Portrait of Wally
|Type||Oil on panel|
|Dimensions||32 cm × 39.8 cm (13 in × 15.7 in)|
Portrait of Wally is a 1912 oil painting by Austrian painter Egon Schiele of Valerie "Wally" Neuzil, a woman he met in 1911 when she was 17 years old and who was a model for a number of Schiele's most striking paintings. The painting was purchased by Rudolf Leopold in 1954 and became part of the collection of the Leopold Museum when it was established by the Austrian government, purchasing 5,000 pieces that Leopold had owned. Near the end of a 1997-1998 exhibit of Schiele's work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the painting's history was revealed in an article published in The New York Times. After the publication, the heirs of Lea Bondi Jaray, to whom the work had belonged, contacted the New York County District Attorney who issued a subpoena forbidding its return to Austria. The work was tied up in litigation for years by Bondi's heirs, who claimed that the painting was Nazi plunder and should have been returned to them.
Early ownership and Nazi seizure
As outlined in a 1997 article by Judith H. Dobrzynski in The New York Times, the painting had been owned by Lea Bondi Jaray, who was fleeing the German annexation of Austria and the Aryanization program, and had under duress given up the painting to art dealer Friedrich Welz in 1939. While Bondi's art gallery had already been "Aryanized", Welz had seen the painting in Bondi's apartment, where it was part of her private collection, and demanded that she turn it over to him. As they were to be fleeing the country any day, her husband convinced her to turn the painting over to Welz, saying "you know what he can do". Welz also forced Dr. Heinrich Rieger to sell his collection of Schiele paintings, before Rieger was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where he died.
Efforts at recovery
After the end of World War II, the United States Army seized Welz and recovered the paintings that he had accumulated during the war. The Portrait of Wally was mixed in with the other Schiele paintings from Rieger's collection, which were all turned over to the Austrian government. The Österreichische Galerie Belvedere (Austrian National Gallery) purchased the Schiele works from Rieger's heirs, which erroneously included the Portrait of Wally because of a clerical error by the U.S. forces, listing the painting as Rieger's. The museum was informed of the mistake, that the painting had not belonged to Rieger. After Bondi recovered ownership of her Vienna art gallery in 1946, she contacted Welz, who told her the painting had been turned over to the Austrian National Gallery. Bondi recounted that she had met Rudolph Leopold in London in 1953 and asked for his assistance in retrieving the painting from the museum, offering to help him acquire other works by Schiele. Bondi later discovered that Leopold had purchased the painting from the museum for himself in 1954. Leopold's 1972 catalogue raisonné of Schiele's works omits Lea Bondi from the list of provenance, despite an earlier catalogue by Otto Kallir citing her as the last owner in the 1930s. Bondi died in 1969 and her heirs picked up the trail she had been following.
In 1994, Portrait of Wally was among 5,400 works in Leopold's art collection purchased for $500 million by the Austrian government and used to create the Leopold Museum, with Leopold named as director for life, a position he served in until his death in June 2010. In a 1995 catalogue of works by Schiele, Leopold inserted the claim that the picture had been part of the Rieger collection that he had earlier acquired from the Austrian National Gallery. The Leopold Museum included the painting in a group of works exhibited from October 8, 1997, to January 4, 1998, at the Museum of Modern Art.
New York County District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau subpoenaed the Portrait of Wally together with another Schiele painting in January 1998, claiming that they had been improperly acquired Nazi loot. In September 1999, the New York Court of Appeals rejected Morgenthau's claim that he could seize the paintings under state law, whereupon the United States Customs Service seized the paintings under federal law.
In legal proceedings, the museum stated that Bondi had decided to drop the matter in 1954 and that there is no evidence to show that Leopold knew that the painting had been Nazi plunder when he acquired it. The heirs of the Bondi family maintained that Bondi had made multiple efforts to recover the painting, which were continued after her death.
In October 2009, after more than a decade of proceedings and legal wrangling, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Loretta A. Preska ruled that there was enough evidence regarding the ownership of the painting to allow a trial to proceed, saying that the Leopold Museum was aware of the painting's questionable provenance when it sent the picture to the Museum of Modern Art 12 years earlier. At trial, a jury would determine if there was sufficient evidence to show that Leopold had known the painting was stolen when it was brought for exhibit to the United States.
In early July 2010, sources indicated to The Art Newspaper that the Bondi estate would accept $20 million as restitution for the painting in a deal completed shortly before Leopold's death the previous month, weeks before a civil trial was scheduled to start in United States District Court. Under the terms of the deal, the painting would be returned to the Leopold Museum, where it would be hung together with a Schiele self-portrait that has been used as a logo for the museum. By July 21, 2010 the Leopold Museum and the Bondi estate agreed upon a settlement of $19 million.
- Staff. "Austrian museum pays $19 million for Nazi-looted painting", Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 21, 2010. Accessed July 22, 2010.
- Row over Egon Schiele work costs Austrian museum $19m. BBC, July 21, 2010.
- Dobrzynski, Judith H., "THE ZEALOUS COLLECTOR -- A special report.; A Singular Passion For Amassing Art, One Way or Another", The New York Times, December 24, 1997. Accessed July 5, 2010.
- Bayzler, Michael J.; and Alford, Roger P. "Holocaust restitution: perspectives on the litigation and its legacy", p. 281. NYU Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8147-9943-4. Accessed July 5, 2010.
- Lufkin, Martha. "US lawsuit to confiscate Schiele's Portrait of Wally suspended: Judgement has been postponed to allow the government to review new evidence", The Art Newspaper, July-August 2008. Accessed July 5, 2010.
- Fox, Margalit. "Rudolf Leopold, Art Collector, Dies at 85", The New York Times, June 29, 2010. Accessed July 5, 2010.
- Pyle, Richard, via Associated Press. 'MOMA to relinquish art allegedly stolen by Nazis", The Jerusalem Post, January 12, 1998. Accessed July 5, 2010.
- Hurtado, Patricia. "Quotes: U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White", Newsday, September 23, 2009. Accessed July 5, 2010.
- Staff. "Judge: Enough evidence for Schiele trial", UPI, October 7, 2009. Accessed July 5, 2010.
- D'Arcy, David. "Settlement close on Portrait of Wally case", The Art Newspaper, July 4, 2010. Accessed July 5, 2010.