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The Famous Leopold Museum Returns Egon Schiele Artwork to Jewish Heiress

  • Egon Schiele artworks
April 7, 2016

From January 29 until February 22, 2016, the Vienna-based Leopold Museum organized an exhibition Hidden Treasures with about 185 pieces by Austrian artists from Museum’s remarkable collection on display. Egon Schiele artwork dominated the show, but the entire exhibition became a bit controversial once it was discovered that works were all damaged, or moldy, or eaten by worms and that they urgently need restoration. But, Leopold Museum has always been in the very centers of controversies, because the Museum has in its collection a number of artworks that were stolen from Jewish collectors by the Nazi regime before and during the Second World War. And finally, Leopold Museum has agreed to give up two of five drawings by Austrian artist Egon Schiele that were at the center of a dispute over Nazi-looted art.

Egon Schiele artworks
Leopold Museum in Vienna

Egon Schiele Artwork to be Returned to Jewish Heiress

On Thursday, April 7, Vienna’s famous Leopold Museum settled a long-running feud over five Nazi-plundered drawings by Austrian painter Egon Schiele with the descendants of the works’ Jewish former owner. The museum said it had agreed to return two of the watercolors –  including a self-portrait of Schiele – to the New York-based heiress of Viennese art collector Karl Maylaender who was deported from Austria in 1941. The remaining three drawings will stay in the possession of the museum, which is home to the world’s largest permanent Schiele collection. Austrian Minister of Culture Josef Ostermayer said  the Leopold Museum and Jewish Community in Vienna reached what he called a “Solomonic solution” that will see the drawings returned to the heiress of Jewish businessman Karl Maylaender, who died in the Holocaust. The minister added that the settlement puts an end to years of conflict while allowing both parties to save face. Maylaender’s descendant, 95-year-old Eva Zirkl, spent nearly two decades trying to reclaim the drawings by Schiele, a leading figure of Austrian expressionism and protégé of Gustav Klimt.

Egon Schiele artworks
Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering and Nazi-Looted Art

Nazi-Looted Art in Austria

During the Third Reich, the Nazis carried out large-scale cultural looting across occupied Europe, with many stolen art works still unaccounted for today. In 1998, Austria passed a law covering the restitution of vast numbers of artworks stolen by the Nazis. Since then, thousands have been returned — including major works worth millions of euros. In 2010, the Leopold made worldwide headlines when it reached a $19-million settlement with a Jewish art dealer’s estate in the United States over Portrait of Wally, another Schiele masterpiece stolen by the Nazis. But, probably the most famous restitution case in recent years concerned Maria Altmann, who after a lengthy legal battle secured the return of five Klimts in 2006. One of them, Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I, sold for $135 million, a record at the time. This case was popularized with the movie Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds and Daniel Brühl, that is based on the Maria Altmann storie.

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Editors’ Tip: Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft, and the Quest for Justice

During the Third Reich, the Nazis carried out large-scale cultural looting across occupied Europe, with many stolen art works still unaccounted for today. The book Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft, and the Quest for Justice includes legendary names include Rothschild, Mendelssohn, Bloch-Bauer—distinguished bankers, industrialists, diplomats, and art collectors. Their diverse taste ranged from manuscripts and musical instru­ments to paintings by Old Masters and the avant-garde. But their stigma as Jews in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe doomed them to exile or death in Hitler’s concentration camps. Here, after years of meticulous research, Melissa Müller (Anne Frank: The Biography) and Monika Tatzkow (Nazi Looted Art) present the tragic, compelling stories of 15 Jewish collectors.

Featured Image: Egon Schiele – The Embrace (The Loving) [Representational Image]. All Images used for illustrative purposes only.