Showing posts with label documentary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label documentary. Show all posts

November 8, 2014

Saturday, November 08, 2014 - ,,, No comments

The documentary "Mona Lisa is Missing" is now available on Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Director Joe Medeiros' 2012 documentary "Mona Lisa is Missing" (formerly "The Missing Piece") is now available on Netflix, iTunes and Amazon through US distributor Virgil Films:
This documentary examines the case of Vincenzo Peruggia, an unassuming house painter charged with stealing the "Mona Lisa" from the Louvre in 1911. (Netflix summary)
ARCA alumna Tanya K. Levrick reviewed the film in July 2012 on the ARCA blog here. The film was also produced by Joe's wife, Justine, and showed in Los Angeles last year.

Medeiros discusses the theft of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece from Paris on the ARCA blog here.

October 17, 2014

Film Review: Mark Landis in the documentary "Art and Craft" explains art forgery

by Camille Knop, ARCA Alumna '14

“We all like to feel useful. Whatever ability we happen to have, we like to make use of it,” explains Mark Landis in the newly-released documentary, “Art and Craft,” which traces his career in art forgery. “And copying pictures is my gift.”

Landis has been in the news since 2010, when it was discovered that he had donated over one hundred forgeries over a period of thirty years, spanning forty-six museums across twenty states. Although Landis’ actions could be considered fraudulent, the fact that he never sold his forgeries makes them legal. “Art and Craft” paints a portrait of Landis’ character that satisfies this contradiction and exposes a motive that is unexpected yet relatable.

Directed by Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman, and Mark Becker, “Art and Craft” often feels more like a documentary of a performance artist than that of an art forger. During its New York City release at the Angelika Film Center last month, the audience scoffed, giggled, and outright laughed in disbelief as they watched Landis at work. He forged countless images with undeniable talent, skillfully portrayed generous donors under various aliases, and teased museums into taking the bait. The genius of Mark Landis lies in the process of deception as much as in the forged work itself.

Most discovered art forgers are found to be motivated by a desire for financial gain and for revenge on an unforgiving and fickle art market. Artists themselves, they use their talents to benefit from the over-dependence of artistic value on authenticity. Ironically, their soft spots are similar to those of the museum directors interviewed in the film: art and money.

Landis, on the other hand, is interested in a different kind of profit. Unlike other art forgers, he claims he does not identify himself as an artist. Although he enjoys creating copies and duping experts, Landis is unique in that he gets the most pleasure out of impersonating art collectors. The friendly attention he receives from museum staff, although likely as insincere as his act, is what he craves and, ultimately, why he forges. “Art and Craft” traces this desire to emulate collectors he had seen in 'James Bond' films. In fact, his performances are inspired by the films and TV shows he watched as a child. He quotes them verbatim, almost as though they were original thoughts. “Necessity is the mother of invention, but sometimes the step-mother of deception,” is one such quote taken from "Charlie Chan’s Secret" (1936).  

Questions surrounding the future of Mark Landis’ work were brought up during the Q&A that followed the New York screening of “Art and Craft”. After having been featured in both a solo exhibition at the University of Cincinnati and in the film itself, it is clear that Mark Landis will have to put an end to his “philanthropic” career. Although he is unsure as to what his next step will be, when asked by an audience member if he would now be interested in selling his copies, Landis replied, "I may be eccentric, but I'm not crazy."

Ms. Knop studied art history and visual arts at Columbia University (Class of 2014).

February 23, 2014

Sam Cullman and Jen Grausman seeking support on Kickstarter to complete "Art and Craft", a documentary on art forger Mark Landis

Here's a link to the Kickstarter campaign to raise $48,250 to bring "Art and Craft", a documentary by Sam Cullman and Jen Grausman on the fraud art forger Mark Landis, to audiences:
THE STORY: Mark Landis has been called one of the most prolific art forgers in US history. His impressive body of work spans thirty years, covering a wide range of painting styles and periods that includes 15th Century Icons, the Hudson River School, and even Picasso. And while his copies could fetch impressive sums on the open market, Landis has never been in it for the money. Posing as a philanthropic donor, a grieving executor of a family member’s will, and most recently as a Jesuit priest, Landis has given away hundreds of works over the years to a staggering list of institutions across the United States. But, when Matthew Leininger, a registrar in Cincinnati, discovers his thirty-year ruse and organizes an exhibition of the work, Landis must confront his legacy and a chorus of museum professionals clamoring for him to stop.

February 2, 2014

Noah Charney Is Featured in "Hunting Hitler's Stolen Treasures: The Monuments Men" to be Aired Feb. 5 on National Geographic in US

Noah Charney is featured in “Hunting Hitler’s Stolen Treasures: the Monuments Men,” the documentary tie-in to The Monuments Men Feature Film (Directed by and starring George Clooney). It will be aired on the National Geographic Channel at 8pm Eastern Standard Time on February 5 in the United States.
NGC presents the true story of an unlikely World War II “band of brothers.” The unsuspecting group of scholars, academics, historians and architects headed to the front lines of the bloodiest war in history to rescue thousands of years' worth of European art and culture from Nazi-occupied Europe. Through extensive archive sources and photographs, journals and letter excerpts, along with the personal accounts from surviving family members, this special sheds light on the remarkable story.
From the show's website:
According to Dr. Noah Charney, "while the soldiers were trying to save Europe physically, the Monuments Men were really charged with saving its soul."

October 29, 2013

"The Missing Piece: Mona Lisa, Her Thief, The True Story" showing twice a day this week at the Arclight Pasadena

The documentary, The Missing Piece: Mona Lisa, Her Thief, The True Story, is playing now at the Arclight Theatre in the Paseo Colorado shopping center in Pasadena.

This award-winning documentary, directed and written and produced by the husband and wife team of Joe and Justine Medeiros, is a story of an audacious art theft - Vincenzo Peruggia, an immigrant house painter, walked into the Louvre on a Monday morning and then out with the Mona Lisa under his arm and onto the streets of Paris in late August (a notoriously quiet month in Paris when residents traditionally flee the humidity to the sea and the countryside). For two years Leonardo da Vinci's portrait allegedly of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo escalated in fame as the public wondered if the masterpiece would ever be recovered. The Medeiros team traveled to Peruggia's hometown in northern Italy to meet his daughter, then in her 80s, to find out from her about the man who had stolen La Joconde -- only to find out that her father had died before she turned two years old and she herself had not heard about the theft until she was about to marry. The Medeiros' promised Peruggia's daughter to find out why her father had become an art thief. They studied primary materials, including archival material related to the police investigation, and re-traced Peruggia's actions with his grandson and granddaughter.

The film will screen at noon and 2 p.m. Tuesday (October 29) through Sunday (November 3).

September 24, 2013

Showtimes for Joe Medeiros' documentary about the life and motivations of Vincenzo Peruggia's theft of the Mona Lisa

In July 2012, Tanya Levrik reviewed Joe Medeiros' documentary The Missing Piece: Mona Lisa, Her Thief, The True Story about the life and motivations of Vincenzo Peruggia who stole Leonardo da Vinci's "La Joconde" from the Louvre in 1911. This film is still being seen in festivals across the country:

 thru Thursday, Sept. 26
4:10 pm
The Screen, Santa Fe, NM

Thursday, Sept. 26 - 7:30 pm
Atlas Cinema Eastgate, Cleveland, OH

Tuesday, Oct 1 thru Saturday, Oct. 5 - 6:15 pm
The Guild Cinema, Albuquerque, NM

Thursday, Oct. 3 thru Saturday, Oct. 5
Friday, Oct. 4 1:00 pm & 8:00 pm
Saturday, Oct. 5 - 8:00 pm

Friday, October 11 - 3:30 pm

Friday, Oct. 11 - 7:00 pm
Sunday, Oct. 13 - 1:30 pm
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH

Sunday, Oct. 13 - 3:00 pm & 5:00 pm
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX

