Two Egon Schiele Works Restituted to Holocaust Victim Heirs Set for Auction

Egon Schiele

In a significant development, two artworks by Egon Schiele restituted to the heirs of Austrian Jewish cabaret performer Fritz Grünbaum, are slated for auction after being returned on Friday. Grünbaum, who perished in the Holocaust, allegedly had his art collection seized by Nazi Germany, and the works are now consigned to Christie’s, according to the auction house.

The restitution ceremony, conducted in collaboration with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in New York on January 19, saw the return of Portrait of a Man (1917), a pencil drawing that had been part of the Carnegie Museum of Art collection in Pittsburgh, and Girl With Black Hair (1911), an early watercolour previously held in the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in Ohio.

Marc Porter, Christie’s Chairman for the Americas, expressed satisfaction in continuing to tell Grünbaum’s story and contributing to the preservation of history related to forced art sales during the Nazi era. The auction house has not yet catalogued the works, but the District Attorney’s office valued Girl with Black Hair at $1.5 million and Portrait of a Man at $1 million in September.

In September, the Manhattan District Attorney ordered the seizure of the artworks over suspicions of their theft from Grünbaum, who was murdered at the Dachau concentration camp in 1941. Grünbaum’s heirs assert that he was coerced into signing over his power of attorney at Dachau, leading to the unlawful sale and dispersal of his art collection, which included over 400 works, 81 by Schiele.

Timothy Reif, one of Grünbaum’s heirs, expressed gratitude for the ongoing efforts to rectify historical injustices, stating, “As the heirs of Fritz Grünbaum, we are gratified that this man who fought for what was right in his own time continues to make the world fairer decades after his tragic death.”

According to the District Attorney’s office, Franz Kieslinger, an art historian, inventoried the Grünbaum collection in 1938, impounding the works into a Nazi-controlled warehouse. Schiele’s art, considered “degenerate” during the Nazi Party’s campaign against Modern art, was sold abroad under Joseph Goebbels’ oversight.

In September, the Manhattan District Attorney also issued a warrant to seize a third Schiele work, Russian War Prisoner (1916), now part of the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) collection. The AIC plans to argue its legal ownership of the work in court in April, claiming that Grünbaum’s sister-in-law inherited and sold it in 1956.

Grünbaum’s heirs have previously secured other Schiele works through legal battles. During its November sales in New York, Christie’s featured six recently restituted Schiele works on paper, with proceeds supporting musicians from underrepresented communities through the Grünbaum Fischer Foundation.

Top Photo:  Egon Schiele restituted to Fritz Grünbaum heirs sold for $2.8m Photo Courtesy Christie’s

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