Looted Schiele watercolours to go to auction

Two paintings by Egon Schiele at the centre of a restitution dispute could go under the hammer at Christie’s this November.

‘Woman in a Black Pinafore’ (1911) and ‘Woman Hiding Her Face’ (1912) were seized from the booth of London art dealer Richard Nagy at a fair in New York in 2015. Heirs of the popular Austrian-Jewish entertainer, Fritz Grünbaum, claimed they formed part of his private art collection before being confiscated by the Nazis during the Second World War. Grünbaum was arrested by the Nazis in 1938 and died in Dachau concentration camp in 1941.

In April 2018, Justice Charles E. Ramos ruled in favour Grünbaum’s heirs and ordered Nagy to return the watercolours, collectively valued at US$5million. Now the heirs plan to sell the works at auction to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the death of Schiele.

Nagy, backed by a team of provenance researchers, argues he has legal title to the works. He believes Grünbaum’s collection was not seized but hidden during the war. It then came into the possession of Grünbaum’s sister-in-law, Matilda Lukacs, when she and her husband returned from Belgium where they hid from the Nazis. Lukacs went on to sell the collection in Switzerland in 1956.

Lawyers for Nagy plan to appeal Justice Ramos’ decision and it could take around one year for a ruling to be made. Until then, title to the Schiele watercolours remains obscure. “It’s very odd that there would be a signed consignment agreement with any auction house when you’ve got this cloud over the painting,” Nagy’s representative Thaddeus Stauber stated.

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