Leopold Museum Will Return Two Nazi Looted Watercolors by Egon Schiele

The Vienna museum is keeping three other disputed Schiele works.

The two watercolors which have been restituted
Photo: JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

The Leopold Museum in Vienna will return two looted watercolors by Egon Schiele to the 95-year-old descendent of the original owner.

Eva Zirkl had been campaigning to have the watercolors returned to her for nearly 20 years. The artworks had originally belonged to art dealer Karl Maylaender, who was deported to Lodz in Poland from Austria in 1941 and then killed.

“[It is] a very happy day,” Austrian culture minister Josef Ostermayer told AFP. “It puts an end to years of conflict while allowing both parties to save face.”

The crux of the story harks back to 2010, when a government commission in Austria recommended that the museum return five Schiele watercolors to an heir of Maylaender. Because the museum is privately funded, it could ignore the ruling and negotiate with the state the terms of the restitution.

The result is that the museum is returning two and keeping three of the five works in question.

The five works in question Photo: credit JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

The five Schiele watercolors in question. 
Photo: credit JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images.

Austria’s Jewish Community, who represented Zirkl in the case, was pleased with the result. “I am so happy that the heiress can still enjoy these works,” said representative Erika Jakubovits to AFP.

The Leopold Museum has one of the greatest collections of works by Egon Schiele, whose work was considered degenerate under the Nazi regime.

This is not the first time the museum has been involved in a Schiele restitution case. The most famous case is that of the painting Portrait of Wally, which was seized by the Nazis and ended up in the Leopold’s collection in 2010. The museum paid $19 million to the heirs of Jewish gallerist Lea Bondi Jaray and was allowed to keep the work in turn.


Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907).
Photo via: Wikimedia Commons.

Another famous case—immortalized in a recent film—saw five works by Gustav Klimt returned to Maria Altmann, including the iconic Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I, which in turn was sold almost immediately for $135 million.

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