends Grunbaum’s sister-in-law sold the drawing along with 45 other Schiele works in 1956 to a Swiss art gallery, Galerie Gutekunst. That claim is backed up by documents in files maintained by the Swiss gallery, which show “beyond rational dispute” that the sister-in-law, Mathilde Lukacs, was the seller, said Bakalar’s lawyer, James A. Janowitz, of Pryor Cashman.

The lawyer for the heirs, Raymond Dowd of Dunnington, Barthlow & Miller, called Bakalar’s claims “a complete fabrication based upon forged documents.”

About four months after the Galerie Gutekunst acquired the drawing, it sold it to the Galerie St. Etienne in New York, which seven years later sold it to Mr. Bakalar.

Korman said Pauley should have considered which jurisdiction had the greatest interest in the case.

New York has a “compelling interest” preserving the integrity of its art market as its state Court of Appeals has stated on several occasions, Korman wrote. For instance, in Guggenheim Foundation v. Lubell, 77 N.Y.2d 311 (1991), former Chief Judge Sol Wachtler wrote for a unanimous Court, “New York enjoys a worldwide reputation as a preeminent cultural center. To place the burden of locating stolen artwork on the true owner…would, we believe, encourage illicit trafficking in stolen art.”

By comparison, Korman described the Swiss interest as being “tenuous.” Application of New York law might cause New Yorkers to take a closer look at the work’s provenance, and that in turn, he reasoned, “might adversely affect the extra-territorial sales of artwork by Swiss galleries.”

For choice of law purposes, that Swiss interest, he concluded, must give way to New York’s “significantly greater interest” in preventing the state “from becoming a marketplace for stolen goods.”

On the question of Bakalar’s ownership, Korman noted that the record indicated that Grunbaum was forced to execute a power of attorney giving his wife control of his artwork four months after he was arrested by the Nazis and imprisoned at Dachau.

Under Uniform Commercial Code §2-403(1), which has been adopted in New York, status as a good faith buyer only attaches if a transfer of property is “voluntary,” he wrote.

In Grunbaum’s case, the circumstances “strongly suggest he executed the power of attorney with a gun to his head,” Korman said. If that was so, he wrote, under New York law “any subsequent transfer was void.”

“[Mr.] Bakalar’s suggestion that the power of attorney constituted a voluntary entrustment to property to [Mr. Grunbaum’s] wife is a proposition that remains for him to prove.”

“Unless he does so,” Korman added, even if Grunbaum’s wife, Elizabeth, transferred ownership to her sister to prevent the work from falling into the hands of the Nazis “she could not convey valid title to the artwork.”

Letter from Ray Dowd to Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture

This letter was send by laywer Raymond Dowd to the director of the Bureau of the Commission for Provenance Research, OR Dr. Christoph Bazil

For the cited quotes, please read Second Circuit decision Bakalar vs. Vavra (english)

From: Raymond Dowd
Sent: Sunday, September 05, 2010 12:53 PM
To: ‘Bazil Christoph’
Subject: Second Circuit Decision in Bakalar v Vavra (Estate of Fritz Grunbaum)

Dear Christoph:   I hope that all is well with you and that you enjoyed your summer.  I think you will be pleased to see that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed with the Grunbaum heirs in a decision issued on September 2, 2010.   Please note on page 21 of the opinion:

Grunbaum was arrested while attempting to flee from the Nazis.  After his arrest, he never again had physical possession of any of his artwork, including the Drawing.  The power of attorney, which he was forced to execute while in the Dachau concentration camp, divested him of his legal control over the Drawing.  Such an involuntary divestiture of possession and legal control rendered any subsequent transfer void.

The opinion notes that this is consistent with Austrian legal principles, including recent decisions of the Austrian Supreme Court.

We note that Article 26 of the Austrian State Treaty obligates Austria to return Fritz Grunbaum’s property to his heirs, as does Austrian inheritance law.  You have made me many promises that you and Minister Schmied were going to investigate this case and issue a report.  It has been 11 years of waiting.

We note that Eberhard Kornfeld invented a fairy story about Fritz Grunbaum’s sister in law in 1999 after Dead City was seized at MoMA.  Our handwriting experts debunked this story, which is based on clearly false and fraudulent documents.

But based on the new Second Circuit decision, it is clear that the whole story of Mathilde Lukacs is legally irrelevant.   Even if she did steal it and sell it in Switzerland, this has no effect on legal title of Fritz Grunbaum or his heirs.  Austrian law respects exactly this principle as well.

As a lawyer, you can now appreciate that Austria has no additional excuses for holding onto Fritz Grunbaum’s property. Now that this is all crystal clear, can you please have Austria return the stolen Schieles currently in the Leopold and Albertina Museums that the Grunbaum heirs have demanded?   There is no reason that the Austrian police can’t do this at your request.

