Nazis-Plundered Schiele Artwork Returned to Jewish Holocaust Victim’s Heir

New York, New York – Prosecutors have returned two pieces of art to the heirs of a Jewish Holocaust victim, part of an ongoing effort to recover artwork stolen by Nazis during World War II.

The pieces are among around 80 watercolor and pencil works by Austrian Expressionist Egon Schiele, collected in the early 1900s by a Jewish man in Vienna. New York prosecutors say the art was seized by the Nazis and transferred in a shady deal to Swiss gallerists.

On Friday, in Manhattan, the estate of Holocaust victim Fritz Grünbaum accepted two pieces, “Portrait of a Man,” and “Girl with Black Hair,” surrendered by two different museums. Prosecutors have collectively valued the two pieces at around $2.5 million.

Ten of Schiele’s works have now been returned to the family, but “Russian War Prisoner” remains at the Art Institute of Chicago, which maintains that it was legally acquired.

Grünbaum’s great-grandnephew and a federal judge in New York City, Timothy Reif, expressed gratitude to the museums that surrendered the art, calling it a victory for justice and the memory of a brave artist, art collector, and opponent of Fascism.

A New York judge ruled in 2018 that two other works by Schiele had to be turned over to Grünbaum’s heirs under the Holocaust Expropriated Recovery Act, passed by Congress. The Art Institute of Chicago disputes the ruling, arguing that the “Russian War Prisoner” was legally acquired and that extensive research on the provenance history of the work provides evidence of their lawful ownership.

The family had been fighting in a separate federal civil court case for the return of the work. The Art Institute of Chicago successfully argued that the family had missed a lawsuit deadline under the Holocaust Expropriated Recovery Act. After the case was dismissed, prosecutors asked a Manhattan court to authorize the return of the artwork.

The return of these pieces of art is part of a broader effort to right the wrongs of the past and ensure that stolen artwork is returned to its rightful owners or their heirs, providing a measure of justice for those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis.