Two Newly Repatriated Egon Schiele Works Have Been Consigned to Christie’s

Works retrieved from Oberlin College’s Allen Museum and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh have been returned to the heirs of their Holocaust-era owner and will head to auction in May.

Two figurative drawings placed next to each other
Egon Schiele’s Portrait of a Man and Girl with Black Hair. Courtesy the Manhattan District Attorney's Office

Two more Egon Schiele drawings have been returned to the heirs of Fritz Grünbaum, the Austrian Jewish cabaret performer whose art collection was allegedly stolen by Nazi authorities.

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Schiele’s 1917 drawing Portrait of a Man and 1911 watercolor Girl with Black Hair were handed over in a repatriation ceremony on Jan. 19 with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which values the works at $1 million and $1.5 million respectively. The District Attorney’s office facilitated the return of eight Schiele pieces in September and, as was the case with that repatriation, the two recently returned Schiele works have been consigned to Christie’s auction house.

Grünbaum’s family has for decades fought legal battles to recover specific pieces of artwork. “The fact that we have been able to return ten pieces that were looted by the Nazis speaks to the dogged advocacy of his relatives to ensure these beautiful artworks could finally return home,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in a statement.

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The institutions holding the works by Schiele included Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art and the Allen Museum of Art at Oberlin College, which surrendered Portrait of a Man and Girl with Black Hair in September after the District Attorney’s Office issued warrants to seize them. Timothy Reif, a relative of Grünbaum, in a statement, expressed his “deep appreciation to the trustees and leadership of Oberlin College and the Carnegie Institute that did the right thing.”

A third warrant issued by the District Attorney’s Office in September ordered the seizure of another Schiele in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. The museum, however, continues to maintain that Schiele’s 1916 Russian War Prisoner was legally acquired and plans to defend its ownership in court.

“When you’re a DA and you pick a battle, you’re putting your whole reputation on it,” Raymond Dowd, an attorney for Grünbaum’s heirs, told Observer. “Taking on the most well-defended institutions in the world is what Bragg has done,” he said, adding that the District Attorney’s actions send a message to other art institutions. “It has this deterrent effect when law enforcement says, ‘Hey, we’re not joking about this.'”

The recent repatriations follow a major return of several Schiele works from a group of art institutions and collectors. Art collector Ronald Lauder, the estate of collector Serge Sabarsky, the Museum of Modern Art, Morgan Library & Museum and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art turned over pieces to Grünbaum’s heirs in September, while an additional work was surrendered by collector Michael Lesh in October.

Who was Fritz Grünbaum?

Grünbaum, who was murdered in 1941 at the Dachau concentration camp, owned an art collection that totaled in the hundreds and included more than 80 pieces by the Austrian painter Schiele. He was forced to hand over his works after he was captured by the Nazis in 1938, according to the District Attorney’s Office. After disappearing for more than a decade, Grünbaum’s collection appeared in 1956 at a Swiss auction house. Many of the works were sold to a Manhattan gallery and then dispersed to museums and art collectors in the U.S.

Grünbaum’s family will sell the repatriated pieces through Christie’s, which in November sold six of the works for a total of more than $19 million. A portion of the proceeds from that sale went to the Grünbaum Fischer Foundation, a recently formed organization supporting underrepresented musicians. Portrait of a Man and Girl with Black Hair will be sold by the auction house alongside another repatriated Schiele work in May, according to Dowd, who confirmed that the sale proceeds will again benefit the Grünbaum Fischer Foundation.

“We had tremendous success when we offered six Schiele watercolors on behalf of the Grünbaum heirs in November, and look forward to offering these two new sheets in an upcoming auction,” said Marc Porter, chairman of Christie’s Americas, in a statement. “I’m deeply grateful that Christie’s Specialists and Restitution Department will have another opportunity to tell the important story of Fritz Grünbaum.”

Two Newly Repatriated Egon Schiele Works Have Been Consigned to Christie’s