You will see that the recent case decided August 12, 2010 of Cassirer v Kingdom of Spain has reaffirmed the right of US citizens to sue foreign governments in the United States for purchasing or displaying stolen artworks.  http://www.scribd.com/doc/35962710/Cassirer-vs-Kingdom-of-Spain-9th-Cir-August-12-2010.  This also applied where the government has created a Foundation (like a Stiftung) to hold the stolen objects.   Spain bought the tainted Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection and tried to pretend that it could not be sued because it was in a foundation.

So you see that U.S. courts have rejected what you believed when we last spoke would be a valid defense.  Putting stolen goods in the Leopold does not shield Austria from liability under these principles.

As you know, we have been very patient based on our respect for the IKG (Jewish Community in Vienna) and their view that Minister Schmied would act with fairness and diligence if permitted the opportunity.

If you need a limited amount of additional time to make a decision, please let me know how much time you need.  If the amount of time is reasonable, we will of course forbear action to permit you to act.

Respectfully yours,

Raymond J. Dowd

2010 09 02 Second Circuit Rules Drawing Case involving Fritz Grünbaum

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today in a case involving the Estate of Fritz Grunbaum.

Zweitinstanzliche Entscheidung Bakalar vs. Vavra (deutsch)

The Second Circuit concluded:

Grunbaum was arrested while attempting to flee from the Nazis. After his arrest, he never again had physical possession of any of his artwork, including the Drawing. The power of attorney, which he was forced to execute while in the Dachau concentration camp, divested him of his legal control over the Drawing. Such an involuntary divestiture of possession and legal control rendered any subsequent transfer void.

Fritz Grunbaum’s art collection made headlines when D.A. Robert Morgenthau seized Egon Schiele’s Dead City from the MoMA in New York City.   At the same time, Morgenthau seized Egon Schiele’s Portrait of Wally, which was also stolen.   Portrait of Wally was returned by Austria this summer.

The Grunbaum heirs are waiting on Austria to make a decision on whether or not to return Dead City and the other artworks stolen from Fritz Grunbaum that are now in the Albertina and Leopold Museums.   Austria has promised to issue a report soon, and then The Austrian Commission for Provenance Research is expected to rule.

Traffickers in Stolen Schieles: U.S. Museum Directors Warned Not To Act As Receivers of Stolen Goods

Egon Schiele Self-Portrait – Stolen from Fritz Grunbaum when he was deported to Dachau, now at the Morgan Library (Bequest of Fred Ebb)

The Morgan Library claims that the Berne gallery Gutekunst & Klipstein purchased this artwork directly from the estate of Egon Schiele.  Source: From Berlin to Broadway:  The Ebb Bequest of Modern German and Austrian Drawings (2007).

Gutekunst & Klipstein (now owned by Eberhard Kornfeld) claims that the work belonged to Fritz Grunbaum and that it bought the work in 1956 through Grunbaum’s sister in law.

Why would the Morgan Library tell a different story?

The late Francis Henry Taylor, former Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, warned U.S. museums not to act as receivers of stolen goods in 1943…

We know that the Nazis have carried off virtually all of the movable works of art in private possession.

***
The methods by which these properties are acquired have an ingenious quality of wickedness bordering on the naïve. The Nazis resort to the strictest legal fictions to justify their operations. …The laws regarding ownership of property by Jews have been invoked at every turn…. They were easy victims.

***

… their personal possessions — particularly works of art — were sold at public auction where German officials directly, or indirectly through local Quislings, bought in the objects with the worthless paper currency … . Then in turn the money realized by the original owner was taxed 100 percent and passed directly to the Nazi treasury.

***
Not since the time of Napoleon Bonaparte has there been the wholesale looting and destruction of art property that is going on today in the occupied countries. The Nazis have either confiscated or acquired by fictitious purchase the most important masterpieces of both public and private collections.

***

…after a fugitive existence [the artworks] will inevitably find their way to the free markets of neutral countries. In Buenos Aires and Madrid, in Stockholm, Berne and Lisbon, in Istanbul and Cairo we will see come out of hiding in the years immediately following the war objects of great intrinsic worth, held for the most part under fictitious names, and representing the real assets of the Nazi officials who are lucky enough to escape. These works will be offered primarily in the Western Hemisphere. How can we prevent this from happening and becoming ourselves party to the looting of Europe?

***

Private individuals might continue to operate in a “black market” of antiquities in which no questions would be asked, but public institutions disposing of trust funds could not very well connive in the liquidation of the artistic patrimony of Europe and act as public receivers of stolen goods.