Thursday, Oct. 15
Friday, Oct. 16
The Media Arts Center, San Diego, CA

Sunday, Oct. 20 - 2:00 pm
Sacramento, CA

Wednesday, Nov. 20 - 7:00 pm
Hiway Theater, Jenkintown, PA
Live Q&A with filmmakers

Sunday, November 24 - 4:30 pm
The Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA
Live Q&A with filmmakers

Thursday, Dec. 5 - 7:30 pm
Ambler Theater, Ambler, PA
Skype Q & A withfilmmakers

Tuesday, Dec. 20 - 8:00 pm
Batelle Film Club, Richland, WA

May 12, 2013

The Missing Piece: Mona Lisa, Her thief, The True Story Headed to Denver Art Museum this Friday and to the Biografilm Festival in Bologna in June

The Missing Piece: Mona Lisa, Her Thief, The True Story, the documentary about the 1911 theft of Leonardo da Vinci's now famous portrait of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo from the Louvre, premiered in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hills Film Festival on Saturday, May 11.

"We were thrilled to have The Missing Piece screen at Grauman's Chinese Theater for the Beverly Hills Film Festival," Director Joe Medeiros wrote to the ARCA Blog. "We had a very enthusiastic sold-out crowd.  It was our 9th festival and one of the best so far."

Medeiros bills the film as "the true story of how and why Vincenzo Peruggia, a simple Italian immigrant, stole the Mona Lisa and nearly got away with it".

The film will screen at the Denver Art Museum at 7 p.m. this Friday (May 17):
Come to a riveting and humorous documentary film about Vincent Peruggia, the man who stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911, his 84-year-old daughter who thought he did it for patriotic reasons, and the filmmaker who spent more than 30 years trying to find the truth.  Written and produced by Joe Medeiros, former head writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, this documentary combines historical photographs, animation and interviews with Peruggia’s descendants to examine how an unassuming housepainter from Italy pulled off “the greatest little-known heist in modern time.”  The producers will be present for Q&A after the film.
The international premiere of the movie will be at the Biografilm Festival in Bologna on Saturday June 15 and Sunday June 16.

Joe Medeiros, writer/director, and
Justine Medeiros, producer. 
ARCA Alum ('11) Tanya Lervik saw the movie last July in Georgetown and reviewed the movie here.

Last October Joe Medeiros weighed in on the Isleworth Mona Lisa, positioning that the painting had not been newly discovered but around for almost a century (see the ARCA blog post here).

This documentary is available for private screenings. Here are the project's links:


Updated May 15 to include information from the director Joe Medeiros.

June 21, 2012

UNESCO promotes public awareness of illicit trafficking of cultural property with 2011 Documentary "Stealing the Past"

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Here’s a link to the website and video for “Stealing the Past”, co-produced by; One Planet Pictures; and the Swiss Confederation.  This English language documentary is intended to create public awareness about the illicit trafficking of cultural property worldwide.  This program spotlights Italy, Colombia and the United Kingdom to see ‘what police, museums and auction houses are doing to tackle’ looting of heritage.

"Stealing the Past" has Gihane Zaki, Eyptian Ministry of Culture, talking about how people 'rallied' to protect the collection of the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo during the Arab Spring Uprising in early 2011.  "When they heard in the media that the museum was looted, they went directly there and it was really fantastic to see all of the young people gather around the museum to prevent more looting." The museum reported only 18 items stolen, according to the documentary.

From Iraq, up to 7,000 ancient objects were "still at large" from the archaeological museum.  An art dealer in California was found last year trying to sell 25 of them, according to the film's narrator.

