By the edhat staff
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art has been named in a lawsuit over artwork that was allegedly stolen from a holocaust victim by the Nazi regime.
Both the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) are being sued for the return of work by Egon Schiele. Two lawsuits were filed last week by Timothy Reif and David Fraenkel, relatives of the Austrian Jewish cabaret singer Fritz Grünbaum who was murdered by Nazis at Dachau in 1941.
As first reported by The Daily Beast, the heirs are acting to reclaim Schiele’s pencil on paper drawing called Portrait of the Artist’s Wife by Egon Schiele, located in the Santa Barbara museum, and Schiele’s painting Prostitute, located in the New York museum.
“On July 16, 1938, Nazis forced Grünbaum to sign a power of attorney in the Dachau Concentration Camp permitting his wife Elisabeth to liquidate his assets and hand the assets over to the Nazi regime,” the MoMA suit states and adds that Elizabeth was subsequently deported to the Maly Trostinec death camp in Minsk where she was murdered in 1942.
The SBMA lawsuit claims that Portrait of the Artist’s Wife was from 1956 until about 1966 held by New York’s Galerie St. Etienne before being wrongfully removed from the county.
“The museum was not aware of this (until now) and we will be looking into the matter,” Katrina Carl, Director of Communications at SBMA told The Daily Beast.
The MoMA lawsuit alleges that Prostitute was listed in a 1956 Swiss auction house catalogue of Schiele’s art. MoMA’s own listing of the work reveals the source of funding used to purchase the work but gives no acquisition date. The complaint states that MoMA had previously been notified of the painting’s history and accuses the museum of failing to “exercise appropriate diligence” when purchasing.
Prostitute by Egon Schiele (Image: MoMA)
Reif has filed similar lawsuits since 2015 against four other museums seeking to reclaim other artworks that allegedly were stolen from his ancestor. In 2019, a New York court upheld a ruling that returned two other works by Schiele from a London-based art dealer, reports The Daily Beast.
In 2016, the Holocaust Expropriated Recovery Act (HEAR) was enacted into federal law to loosen statue-of-limitations requirements for the recovery of artwork that was lost or stolen because of Nazi persecution between January 1, 1933, and December 31, 1945.
Two of the recovered paintings given back to the heirs were sold at Christie’s last month for over $3 million with the proceeds being donated to a foundation used to support young artists in Grünbaum’s memory.