Taylor, Francis Henry, Europe’s Looted Art: Can It Be Recovered? New York Times, September 19, 1943

Why is it that only today’s American museum directors seem to believe that Jews voluntarily sold artworks under the Nazi reign of terror?   And that they have a fiduciary duty to conceal stolen property?

Francis Henry Taylor knew that people in Berne would be selling artworks using fake names and he warned the art market.  In 1943.

Crossposted, see copyrightlitigation.blogspot.com

Lecture at Cincinnati Museum Center Insight Lecture Series by Raymond Dowd

Cincinnati Museum Center Insights Lecture Series

Raymond J. Dowd
Partner, Dunnington, Bartholow & Miller LLP
New York, New York

Mr. Dowd will speak about the battles to recover art stolen from Jewish Holocaust
victims, the undisclosed role of the Swiss in laundering looted art for the Nazis,
and the implications for U.S. museums holding artworks of European origin.

Thursday, February 11, 2010
6 p.m.

Insights Lecture
Murder, Mystery and The Dead City

[wpvideo dLAI8jgE]

Austria and Fritz Grunbaum’s Stolen Schieles at the Albertina Museum

In 1955, Austria signed a treaty with the United States promising to give back all of the property it stole from Jews during the period of Nazi “occupation” of Austria.   Ever since, Austria has treated this obligation largely as a joke, thumbing its nose at Jews who attempted to get their property back.  Only in the 1990’s through a combination of class action lawsuits and the actions of the Clinton Administration spearheaded by Amb. Stuart Eizenstat, did Austria instead agree to pay pittances to Jewish persecutees in lieu of giving them their property back.   The sad tale is well told in Eizenstat’s book Imperfect Justice.

But the class action settlements did not cover stolen artworks in Austria.  In 1998, in reaction to D.A. Morgenthau’s seizure of Egon Schiele’s Portrait of Wally and Dead City (Dead City belonged to Fritz Grunbaum), Austria passed an Art Restitution Law that permitted claims to be made against artworks in Austria’s federal museum collections.  On April 13, 1999, the heirs of Fritz Grunbaum made claims to the following works by Egon Schiele that were stolen from Grunbaum while he was in the Dachau Concentration Camp:

Egon Schiele, Female Nude Seated on Red Drape, Back View
Sitzender weiblicher Rückenakt mit rotem Rock

Jane Kallir: Egon Schiele, The Complete Works 1998, New York №:1504
Gouache, watercolor, and pencil. Signed and dated, lower right. (48.2 x 31.8 cm).
Gutekunst & Klipstein, Nov. 24, 1955, lot 107 1

Exhibitions: London, 1964, no. 67, ill.; Hamburg, 1981, no. 214, ill.
Inventorylist Albertina: 39.931

Jane Kallier: Egon Schiele, The Complete Works 1998, New York №:1797: Heinrich Rieger; Gutekunst & Klipstein, Bern; Galerie St. Etienne, New York; Rudolf Leopold;

Provenance as per Catalog: “Egon Schiele” Würthle Gallery, Vienna 1925:
“Mutter und Kind”, sign Egon Schiele 1915 Sammlung Fritz Grünbaum
Austria never responded to the claims of Fritz Grunbaum’s heirs.  From 2000 through 2009, Austria claimed that it was “investigating” the status of the works.  In 2006, Mag. Eva Blimlinger was called in to oversee the investigation together with Mag. Annaliese Schallmeiner.

Blimlinger is a respected Austrian historian and oversaw the Austrian Historian Commission’s report found at http://www.provenienzforschung.gv.at/ The Blimlinger and Schallmeiner Report, which was supposed to have issued in the fall of 2009, never has seen the light of day, apparently the victim of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture.   Why was that report killed and what did it say?

In the summer of 2009, at the Prague Conference on Holocaust Era Assets, Minister Claudia Schmid promised Congressman Wexler that she would investigate the status of the Grunbaum works at the Albertina.  I spoke to Dr. Christophe Bazil and Dr. Thomas Baier, who reassured me that they would investigate the issue and be in contact.   I wrote to them and never got any response.

In February, a client alerted me to a forum to take place in New York on Austrian Restitution.  The program is here.    I was rather shocked that the very Austrian officials who had promised to look into the Grunbaum affair and who did not have the time to answer my communications were to be speaking in New York City.

By failing to return property belonging to Jews, Austria has breached its obligations under the Austrian State Treaty of 1955.  This treaty was a condition of Austria’s existence, like our Constitution.  The Allies – Russians, French, British and Americans – pulled out of Austria on the promise that all property would be returned to Jews.   Instead, Austrians continue to live in homes stolen from Jews, operate businesses stolen from Jews, and to buy, sell and enjoy art stolen from Jews.