Others included in this program: Karl-Heinz Kind, Interpol Criminal Organisations & Drugs Unit; Jane Levine, Director of Compliance for Sotheby's; Irena Bokova, Director General, UNESCO; Rita Cosentino, Director, Etruscan National Museum; Sir Mark Jones, Director, Victoria and Albert Museum; Colonel Raffaele Mancino of the Carabinieri Heritage Unit; Diego Herrera, Director General, Colombian Institute of Anthropology; Captain Erica Correa Bustos, Colombian National Police; Carlos Emilio Piazzini, Deputy Director, Colombian Institute of Anthropology; Dr. Andrew Richardson, Canterbury Archaeological Trust; Mark Harrison, Chief Superintendent, Kent Police; Maurice Worsley, Kent Amateur Metal Detecting Support Unit;

“Stealing the Past” includes a statement from the March 2011 commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the 1970 Convention.

"One-hundred twenty countries have signed a convention which has no teeth,” Irena Bokova, Director General, UNESCO told the participants at the Paris meeting.  “This is one of the specific conventions which doesn't have a specific enforcing mechanism."
Other highlights:

UNESCO works closely with INTERPOL, the international policing agency that maintains a database of stolen items totaling around 40,000 as of last year. According to UNESCO, Italy is 'home' to 60% of the world's art treasures. The Carabinieri Heritage Unit has a stolen art database of more than 1.5 million objects. "Cerveteri is known throughout the world for the activity of illegal excavation," said Rita Cosentino, Director of the Etruscan National Museum. "These activities have been devastating for a site like Cerveteri." The Carabinieri conduct frequent investigations into the area of Cerveteri aimed at finding illegal excavations, finding the thieves, and seizing any stolen objects, according to the documentary's narrator. The crew was 'given permission to follow one such operation' of 'ten officers, four cars, and four horses' with a helicopter surveying the targeted area from above for 'illegal excavations taking place'. When the road runs out, the horses are at an advantage over 'rough terrain' in the event of a chase. A Carabinieri officer climbs into a looted tomb and finds a 3rd century BC cup. "There are sporadic incidents," Cosentino says. "But the majority these days are done by amateurs. On the whole, the phenomenon of looting, thanks to the Carabinieri, has practically been defeated."

“The threats we need to combat are those criminal offences that pose a danger to Italian cultural heritage,” says Colonel Raffaele Mancino of the Carabinieri Heritage Unit. “From theft, to robbery, to vandalism. To support our work we have a number of legislative tools for the safeguarding of cultural goods and above all to combat the illicit trafficking of cultural goods. In recent years criminal organizations at the international level have become interested in this traffic as a way of laundering money from other criminal activities. We have found Italian artworks all over the world. But I have to say that with high-level government collaboration we have been able to bring back to Italy thousands and thousands of works of art.”

From inside the Carabinieri Heritage Units warehouse, Colonel Mancino points out a headless statue of Zeus stolen some years ago from the Norwegian Institute of Culture in Rome and a Greek-style vase intercepted by custom officials at an airport.

The Colombian Ministry of Culture estimates that 10,000 archaeological treasures are smuggled out of the country every year and less than 1% of these artworks are recovered. In 2007, the Colombian police created a special unit to deal with the illegal trafficking of the country’s heritage. The unit works in collaboration with the Institute of Anthropology. It has three offices.

Metal detecting in the UK has turned into a ‘thriving’ hobby (as has ‘night hawking’ the term for illegally using metal detectors at night on archaeological sites). The British government is willing to purchase ancient items found in the ground. “There is more political will on the part of the governments to stop this illicit trade,” Irena Bokova said in the television show.

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.

February 12, 2010

Blood Antiques

Recently, a variety of news sources carried stories that made reference to an article in the Fall 2009 issue of the Journal of Art Crime by Judith Harris, which discussed the many connections between looted archaeological artifacts and terror. For a both more in-depth study and visual supplement be sure to check out "Blood Antiques," a Belgian documentary by Peter Brems and Wim Van den Eynde featured on

From LinkTV,
"The European art trade, synonymous with wealth and glamour, has always involved a degree of stolen and smuggled art. Now, Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage is financing terrorism and the Taliban. From Afghans scrabbling in the sand for treasures, to the dazzling show rooms of unscrupulous dealers and private collectors – ‘Blood Antiques’ uncovers one of the most outrageous illegal trades since blood diamonds."