Santa Barbara Museum of Art Sued Over Sketch Stolen by Nazis

Santa Barbara Museum of Art Sued Over Sketch Stolen by Nazis title=
Sketch of "Portrait of the Artist's Wife, Edith" by Egon Schiele (Image: SBMA)
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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.

SBMA’s website states the drawing was a gift from Wright S. Ludington, an art collector and one of the founding members of the museum.

“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.

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Babycakes Dec 24, 2022 10:26 AM
Santa Barbara Museum of Art Sued Over Sketch Stolen by Nazis

Provenance. The most important word in the world of art and other collectibles. Someone at the SBMA knew full well that this art was stolen by the Nazis. As an artist who has made a living and partial living from my art, this information sickens me to the core. I will not support the SBMA in any form or manner, nor pass through its doors as they have tainted their reputation forever in my eyes. Give it back!

"We didn't know!" Yeah, right....return the stolen art.

a-1671907389 Dec 24, 2022 10:43 AM
Santa Barbara Museum of Art Sued Over Sketch Stolen by Nazis

So much art was reclaimed without a complete history, or art dealers in the 40s lied about where it came from to make the sale so it's very possible the donor and SBMA had no clue about this. But now that they do, they should make it right.

szq Dec 24, 2022 08:43 AM
Santa Barbara Museum of Art Sued Over Sketch Stolen by Nazis

Germans kept very clear records of everything. Grunbaum had a hefty collection of modern art of the time. I hope these items are returned to the family after an investigation. I don't want to be part of a community that would not return possessions taken under such horrific circumstances.
"Grünbaum's heirs have fought to gain possession of works that were once part of his collection. In 2005, an attempt to reclaim Schiele's Seated Woman With Bent Left Leg (Torso) was thwarted when the court deemed that too much time had passed for the heirs to lay claim to it.[1] In 2015, the heirs began the process of seeking the return of Schiele's Woman in a Black Pinafore (1911) and Woman Hiding her Face (1912).[12][1] The case was heard and the judge stated: "The HEAR Act compels us to help return Nazi-looted art to its heirs" and referred to "the gut-wrenching process by which Mr. Grünbaum's property was looted".[13] The Grünbaum family also requested that the Leopold Museum restore to them Schiele's watercolor Tote Stadt III (1911), which they said had been looted by the Nazis."

paglinsb Dec 24, 2022 06:31 AM
Santa Barbara Museum of Art Sued Over Sketch Stolen by Nazis

It’s possible that a museum or other owner needs to have the scrutiny of the information that is revealed in a lawsuit in order to turn over things of such value. Otherwise anyone can claim anything. Progress has been made in revealing the Nazi thefts, as well as the dealers who prospered after the war, hiding the provenance from collectors like Ludington. The truth will be revealed.

a-1671838770 Dec 23, 2022 03:39 PM
Santa Barbara Museum of Art Sued Over Sketch Stolen by Nazis

Wow, was not expecting to read this during Hanukkah. The museum should return it and with that I'd posit that it must be incredibly hard to have the correct accounting of where and how all art pieces have traveled, especially during war times.

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