Showing posts with label Portrait of Wally. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Portrait of Wally. Show all posts

August 16, 2014

Listen to 'Art Crime with Arthur Tompkins: Portrait of Wally' on Radio New Zealand

Judge Tompkins
ARCA Lecturer Judge Arthur Tompkins, a New Zealand District Court Judge and member of Interpol's DNA Monitoring Expert Group, discusses the theft of Portrait of Wally, the 1912 oil painting by Austrian painter Egon Schiele.

Andrew Shea's documentary film "Portrait of Wally" was reviewed in the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. More information on this film can be found here, here, and here.

Last month, Judge Tompkins spoke to Kim Hill about the theft of the 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, painted by Gustav Klimt on Radio New Zealand.

September 12, 2013

HARP (The Holocaust Art Restitution Project) and HARP-Europe Sign A Collaboration Agreement Involving Research in Artworks Looted by the Nazis

Press Contacts:
For HARP Europe: Elizabeth Royer, 06 13 17 44 70 ,
For HARP: Marc Masurovsky, (00) 1 202 255 1602 ,

Paris, France - Washington, DC, USA - September 12, 2013 - The Holocaust Art Restitution Project ( HARP), based in Washington, DC, chaired by Ori Z. Soltes, and HARP-Europe, founded by Elizabeth Royer, both nonprofit organizations, announced today the signature of an exclusive collaboration agreement involving  research in artworks looted by the Nazi Regime.

For twelve years, Hitler’s Third Reich orchestrated a campaign of persecution, plunder and annihilation of millions of people, resulting in the seizure and expropriation of countless assets, including works of art. Due to the inertia from governments and the art market since 1945, and as Holocaust victims or their heirs continue to seek their stolen property, these artworks move freely around the world with impunity, and continue to be exhibited, exchanged or sold.

This is why HARP, based in Washington, DC, and chaired by Ori Z. Soltes, announced the signature of an exclusive collaboration agreement involving historical research of looted artworks, with HARP-Europe, a French association incorporated under French no-for-profit laws, and founded by Elizabeth Royer.  In fact, the identification and restitution of looted artworks require detailed research and analysis of public and private archives, either in Europe or North America.

HARP-Europe is a not-for-profit entity created and led by Elizabeth Royer, and headquartered in Paris. HARP is a US not-for-profit entity founded in 1997, which has worked for 16 years on the restitution of artworks looted by the Nazi regime. HARP was notably involved in the "Portrait of Wally" case, where a Schiele painting was seized by the U.S. Government, as well as in the restitution of an “Odalisque”, a painting by Henri Matisse, to the Rosenberg family. The purpose of both entities is to conduct archival research on artworks looted by the Nazi regime, to assist claimants in obtaining their restitution, to seek improvement of the legislative and political framework in favor of restitution of looted artworks, to develop and promote educational programs designed to facilitate historical research in property losses resulting from the Nazi regime.

HARP is advised and represented by the Ciric Law Firm Firm, PLLC in New York, USA, and Europe 

HARP is advised and represented by law firms Dauzier & Associés and Antoine Comte in Paris, France.

Elizabeth Royer, President                                                           
HARP-Europe, Paris, France

Ori Z. Soltes, President

HARP, Washington, DC, USA

November 23, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2012: Review of Andrew Shea's documentary film "Portrait of Wally"

In the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Catherine Sezgin reviews Andrew Shea's documentary film Portrait of Wally:
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.

June 1, 2012

Friday, June 01, 2012 - , No comments

Art Crime Documentary: "Portrait of Wally" (Part Three)

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Lea Bondi’s grand niece, Ruth Rozanek, told the filmmakers of “Portrait of Wally” that Lea Bondi would have liked to have gotten her portrait back but that in the 1950s Bondi didn’t have the financial resources for a legal fight and the value of the painting – barely worth $1,000 then – couldn’t justify a costly legal battle in a country where she could not be sure to be given fair consideration as a Jew after the war in Austria.  Lea Bondi died in 1969.  In 1972, Rudolf Leopold published a book on Schiele and obliterated Lea Bondi’s name from the list of owners of Portrait of Wally.

Director Andrew Shea’s film “Portrait of Wally” documents the legal strategies of the state of New York who wanted to establish the true ownership of the painting against the museums and art galleries who expressed their opinion and strong influence against what they considered the government’s interference.

