The triumph comes after a failed 2005 claim on another Schiele work from the same collection
A New York judge awarded two paintings by Gustav Klimpt protege Egon Schiele to the heirs of an Austrian Holocaust victim last Thursday, in the latest case of the return of Nazi-looted art.
The original owner Fritz Grunbaum was an entertainer and big patron of the arts, having a collection numbering near 500 before being confiscated by the Nazis in 1938
In a state court in Manhattan, Judge Ramos said the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act, signed into law by former President Obama in 2016, was made precisely for such a case, extending the statute of limitations for making claims on Nazi-stolen art to six years after its “actual discovery,” Bloomberg reported.
The paintings are “Woman Hiding Her Face” and “Woman in a Black Pinafore”.Gustav Klimpt’s “Woman in Gold” painting was the subject of a Hollywood film that shed light on the process of reclaiming art taken from Jews by the Nazis in World War II.
Of the estimated 100,000 works that were stolen from 1940-1945, roughly 45,000 have been returned, but 2000 of them remain unclaimed, including 300 works housed by the Louvre.
The illustrious museum in Paris put together at the start of 2018 a permanent collection of such Nazi-looted artworks in an effort to raise public awareness and locate their rightful owners.
The Grunbaum heirs — Timothy Reif, David Fraenkel and Milos Vavra — said they had learned of the works when they were put up for sale in a Manhattan fair in 2015 by London-based art dealer Richard Nagy, who claimed to have legally purchased them.
While the works were sold together with some 50 other Schiele works by Grunbaum’s sister-in-law in a 1956 to a gallery in Switzerland, Nazi soldiers reportedly forced Fritz to sign the rights over to his wife, who was also later murdered.
As a result, Judge Ramos found the works to have been improperly expropriated from the rightful owners, essentially nullifying any subsequent claims to the art by subsequent acquirers.
“A signature at gunpoint cannot lead to a valid conveyance,” Bloomberg quoted the judge as saying.
The judge said there was no dispute the artworks at stake formerly belonged to Grunbaum and were forcibly taken by the Nazis during World War Two, a fact that put the onus on Nagy to establish a superior claim. Ramos said no such evidence was presented.
The judge also held that New York law “protects the rightful owner’s property where that property had been stolen, even if the property is in the possession of a good faith purchaser.”
The ruling, he said, “brought us a step closer to recovering all of the culture that was stolen during the largest mass theft in history, which until now, has been overshadowed by history’s largest mass murder.”
The lawyer for the Grunbaum heirs hailed the victory as a “step closer to recovering all of the culture that was stolen during the largest mass-theft in history.”
“It is a victory for Holocaust victims, their families, and all those who fought and died to undo the evils of Nazism,” said attorney Raymond Dowd from Dunnington, Bartholow & Miller LLP.
The case also came as a major triumph after a failed claim by Dowd on behalf of Milos Valra in 2005 for another Schiele drawing from Grunbaum’s collection.
Edited by: JV Staff