Tag: Albertina

OTS: Seven works from the Grünbaum Collection restituted in New York

Hier finden sie die deutsche Version

Lawsuit against the Republic of Austria has been filed in New York. Will the Albertina and the Leopoldmuseum follow the example of the American museums and voluntarily restitute 12 paintings?

Vienna/New York (OTS) – Seven important works of art by Egon Schiele were ceremoniously handed over to the heirs of Viennese cabaret artist Fritz Grünbaum on Wednesday afternoon. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office calls the act a crucial milestone in one of the longest-running Holocaust restitution cases in the art world.
The ceremony to return the artworks to the heirs of Fritz Grünbaum, who was murdered in the Dachau concentration camp in 1941, took place in the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, in whose jurisdiction the case lies.

“This is of enormous importance in our world,” stressed Timothy Reif, one of the Grünbaum heirs, referring to the descendants of Holocaust victims who have been demanding the return of looted property for nearly 80 years. “It sets the tone and agenda for all future cases. For more than a quarter of a century, the Grünbaum heirs have been fighting for the return of various Schiele works. These demands, which have led to civil suits in the courts, are closely followed in the art world.”

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office took up the case in December 2022 after a New York civil court ruled in 2018 that Fritz Grünbaum had not sold or returned any of his works before his death, meaning his heirs were the legitimate owners. Prosecutors were able to present evidence that the seven works had passed through the hands of a Manhattan dealer, claiming legal jurisdiction. This time, however, was different: several museums and collectors contacted by prosecutors agreed to return the Schiele works to the heirs after being told they had stolen property.

The seven works voluntarily returned were owned by three museums – the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), the Morgan Library & Museum, both in New York, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California – as well as two collectors, Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and a longtime advocate of Holocaust restitution, and the estate of Serge Sabarsky, a well-known art collector. An eighth work from Sabarsky’s estate was previously returned to his heirs.

“Fritz Grünbaum was a man of incredible depth and spirit, and his memory lives on through the artwork that is finally being returned to his relatives,” Bragg said in a statement. “I hope this moment can serve as a reminder that despite the horrific death and destruction at the hands of the Nazis, it’s never too late to recover some of what was lost.”

This has also brought the issue of the paintings from the Grünbaum Collection held by the Austrian museums Albertina and Leopold Collection back to the center of restitution policy.
The heirs of Fritz Grünbaum have brought suit in the Southern District Court in New York against the Leopold Museum, the Albertina, and their legal or de facto owner, the Republic of Austria, for a declaration of ownership and restitution of the following works by Egon Schiele:

1. Dead city III (1911) (P.213)
2. Self-portrait with grimace (1910) (D.705)
3. Standing man with red scarf (1913) (D.1420)
4. Red blouse (1913) (D.1394)
5. Embracing nudes (1914) (D.1606)
6. Intertwined nudes (1912) (D.1147)
7. Seated girl with yellow cloth (1913) (D.1278)
8. Devotion (1912) (D.1418)
9. Standing girl with orange stockings (1914) (D.1488)
10. Self-portrait as penitent (1911) (D.942)
11. Aunt and nephew (1915) (D.1797)
12. Seated female nude on red cloth (1914) (D.1504)

The Austrian representative of the heirs after Fritz Grünbaum, Herbert Gruber, comments:

“It is astonishing in this context that none of the defendants’ representatives contacted the representatives of the heirs of Fritz Grünbaum in any form to find an out-of-court solution. The Republic of Austria hired one of the most expensive lawyers in New York with an hourly fee of USD 2000 in any case, and this despite the disastrous results in looted art cases such as Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I”, also called “Golden Adele”.”

Mediakit (German/English)

Austrian legal representative of the heirs after Fritz Grünbaum:
Mag. Michael Pilz
Telephone: +43 (0)1 406 05 51
Email: michael.pilz@jus.at

American legal representative of the heirs of Fritz Grünbaum:
Raymond J. Dowd
Phone: +1 212 682 8811
Email: rdowd@dunnington.com

The View of the Others / Die Meinung der Anderen: Oliver Meier, SRF 2

English Version below

Radio SRF 2 Kultur, Kultur-Aktualität, 30.05.2022, 17:10 Uhr, Oliver Meier

Sammlung Grünbaum Dieses Raubkunst-Urteil setzt die Museen unter Druck

Seit langem wird über die Schiele-Sammlung des jüdischen Kabarettisten Fritz Grünbaum gestritten, der im Konzentrationslager Dachau starb. Nun erhalten die Nachkommen zwei Werke zurück, die in Bern gehandelt wurden. Ein erstaunlicher Entscheid.

Über 400 Werke hat der Kabarettist Fritz Grünbaum in seinem Leben gesammelt. Er war bis zum Auftrittsverbot für jüdische Künstler 1938 eine Grösse in der Wiener Theaterwelt, gerühmt für seinen selbstironischen Humor. Als es bei einem seiner letzten Auftritte zu einem Stromausfall kam, soll er gescherzt haben: «Ich sehe nichts, absolut gar nichts, da muss ich mich in die nationalsozialistische Kultur verirrt haben.»

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Neujahrswünsche / New Year Wishes

Wir wünschen Ihnen ein schönes und erfolgreiches Neues Jahr !

Den Erben von Fritz Grünbaum wünschen wir, dass die zuständigen Stellen zumindest auf Schreiben antworten.

Die Leopold Museum Privatstiftung und Mag. Dr. Sonja Niederacher, Provenienzforschung bm:ukk-lmp im Leopold Museum im MQ ließen dieses Minimum an Hochachtung vermissen.

[scribd id=76780701 key=key-1en2uiq4oumq0s98ny0e mode=list] Unbeantwortete Schreiben an das Leopoldmuseum

[scribd id=76782735 key=key-1f87ievq6kjy3rfk3fav mode=list]Unbeantwortetes Schreiben an Mag. Dr. Niederacher

Weiters wünschen wir den Erbe, dass das Verfahren auf Restitution der beiden Werke Egon Schieles aus der Sammlung Fritz Günbaums die in der  Albertina nach einer Schenkung von Erich Lederer verwahrt werden, nach mehr als 12- jähriger Dauer positiv abgeschlossen wird.

We wish you a happy and successful New Year!

We wish to the heirs of Fritz Grunbaum that the competent authorities at least respond to letters.

The Leopold Museum Privatstiftung and Mag. Dr. Sonja Niederacher, provenanceresearcher at the Leopold Museum missed to show this modicum of respect for the heirs.

Furthermore we wish the heirs to get back the two paintings, which are deposed at the Albertina, after 12 years of formal procedure.

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

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:


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