The Museum of Modern Art, chaired by Ronald Lauder, wanted to return Portrait of Wally (and a second painting by Egon Schiele Dead City) to the Leopold Museum.  MoMA moved to quash the subpoena.  The art community had assumed that artworks were usually immune from such actions, the New York Times reported.  The Wall Street Journal said that Morgenthau had taken ‘momentary leave of his senses’.

Museums feared their ability to borrower paintings internationally would be hurt.  “Museums and the public could be severely damaged as a consequence,” Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, told the New York Times.

Glenn D. Lowry, Executive Director, Museum of Modern Art., before the House Banking Committee on February 12, 1998: “The district attorney’s action of barring the return of the painting to the lender has the potential of seriously affecting the future of art loans in this country. Unless we can assure lenders that American art museums will return borrowed works of art, lenders, fearing seizures, will simply not lend.  That would be a disaster for the American public which has come to expect first class exhibitions at all art institutions across this great land.”

Ori Z. Soltes, Former Director, National Jewish Museum, Co-Founder, Holocaust Art Restitution Project: “Then the entire museum community fell in line with this perspective of don’t mess with internal museum affairs, you government and other kinds of bureaucrats because you don’t understand.”

Even Ronald Lauder, who founded the Commission on Art Recovery in 1998, wanted the painting returned to Austria.  The filmmakers discuss Lauder's various conflicts as an underwriter of the Schiele exhibition at MoMA and as former US Ambassador to Austria in 1986-1987.  Launder, a major collector of Egon Schiele’s works, also purchased Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer from Maria Altmann and her family in 2006.

This documentary discusses the controversial NPR story in 2004 on Portrait of Wally and the subsequent suspension of correspondent David D’Arcy (also co-writer of this film).

Attorneys Howard Spiegler and Larry Kaye fought for years on behalf of the Estate of Lea Bondi.  Finally, a trial date was set for July 2010.  All that was to be decided, the film said, was whether or not Leopold knew that “Portrait of Wally” had been stolen when he brought the painting into the United States for the Schiele exhibition at MoMA in 1997.

Then Dr. Leopold died weeks before the trial.  His wife, Dr. Elisabeth Leopold, offered the Estate of Lea Bondi $19 million for Portrait of Wally to return to the Leopold Museum in Vienna, to join the artist’s self-portrait painted on the same day he had immortalized his lover.  It was her husband’s wish to settle, Elisabeth Leopold said publicly.  The attorneys, who had taken the case on contingency received about one-third of the money for the painting and the rest was divided amongst the 50 family members of the Estate of Lea Bondi.

The painting was first displayed at the Jewish Heritage Museum in lower Manhattan before it was returned to Vienna and re-installed at the Leopold Museum.  This time, the story of Lea Bondi’s ownership of the Portrait of Wally is confirmed and it is clarified that she never lost title to the painting during the decades she and her family searched for the stolen painting.

The film notes at the end:
Shortly after painting Portrait of Wally Schiele left Wally for a respectable middle-class girl, Edith Harms, whom he married in 1915.  Schiele never saw Wally again. Edith died of influenza in 1918. She was six months pregnant with Schiele’s child. Schiele contracted the virus and died three days later at the age of 28. Wally volunteered to serve as a nurse.  She died of scarlet fever during World War One. 
 In 1998, the Austrian Parliament, responding to the Manhattan District Attorney’s seizure of Portrait of Wally and Dead City, passed a new restitution law. 
 In the following years the Belvedere and other Austrian museums returned hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art that had been stolen by the Nazis. 
 This restitution law does not apply to the Leopold Museum, which is considered a private foundation, not a public museum.
Directed by Andrew Shea
Written by Andrew Shea and David D’Arcy
Produced by David D’Arcy, Barbara Morgan, and Andrew Shea

This project was funded and supported in part by the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division and by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts.

May 30, 2012

Art Crime Documentary: "Portrait of Wally" (Part Two)

Rudolf Leopold/The Leopold Museum
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

This is a continued review of the art crime documentary "Portrait of Wally". The information presented here is from the film directed by Andrew Shea.

Lea Bondi founded St. George’s Gallery in London.  After the war, Bondi spent several years recovering her paintings and was able to get back the ones from her gallery but not those that had hung in her apartment, recalled her nephew Henry Bondi.

In 1946, Bondi returned to Vienna.  She went to the Restitution Court, not for the Portrait of Wally, but for the contents of her gallery that was now called “Galerie Friedrich Welz”.  The Austrian court declared that Welz had renovated the gallery and that Bondi would have to pay the war criminal Welz 9,000 Schillings before recovering her business.

