Leopold Museum Defends Against Restitution Claims

The dispute between the Leopold Museum Private Foundation and the heirs of the Viennese cabaret artist Fritz Grünbaum, who was persecuted by the Nazis and died at Dachau in 1941, has taken a new turn, states a press release published on Art Daily.

The Grünbaum family claims that the Egon Schiele watercolor Tote Stadt III (1911) is a Nazi-looted artwork that should be restituted to them. The Leopold Museum, which holds the piece in its collection, has vehemently defended against the accusations. It maintains that a provenance investigation conducted jointly with the Austrian Culture Ministry in 2010 proved that the painting was sold after the end of World War II by Mathilde Lukacs, Grünbaum’s sister in law, to the Swiss art dealer Eberhard W. Kornfeld.

Provenance researcher Dr. Sonja Niederacher subsequently concluded that there was no case for restitution.

To further deter the Grünbaums, the Vienna institution has now gone on the offensive, stating that it “reserves the right to take legal action” against the heirs if they continue to claim that they are the rightful owners of Tote Stadt III. 

The case is complicated by the fact that another work by Schiele, Town on the Blue River, also once owned by Fritz Grünbaum, is about to go under the hammer at Christie’s New York. As artnet News reported (see “Sotheby’s and Christie’s Split on Response to Nazi Victim’s Art“), the piece is to be sold in conjunction with a restitution agreement that views the work as looted art. The sale will provide compensation to Grünbaum’s heirs.

In the press release, the Leopold Museum calls the auctioneer’s decision to sell the piece in those terms “incomprehensible.” It states: “The works of Fritz Grünbaum were never looted art. A deliberate suppression of the facts does not change this situation.”


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