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Major US museums dispute Manhattan DA’s claim that paintings were looted

The artwork is by the 19th-century Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele.

An Egon Schiele painting on an Austrian stamp. Credit: spatuletail/Shutterstock.
An Egon Schiele painting on an Austrian stamp. Credit: spatuletail/Shutterstock.

Seven artworks from the collection of Austrian Jewish cabaret performer Fritz Grünbaum, who died in the Dachau concentration camp, were returned late last month to Grünbaum’s heirs.

The Manhattan district attorney, which arranged the return, believed that the works, by 19th-century Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele, were improperly housed in U.S. museum collections, after having been looted by the Nazis.

The lot is collectively worth about $9.5 million, the Associated Press reported.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York “voluntarily” returned two of the works, per the AP. Other returned works came from the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City; the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California; and the Vally Sabarsky Trust.

One was in the collection of Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and a strong advocate for Holocaust restitution.

The museums and galleries agreed to release the works “after they were presented with evidence that they were stolen by the Nazis,” according to the Manhattan district attorney.

The Manhattan DA also alerted the Art Institute of Chicago, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in Ohio of the office’s intent to seize Schiele’s works, also from Grünbaum’s former collection.

Two of the art establishments responded to JNS regarding possession of the pieces in question.

“We are confident in our legal acquisition and lawful possession of this work,” the Art Institute of Chicago responded to a JNS query. “The piece is the subject of civil litigation in federal court, where this dispute is being properly litigated and where we are also defending our legal ownership.”

The Carnegie Museums said in a statement that they continue “to cooperate with the authorities and will comment further when it is appropriate to do so.”

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