Director Andrew Shea's documentary discusses the confusion about the Egon Schiele painting Portrait of Wally after World War II.

Sophie Lillie, author of Was Einmal War (What Once Was), said that Bondi asked Welz about the Portrait of Wally.  Welz told Bondi that the painting had been erroneously confiscated with the property of another Jewish collector, Dr. Heinrich Rieger, and given to the national collection at the Belvedere Museum. The Rieger family had been rounded up and deported to die in a concentration camp, Lillie said in the documentary.

Portrait of Wally was listed incorrectly as a “drawing” not as an oil painting. “The mistake should have been recognized immediately,” Lillie said.  “Mistaking a painting for a drawing is a big mistake.”

“The idea that the director of the National Gallery of Austria was unable to tell the difference between an oil painting and a work on paper is clearly an absurdity,” journalist David D’Arcy told the camera.

Thomas Trenkler, Editor of Der Standard, sums up that the Belvedere Museum “knew that the painting they had bought didn’t belong to Rieger and that something was not quite right”.

Klaus Schröder, former Managing Director of The Leopold Museum, said: “But to imply that the Austrian Gallery would have tampered with the sources to facilitate possible sales is totally absurd.”

Monika Mayer, Director of Provenance Research, Austrian Gallery at the Belvedere:  “Of course, to us it seems quite exceptional if we look at it retrospectively.  How can there be a confusion between a drawing an a painting from a famous collector, Heinrich Rieger, and a famous collector, Heinrich Rieger, and a famous oil portrait of Wally Neuzil? That seems extremely mysterious and we can’t explain it.  I didn’t go as deeply into the details of the case as others have. I don’t actually think there was a conspiracy.”

Bonnie Goldblatt, former Senior Special Agent for Department of Homeland Security, who had worked on the case said in the documentary: “My belief is that the museum wanted to amass a huge art collection and it was good timing.  A law had been passed then that forbid the exportation of work by Austrian artists, which came in handy.  If Jewish collectors weren’t in Austria, they would have to sell it to the museum instead of taking it out of the country to sell.”

Even the U. S. Army had documented numerous times that the painting had not belonged to the Riegers and told the Belvedere the same thing, asserted Sharon Cohen Levin, Chief of the Asset Forfeiture United in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

In a deposition in Vienna with American prosecutors, Dr. Rudolf Leopold spoke of his relationship with Lea Bondi:  ‘I met Ms. Jaray in London in 1953.  She sold me a few Schiele pieces and explained to me that she would like to talk to me about a picture that she had once owned.’

Ernst Ploil, attorney and art collector, explained in the documentary:  “Leopold knew who owned looted art.  He knew about the problems of not being able to export those pieces of art.  He got in contact with the owners who had left Austria or had been forced to leave Austria” and offered to purchase the recovered looted art.

Hector Felicano, author of The Lost Museum: “Right after the war there was such turmoil in the art market that you could get just about anything you wanted if you had the money.”

In 1954, Lea Bondi asked Leopold to watch over the Portrait of Wally, to make sure it didn’t disappear, according to Robert Morganthau.

Again, the film returns to Leopold’s deposition in United States v. Portrait of Wally: “The question is, what did she say to you, and what did you say to her?”
Leopold: “Well, I already explained this before.  After we had struck a deal regarding a couple of sheets, works on paper, that is, she asked me, where is the Portrait of Wally? And I said in the Belvedere.” 
Leopold: “Well, what you’re asking me – and I then said, well, what you’re asking me to do is simply impossible to do, because if I just went to the Gallery and asked them to hand me over the picture, they will probably throw me out.”
Journalist D’Arcy narrates what happened next: ‘Leopold returns to Vienna and barters with the museum for a Schiele he has for this painting.  He already had Egon Schiele’s self-portrait of the same date so for him it was a case of uniting the pair of pictures’.

The Austrian Gallery had exchanged “Vally from Krumau” for “Portrait of a boy (Rainerbub)”.

The next thing Lea Bondi knew, according to art historian Lucille Roussin, the painting was being exhibited as part of the Leopold collection.

Thomas Trenkler, Editor for Der Standard: “The museum must have been afraid that the painting would have to be given back. Thus, that the Museum sold it, or rather exchanged it for other artworks, this was a white wash.”

This review will be continued in two days.

