Ownership of Egon Schiele Drawing Lost During Holocaust to Be Decided by New York Court – ARTnews

Posted By on May 11, 2024

A 1917 drawing by Egon Schiele is at the center of a restitution case that will soon head to court in New York.

The work in question, Portrait of the Artists Wife (1917), depicts Edith Schiele with her hands folded in her lap. The drawing was made a year before both Edith and the artist, both at 28 years old, during the 1918 influenza epidemic. Portrait of the Artists Wife is estimated to be worth several million dollars.

The heirs of two Jewish collectors, Karl Maylnder and Heinrich Rieger, have both claimed ownership of the work. Maylnder was a textile merchant; Schiele made at least two portraits of him. Rieger was Schieles dentist. Both were killed by the Nazis during World War II, and their respective heirs both claim their relatives lost the work during the Holocaust.

Philanthropist and art collector Robert Owen Lehman Sr., known for heading the Lehman Brothers investment firm through the Great Depression, bought Portrait of the Artists Wife from the London gallery Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd. for 2,000 ($5,600) in 1964. He then gifted the piece to his son, the award-winning documentary filmmaker Robert Owen Robin Lehman Jr., as a Christmas present. It remained with him until 1972, when Lehman Jr. briefly lost the work during his divorce; when his ex-wife died in 2013, the work was recovered from under her bed. In 2016, Lehman Jr. gifted the work to the Robert Owen Lehman Jr. Foundation.

The trial over the works ownership began in Rochester, New York, on Tuesday, with testimony expected to last until the end of May. In his ruling, State Supreme Court judge Daniel J. Doyle will consider circumstantial evidence, decades-old records, and a spotty provenance. Expert witnesses are expected to weigh in, with each party presenting evidence on their behalf.

Lehman Jr. testified not only to his frustration over the eight-year-long battle but also claimed that he had been open to resolving the ownership claim initially with the Maylnders. However, when a second claim emerged, Lehman said in court, I came to the conclusion that possibly two claims cant be correct.

The works whereabouts between 1930 through 1964 are disputed among the heirs. Lehman Jr. has said there are no surviving records, and his foundation claims that the drawing was not considered lost because it was not listed in a stolen or looted works database. The heirs, however, claim to have documents demonstrating their relatives ownership. They believe the foundation did not adequately investigate the provenance.

It wasnt until the foundation had planned to sell the work that these questions of ownership came to the forefront. After the foundation consigned the work with Christies, the auction house reviewed its database, where it found potential connections to Maylnder and Rieger. Christies subsequently contacted the heirs representatives; the auction house continues to hold the work.

Maylnder was deported to the Lodz ghetto in Poland in 1941 and was later killed. An acquaintance, Etelka Hofmann, took possession of Maylnders artworks after the war and later sold some of the pieces to a collector in 1960, including a Schiele work identified in a signed contract by the collector and Hofmann as Edith Schiele, seated, watercolored drawing, signed and dated 1917.

Rieger died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1942. Prior to his death, Rieger collected 120 to 150 of Schieles watercolors.

The Lehman foundation argues that neither Maylnder nor Rieger owned the portrait of Edith Schiele that was purchased by Lehman Sr.

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Ownership of Egon Schiele Drawing Lost During Holocaust to Be Decided by New York Court - ARTnews

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