Two New Restitution Cases Involving Six Paintings From Graz’s Joanneum Museum

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (07/24/2009) 

Distributing paintings from the Albert Pollak and Carl Wollner Collections among heirs proves complicated  

Graz – Resitution representative for Styria’s Regional Museum Joanneum, Karin Leitner-Ruhe, has announced that the museum is currently working on two additional restitution cases involving six works belonging to the collections of Albert Pollak and Carl Wollner. Until now, the pieces of art have not been returned because of incomplete legal documents.  

Among the six works belonging to the Albert Pollak collection is also the watercolor depicting a picturesque scene of Graz, entitled “Landhaushof“ by Ruldolf von Alt, which until now has been on display at the Neue Galerie. There are four other works also in the large collection of artworks owned by Pollak, who because of his Jewish origins was forced in 1940 to sign over his entire possessions to the National Socialists. He died childless in Holland in 1943, making the search for legal heirs complicated. 

The sixth piece of art that is to be restituted by the Alte Galerie is a portrait of a young boy painted by a Spanish master from the 17th Century. It originally belonged to the collection owned by Carl Wollner. The civil servant from Vienna was also forced to sign over his entire property, then emigrated to Chicago where it is unclear as to what happened the latter part of his life. A note written along the margin of one of his works helped experts to trace back his ownership of the art collection.  

In cooperation with Vienna‘s Jewish Community and the Austrian National Fund, some twenty-eight works belonging to various collections from Styria‘s Regional Museum Joanneum have been returned to their heirs over the past ten years. An enormous help in the form of a tool has been the Vugesta account books, deciphered by Karin Leitner-Ruhe. “The account books have in the meantime allowed for clarifying cases appearing at first unsolvable,“ expressed Leitner-Ruhe, who not only is involved with the Museum’s more problematical cases, but also with requests by the Commission on Provenance Research in Vienna. 

After more updated facts were presented, three cases of restitution were completed without relying on the research report produced ten years ago. The most famous case concerned the painting, “Harbor of Triest” (“Hafen von Triest “) by Egon Schiele. Joanneum Director Wolfgang Muchitsch said that “the policy of restitution conducted by Styria’s Regional Museum Joanneum doesn’t restrict itself to solely relying on the research report. Important is that all heirs are returned property that is legally theirs.“