Schiele's Portrait of Wally - a Long Court Case
Between October 8, 1997, and January 4, 1998, the Museum of Modern Art exhibited Egon Schiele's Portrait of Wally as part of a major show devoted to the artist borrowed from the Leopold Museum in Vienna, Austria. After the New York County District Attorney subpoenaed the painting as evidence in a stolen property (Holocaust loot) case, the challenges to the subpoena succeeded in New York courts, and it was struck down. U.S. Customs then seized the painting and initiated a forfeiture action (on behalf of the heirs of Lea Bondi Jaray) alleging that the Leopold Museum imported the painting into the U.S. knowing that it was stolen or converted.
In 1994, the Austrian Government and the National Bank of Austria provided funds to make Dr. Rudolf Leopold's personal collection of over 5,000 works a Private Foundation and Museum with Dr. Leopold as its Museological Director-for-Life.
Bondi's heirs tell the court that before she fled Austria, Lea Bondi was the owner of Portrait of Wally and that Friedrich Welz, a Nazi art dealer, forced her to sell it to him for a song on the eve of her leaving. After the war, Bondi continued to make inquiries from her new home in London. When a young Viennese, Dr. Leopold, who was collecting works by Schiele visited her, she asked for his help in recovering the portrait. By then, it had entered the collection of an Austrian museum under confused circumstances, and there Dr. Leopold managed to get Portrait of Wally for his own collection, without informing Lea Bondi. Attorneys for the Leopold Foundation and Museum dispute this narrative.
After ten years of pretrial proceedings, the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court (New York Southern District) on September 30, 2009 dismissed all of the Leopold Museum challenges to the seizure, leaving for jury trial a single issue: whether the Leopold Museum can prove that its founder, Rudolf Leopold, did not know that the painting was stolen when the Leopold Museum imported it into the United States for the exhibition in 1997.
We provide links to a sample of significant documents and articles including the Opinion rendered on motions for summary judgment, a challenge from the Leopold Museum and an answer to it, as well as a court order refusing to rehear or reconsider the Leopold's objections. The trial date was set for July 26, 2010. On June 30, 2010, Rudolf Leopold died in Vienna at 85.
Just before the trial date, a settlement was announced. Portrait of Wally will belong to the Leopold Foundation upon payment of $19 million to the heirs of Lea Bondi Jaray. The United States will drop its forfeiture action and release the painting to the Leopold. Whenever the Leopold displays or lends Wally, the true history of Lea Bondi Jaray's ownership, its theft from her, and her Estate's efforts to recover it, will be included. Before the painting returned to Austria, it was on view for several weeks (ending August 18, 2010) at the Museum of Jewish Heritage -- A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, in New York City.
Egon Schiele Portrait of Wally
Imported into the U.S. for an exhibition in 1997, its ownership contested until 2010. Settled
- U.S. v. Portrait of Wally, A Painting by Egon Schiele, 663 F.Supp.2d 232 (S.D.N.Y. Sep. 30, 2009). Opinion and Order. Sept. 30, 2009 Judge Preska ruled that plaintiffs have shown that Leopold knew that Portrait of Wally was stolen or converted when he imported it to the United States and leaving defendant the opportunity to overcome that finding at trial
Press & Scholarly
- Press Release from the U. S. Attorney's Office Announcing the Settlement
- Press Release from the law firm of Herrick Feinstein, LLP. Announcing the Settlement
- Leopold Museum reaches Agreement with Heirs of Looted Art, Kleine Zeitung, June 20, 2011
- Leopold Museum reaches Agreement with Heirs of Looted Art, Kleine Zeitung, June 20, 2011, English translation
- Vienna's Leopold Settles with Heir on Nazi-Looted Paintings, by Catherine Hickley and Zoe Schneeweiss, Bloomberg, June 20, 2011
- Leopold Museum Announces Favorable Conclusion Over Egon Schiele Painting Dispute Art Daily May 11, 2011
- Vienna Museum Settles With Heir on Nazi-Looted Schiele Painting, Bloomberg May 11, 2011
- Austria museum in Schiele painting payout, The New Age May 11, 2011
- Schiele and Picasso Draw Interest at London Auctions, By CAROL VOGEL, June 22, 2011