Since the Allies left Austria, Austria has enacted successively a system of inadequate and insulting postwar laws that failed to restore property to Jews.   To understand Austria’s obligations clearly (the treaty is written in plain English), we look to the actual writing. Article 26 of the 1955 Austrian State Treaty states as follows:

PROPERTY, RIGHTS AND INTERESTS OF MINORITY GROUPS IN AUSTRIA

1. In so far as such action has not already been taken, Austria undertakes that, in all cases where property, legal rights or interests in Austria have since 13th March, 1938, been subject of forced transfer or measures of sequestration, confiscation or control on account of the racial origin or religion of the owner, the said property shall be returned and the said legal rights and interests shall be restored together with their accessories. Where return or restoration is impossible, compensation shall be granted for losses incurred by reason of such measures to the same extent as is, or may be, given to Austrian nationals generally in respect of war damage.

The full text of the Austria is found here, courtesy Wikipedia.  You will see that there are no “if’s” ands or “buts” in the Treaty.  Its language is unconditional and does not depend on enabling legislation.  Indeed, any enabling legislation that fell short of the absolute terms of the Treaty would be unconstitutional in Austria.

It is to be hoped that the U.S. State Department will assist the heirs of Fritz Grunbaum in obtaining a copy of the Blimlinger/Schallmeiner Report and in facilitating conversations through the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, consistent with the Washington Principles on Holocaust-Era Assets.   It is to be hoped that President Obama’s Ambassador to Austria, Amb. William Eacho will take a personal interest in the plight of Jews dispossessed in the Holocaust.

Crossposted, see copyrightlitigation.blogspot.com

Listen to the Speech by Raymond Downd at Yad Vashem

The International Institute for Holocaust Research-Yad Vashem

cordially invites you to attend the lecture


Egon Schiele’s Dead City

Current Issues In Nazi Art Looting and Recovery

Raymond Dowd, Esq.

Partner – Dunnington, Bartholow & Miller LLP New York

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

10:00-12:00

Lecture Hall, Room 223, Administration and Research Building

Yad Vashem, Mount of Remembrance

In 1998, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau seized Egon Schiele’s Dead City and Portrait of Wally at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, creating a scandal that changed the legal landscape of Europe and the United States for victims of Nazi persecution and their survivors.  Ray Dowd represents the heirs of Fritz Grunbaum, a Jewish cabaret performer murdered in the Dachau Concentration Camp.  Fritz’s wife Lily died in the Minsk Death Camp.  Grunbaum’s art collection surfaced in Switzerland in 1956 under disputed circumstances, and in the first Holocaust-era art recovery trial in U.S. history, Bakalar v. Vavra, the District Court found that passing the artwork through Switzerland gave it clean title.  The case is on appeal. Many of Fritz’s artworks are in the Leopold Museum and the Albertina Museum in Austria. In over ten years, Austria has not even bothered to respond to the heirs’ claim.


Listen to the speech

Lecture at Yad Vashem by Raymond Dowd, 24.2.10

You can view the Powerpoint presentation that illustrates the audio here

Nazi Looted Art at Oberlin College and Other U.S. Museums: Prague Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets

This article is cross-posted (see  Copyright Litigation Blog by Raymond Dowd)

In late June I was invited to speak on a panel of legal experts on artwork looted by the Nazis. My topic was legal obstacles to the recovery of stolen artworks.

girl with black hairThe image you see here is of an artwork by the artist Egon Schiele called Girl with Black Hair. Every major Schiele expert in the world – Jane Kallir, Eberhard Kornfeld and Rudolph Leopold – has said that this artwork came from Fritz Grunbaum’s collection. Yet Oberlin College refuses to return it – or even to share their research or conclusions about where they believe it came from. Oberlin’s website shows that the work mysteriously surfaced in Switzerland in 1956 – and stops there.

U.S. museums and liberal arts institutions concealing the origins of their artworks is one of the biggest obstacles to researchers being able to restitute artworks to the Jews and other Nazi persecutees from whom they were stolen. As Holocaust victims and their descendants die, U.S. museums simply wait, knowing that they have stolen artworks in their collections. In his 2006 testimony to Congress, AAMD Director James Cuno estimated the number of potentially Nazi-looted works in U.S. museums at “tens of thousands”.

It is astonishing that U.S. museums can engage in this Holocaust denial and feel no backlash. Shame on Oberlin College. Its Dean should be tossed out on his ear.

Amb. Stuart Eizenstat supports a U.S. Art Restitution Commission. Good for him, and not a moment too soon.

You can find my full speech in Prague at the link below.

http://artstolenfromfritzgrunbaum.wordpress.com/category/speech-at-holocaust-conference/live-recorded/

Disclosure: I represent the heirs of Fritz Grunbaum, a Jewish cabaret performer who was murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz.