Seven works by artist Egon Schiele will be returned to the heirs of a Jewish artist who had owned the pieces before being murdered in the Holocaust.
The works, most of them portraits of Schiele himself or his wife, were part of a massive art collection owned by the Viennese performer Fritz Grünbaum and are estimated to be worth a total of approximately $9.5 million.
Grünbaum’s collection also included works by renowned artists Albrecht Dürer, Auguste Rodin and Camille Pissarro, along with a total of 81 pieces by Schiele, an Austrian expressionist painter active in the early 20th century.
Before being seized by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office earlier this year, the works were in the possession of several prestigious institutions, including New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, Morgan Library, and Vally Sabarsky Trus, as well as the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
All seven portraits were voluntarily surrendered by the institutions after they were shown evidence that the works were stolen by the Nazis.
The restitution announcement was made by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and Ivan J. Arvelo, a special agent in charge at a branch of the US Department of Homeland Security
The effort by Timothy Reif and David Frankel — heirs and co-executors of the Grünbaum estate — to reacquire the Schiele paintings has lasted more than 25 years and has been marked by legal battles due both to statutes of limitations and disputed claims. One claim alleged that the paintings were never stolen, and were instead in the custody of a relative of the Grünbaum family for the duration of the war, until they were sold to art collectors.
In 1938, Grünbaum and his wife Elisabeth were arrested by the Nazis and he was forced to sign a document giving her power of attorney. Elisabeth was then forced to sign a paper claiming she voluntarily turned over her husband’s art collection to the Nazis.
Grünbaum gave his last performance at the Dachau concentration camp’s infirmary on December 31, 1940. He died of tuberculosis two weeks later. Elisabeth is believed to have died at the Maly Trostenets concentration camp near Minsk in 1942.