A Nazi stole Egon Schiele's Portrait of Wally from the Vienna residence of Jewish art dealer Lea Bondi Jaray in 1939. For three decades, until her death in 1969, Mrs. Jaray wanted to recovery her painting, even soliciting help from Dr. Rudolf Leopold, another Schiele expert and art collector who frequented her art gallery in London.
What Lea Bondi did not know was that Dr. Leopold had found her painting at the Belvedere Palace, amongst the works of the Austrian National Gallery. The picture was mislabeled as Portrait of a Woman and identified as part of the collection of Dr. Heinrich Reiger, who had died in the Holocaust. In the 1960s, Dr. Leopold traded another Schiele painting for the Portrait of Wally but instead of returning it to Bondi, he kept the stolen artwork for himself for more than three decades.
In 1997, Portrait of Wally was part of an Egon Schiele exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, where Lea Bondi's relatives recognized her painting. Her nephew, Henry Bondi, requested that the museum return the stolen picture to the family. When the museum denied the request, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau issued a subpoena to seize the painting before it could be shipped back to the Leopold Museum in Austria.
The dramatic 70-year-old battle to recover this painting is documented in the 90-minute film Portrait of Wally directed by Andrew Shea and produced by P. O. W. Productions. This documentary uses film footage of Nazis in Austria and numerous interviews with the lawyers, journalists, and art collectors to explain an important legal case regarding the "last prisoners of World War II" (as described by Ronald Lauder, then Chairman of MoMA).
Catherine Sezgin is editor of the ARCA blog.