May 28, 2012

Monday, May 28, 2012 - , No comments

Art Crime Documentary: "Portrait of Wally" (Part One)

Egon Schiele's 1912 "Portrait of Wally"/Leopold Museum
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

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 recover 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 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 involved to explain an important legal case regarding the “last prisoners of World War II” (as described by Ronald Lauder, then Chairman of MoMA).

Egon Schiele (1890-1918) painted "Portrait of Wally Neuzil" in 1912 with oil paint on a wood panel measuring 32 by 39 centimeters.  This picture stayed in storage in the United States for 13 years while lawyers for MoMA and the Leopold Museum fought restitution to the Estate of Lea Bondi.

In this insightful documentary, Morgenthau discusses why he issued the subpoena:
We heard about the allegations of the owner of the Schiele paintings.  It was the 11th hour, and they were about to return them to Austria so we kind of threw a Hail Mary pass.  We issued a grand jury subpoena hoping we could develop the evidence to support that case, but if we hadn’t issued it, the painting would have gone back and we would have never had a chance to ascertain the true ownership.
Willi Korte, Art Researcher and Investigator, Co-Founder, Holocaust Art Restitution Project, on the importance of the case:  “We wouldn’t be sitting here talking about art restitution in 2010 the way we do if we wouldn’t have had Wally and I can’t think of any other case that had this significance. It is the case out of all art restitution cases that really shaped the discussion for the following years.”

CBS News Correspondent Morley Safer, was also on camera: “These are vestiges of people’s history, of the family’s history and it is terribly important I think that that be honored … there should be a rush to judgment on these cases.”

Judith H. Debrzynski, formerly an arts reporter for The New York Times, recalled that in late 1997 people were talking about Dr. Leopold as an excessive art collector who reputedly personally conducted extensive conservation on the artworks at the Leopold Museum.  Then someone mentioned to her about “the Nazi connection” in regards to the Schiele exhibit at MoMA and Debrzynski got curious. This film clearly defines the history and legal complications of this case in a fascinating narrative. [In this post and the subsequent posts this week, information on this case is all from the documentary.]

In 1920s Vienna, Lea Bondi operated a modern art gallery.  She brought, sold, and displayed works by the young Schiele at a time of freedom and experimentation in Austria.  In the second half of the 19th century, the Emperor Franz Josef had given Jews the same rights as citizens. Vienna’s Jewish population had increased from 6,000 in 1848 to at least 200,000 in Austria by 1930.  Vienna of the 1920s was like Berlin, very open to modern ideas and thought and sexual morals were as loose as they are in New York now, Thomas Weyr, journalist and native of Vienna, tells the camera.  “Everything changed overnight,” Weyr said.

In March 1938, the mostly Roman Catholic Austrians voted to join Germany in the "Anschluss".  Hitler paraded under Nazi banners draped over the balconies of apartment buildings in the main streets of Vienna while Jews lost their right to vote and their businesses.

“Lea said it was a time when if you belonged to the right party, you could do what you wanted, never mind if it was legal or not,” recalled her grand niece Ruth Rozanek in the understated manner she maintains before the camera throughout the documentary.

Lea Bondi owned a gallery in Vienna that was quite well known, according to Lucille Roussin, an attorney and art historian.  “However, this painting, Portrait of Wally by Egon Schiele, was not part of the contents of that gallery," Roussin said.  "It was her personal property.”

Henry Bondi, Lea Bondi’s Nephew, said that after the Anschluss, everything was confiscated from his aunt because she was Jewish.

In other supporting documentation, Lea Bondi had written to Otto Kallir, founder of Galerie St. Etienne in NYC, that Portrait of Wally had been in her private collection “privatbesitz” and had nothing to do with her gallery.  It had hung in her apartment at 38 Weisgerberlände.

Journalist D’Arcy retold the background of the story: Friedrich Welz, an art dealer and Nazi Party member, confiscated Lea Bondi’s gallery.  Then he went to her home, saw the painting on the wall, and said he wanted Portrait of Wally too.  Welz threatened Bondi; her husband told her to give it to Welz, that they might want to leave as soon as tomorrow. Welz took the painting and Lea Bondi left Vienna for London the next day (18 March 1939).

Hildegard Bachert, co-director of Galerie St. Etienne in New York City recalled the political atmosphere in Vienna: “Their lives were in the balance there.  There wasn’t any negotiating and God knows I know that you couldn’t negotiate with Nazis.  You were lucky if they didn’t shoot you on the spot.”

