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Egon Schiele, Woman Hiding Her Face, 1912.

Court Rules Nazi-Looted Schiele Works Belong to Heirs of Holocaust Victim

The heirs of Fritz Grünbaum—an Austrian cabaret singer and collector whose trove of more than four hundred works was seized by the Nazis before he was sent to the Dachau concentration camp, where he died in 1941—will be allowed to keep two Egon Schiele drawings that were returned to them last year, a New York appellate court ruled. The prized works—Woman in a Black Pinafore, 1911, and Woman Hiding Her Face, 1912—were at the center of a closely watched legal battle.

The dispute over the drawings unfolded after the introduction of the new Holocaust Expropriated Recovery Act in 2016, which New York judge Charles J. Ramos cited when he declared that Grünbaum’s descendants, David Frankel and Timothy Reif, rightfully owned the works. On Tuesday, a five-judge panel upheld that ruling, which read in part: “The tragic consequences of the Nazi occupation of Europe on the lives, liberty and property of the Jews continue to confront us today.”

The drawings were purchased in 2013 by London dealer Richard Nagy, who was blocked from selling or transferring the works after Frankel and Reif learned that they were displayed at the fourth edition of the Salon of Art + Design fair at the Park Avenue Armory. The court cleared Nagy of any wrongdoing in the case, but it disagreed with his claims that the Nazis had inventoried the works from Grünbaum’s collection but did not confiscate them. While there are gaps in the works’ provenance history, the drawings ended up in the possession of Swiss dealer Eberhard Kornfeld, who later sold them to American dealer Otto Kallir. Kornfeld did not have any paperwork documenting whom he originally purchased the works from.

The heirs’ attorney Raymond Dowd told the New York Times that the works are at Christie’s and will be auctioned in November. He said that their estimated worth is around $7 million.