Egon Schiele Painting Looted by Nazis to be Auctioned

Der Standard (04/11/03)

Schiele’s oil painting, “Krumauer Landschaft” restituted by the City of Linz and returned to the Vienna Cultural Community in December 2002, worth about USD 12.5 million, will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s of London.

Vienna – On June 23, 2003 one of the many open chapters on restitution of looted national treasures are to be closed; that is, when Sotheby’s of London auctions off a magnificent piece of artwork by Egon Schiele.

Estimated at some USD 12.5 million, Krumauer Landschaft (Stadt am Fluss), 1916, once belonged to Willhelm and Daisy Hellmann, originally Steiner. The two collectors who acquired the painting directly from the artist, fled to Brazil in 1938, leaving the painting, along with many other objects, behind in Vienna.

The City of Linz purchased the painting in 1953 for the Neue Galerie but returned it to the Israelite Religious Community in December 2002. Erika Jakubovits, Executive Director of the Board of the Israelite Religious Community in Vienna, reported that inquiries were made over a period of many years. “It proved to be extremely difficult to locate the heirs of the former owner who died in 1980.” According to newspaper reports, there are a total of seven heirs, one of which is British.

Mrs. Jakubovits finds herself confronted again and again with the same objection: “It is criticized that heirs tend to immediately put the art works up for sale on the market. In terms of finding a solution to such a painting as Schiele’s, not one of the numerous heirs can afford to pay out the others. Moreover, the momentarily rightful Schiele owners live very withdrawn and modestly.”

Erika Jakubovits praises the initiative taken by the City of Linz to return the painting, “out of ethical reasons,” to the rightful owners. The museum was not legally bound to give the painting to the Hellman’s heirs since the Neue Galerie is not a federal museum and doesn’t fall under laws governing restitution. As a preliminary to initiating an inquiry into the matter, the City of Linz had requested that an extensive report be done which proved that the former owner and seller to the Neue Galerie in 1953, the German art dealer, Walter Gurlitt, knew very well that it concerned a looted Jewish national treasure.

The former owner, Daisy Hellmann, should have submitted proof after 1945 when she requested to have the work returned that Gurlitt purchased the painting in 1942 for 1800 Reichsmark through the Gallery Sankt Lukas at an auction at the Dorotheum. Under the “Third Laws of Restitution” of February 6, 1947, at that time works were considered absconded, and only then, when the buyer knew or had to know that it concerned confiscated property. Gurlitt denies having known anything about it and Daisy Hellmann missed out on her chance.

She made a second attempt in February 1949 with a complaint submitted to the Restitution Commission, whereby her request was again turned down. Hellmann argued that as an art dealer, Gurlitt had to know that in 1942 “massive amounts of Jewish property succeeded in being auctioned off.”

Erika Jakubovits, who is, in terms of Restitution, currently working on “ten huge Viennese collections” says that it has to do with assuring that history remains transparent. For this reason, it was decided that the Schiele painting, which will also be exhibited at the Impressionist Auction in May in New York, will be given up for auction.