Part two continued in two days.

March 30, 2012

Senate Bill 2212: Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act Aims to Prevent Seizures of Nazi-era Looted Paintings on Loan to American Museums

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA blog Editor-in-Chief

The proposed Senate Bill S. 2212, the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional, is the biggest threat to date of making legal claims for stolen art, according to Marc Masurovsky, a Washington, DC-based historian and a former researcher director for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust-era Assets.

The bill was sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (1992-2012), a Democrat from California, who introduced the bill on March 20th to "clarify the exception to foreign sovereign immunity set forth in section 1605 (a)(3) title 28, United States code.

"S. 2212 will immunize most looted art coming into the United States," Masurovsky wrote on a message on Facebook.

According to, the bill is in the first stage of the legislative process:  "Most bills and resolutions are assigned to committees which consider them before they move to the House or Senate as a whole ... The sponsor [Feinstein] is a member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, where the bill has been referred." The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (Republican-Utah), another member of the senate's judiciary committee. also identifies this bill as related to another in the House of Representatives: H. R. 4086 of the same name.

"The backers of these two bills have asked Jewish groups, claimants and other interested parties, to make a choice: by opting for a limited category of art objects to be claimed in US courts that would come in from abroad for "cultural display," Masurovsky wrote in an email.  "They will allow all other looted art objects to enter the US without any possible legal recourse to seek restitution of those objects in a US court of law."

According to the bill submitted by Feinstein and Hatch:
If a work is imported into the United States from any foreign country pursuant to an agreement providing for the temporary exhibition or display of such work entered into between a foreign state that is the owner or custodian of such work and the United States or 1 or more cultural education institutions within the United States;
Last November, a Florida U. S. Attorney seized a 16th century painting (Girolamo Romano's Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue (1538) from the permanent collection of Italy's Pinacoteca di Brera in Milano loaned for an exhibit at the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Tallahassee. In February, a U. S. judge ordered the painting to be returned to the heirs of Frederico Gentili di Giuseppe, an Italian Jew who died in Paris before the Nazis invaded France.

"The case in Tallahassee could never have occurred had the bill been passed last year," Masurovsky explains.  "The question remains also whether Wally could have been made possible had the bill existed in 1997 as well as the Altman v. Republic of Austria and all of the Max Stern Estate seizures in the US."

The bill distinguishes that the artworks is a cultural object and not to be considered to be a commercial activity.  "NAZI-ERA CLAIMS. -- Paragraph (1) shall not apply in any case in which -- (A) the action is based upon a claim that the work was taken in Europe in violation of international law by a covered government during the covered period; (B) the court determines that the activity associated with the exhibition or display is commercial activity; and (C) a determination under subparagraph (B) is necessary for the court to exercise jurisdiction over the foreign state under subsection (a)(3)."

The "covered government" involves the Nazi's Third Reich regime and the "covered period" is specified as January 30, 1933, through May 8, 1945."

This S.2212 aims to prevent seizures such as the one in the Florida case above.

The ARCA blog asked Ori Z. Soltes, co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, for a comment:
"I have three basic comments: the first is to acknowledge that the intention on the part of Feinstein and Hatch comes from the right emotional place and even to laud their intention, but to suggest that they are simply being misguided; to wit (and here is my second comment, which is essentially to repeat virtually what Marc has said with regard to the danger of so narrowing the focus on Nazi-plundered art): that the result is to make the coming of all other kinds of plundered art into the United States immune not just from seizure, but from being recognized as plundered; the effect for archaeological artifacts in particular is potentially disastrous. 
"My third comment, related to the second, is that the narrowing of focus that the bill proposes adds another aspect of looking at the Holocaust as an event specifically Jewish or specifically European or specifically whatever, which enables people to ignore the larger issue, the human issue, of which it is part, and which "largeness" is evidenced by the depressing number of Holocaust-like events to which one can point across the planet both before and after World War II -- which is analogous to the broad range of culture plunder both before and after. If, with all of its unique aspects (of which are plenty) we simply view it as an aberration, we no longer have to ask as many questions about ourselves, we no longer have to think as much--and that is a profound danger particularly to the American people, with ramifications beyond this issue."

Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue/FCN

March 2, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2011: Howard N. Spiegler on the "Portrait of Wally" case

In the Fall 2011 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Howard N. Spiegler writes of "What the Lady has Wrought: The Ramifications of the Portrait of Wally Case".   This article first appeared in the newsletter of the Art Law Group of Herrick, Feinstein LLP, Art and Advocacy, Fall 2010, Volume 7 and is reprinted with permission.  Herrick, Feinstein represented the Estate of Lea Bondi Jaray, a Jewish art dealer in Vienna who fled for London in 1939 after her gallery was "Aryanized" by a Nazi agent, Mr. Spiegler explains.  He summarizes the case in the first paragraph:

On July 20, 2010, on the eve of trial, the case of United States v. Portrait of Wally, which our firm litigated for more than ten years, was finally resolved by stipulation and order. The U.S. Attorney in Manhattan commenced the case in the fall of 1999 by seizing the painting, “Portrait of Wally” by Egon Schiele (Wally), while it was on loan for exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The case has been credited with awakening governments around the world, as well as museums, collectors, and others in the global art community, to the problem of Nazi-looted art almost seventy years after the beginning of the Nazi era in Europe. Although this case will surely be commented on and analyzed for many years to come – including in a documentary film due to be released in the spring – as the attorneys for the claimant in the case, we thought it would be helpful to provide some thoughts from our unique vantage point.

Howard Spiegler is co-chair of Herrick, Feinstein’s international art practice, which includes all aspects of commercial art matters, both in the litigation and transactional areas. He has been involved in several well-known and important litigations brought on behalf of foreign governments and heirs of Holocaust victims and others to recover stolen artwork or cultural property, including the recent recovery by the heir of the famous Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker of over 200 Nazi-looted artworks from the Dutch Government. He has also facilitated recoveries on behalf of the Republic of Turkey of numerous valuable antiquities, the currently pending litigation brought on behalf of the Estate of Lea Bondi Jaray to recover a Schiele painting, “Portrait of Wally”, confiscated by a Nazi agent in Austria in the late 1930’s, and the recently resolved action on behalf of the heirs of Kazimir Malevich, the world-renowned 20th Century Russian artist, against the City of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. This last case resulted in the recovery by the heirs of five Malevich paintings. He received his J.D. degree from Columbia University School of Law in 1974. He serves on the Editorial Board of The Journal of Art Crime and regularly writes and speaks around the world on issues relating to art law.

A copy of this issue may be obtained through subscription to The Journal of Art Crime.

February 16, 2011

St. Louis Art Museum Sues the United States to Preclude a Forfeiture

The Ka-Nefer-Nefer Mask, acquired in 1998
 by the St. Louis Art Museum
The St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM) has sued the federal government to preclude it from initiating a forfeiture claim against the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask. The museum was approached in January by several U.S. attorneys in January, who indicated an intention to bring a forfeiture action against the mask. Civil forfeiture was the legal mechanism under which the Portrait of Wally litigation and subsequent settlement emerged. It is a powerful tool for claimants, which uses the resources of the federal government, and a favorable burden of proof, to pursue claims for objects which may have been looted or stolen.

But in this case, rather than waiting for the forfeiture action, the museum has decided to try to preclude a suit by the U.S. attorneys, arguing that from December-January of 2005-06, the U.S. was a party to several communications regarding questions with respect to the history of the mask. They use as examples, posts and emails sent by Ton Cremers, of the Museum Security Network. He sent at least two emails to Bonnie Magness-Gardiner of the FBI, INTERPOL, as well as James McAndrew at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Museum's complaint quotes emails from Cremers, which were published on the Museum Security Network:
  1. “So I should think that if the Egyptian Government lodged a complaint or request with the USA Government and the FBI Crime Team (to which I am copying this), then the Museum would be obliged to answer the questions.”
  2. “The FBI is just waiting for Egypt to file a complaint. A [sic] soon as Egypt files a complaint [sic] the FBI is expected to act.”
  3. “Maarten Raven, a Dutch archaeologist, saw the mask in the Saqqara and is VERY positive that the mask in the SLAM [Museum] is the same as . . .the one stolen in Saqqara . . . .
The SLAM argues in the complaint that the relevant U.S. government officials had knowledge of the potential claim over five years ago, and the five-year statute of limitations period has expired under 19 U.S.C. § 1621. A court will decide whether these emails, and queries the Museum sent to INTERPOL in the 1990's about the mask are sufficient to have given the U.S. government actual or constructive knowledge of the potential claim. The Museum seeks a declaratory judgment under the Tariff Act that the action is barred by the statute of limitations.