Egon Schiele, Woman In a Black Pinafore, 1911.

Lawsuit Over Egon Schiele Works Tests HEAR Act

A pair of watercolors by Egon SchieleWoman In a Black Pinafore, 1911, and Woman Hiding Her Face, 1912—which were seized from the London dealer Richard Nagy at an art fair three years ago, are going to be auctioned off at Christie’s this fall, per the orders of a New York judge, writes David D’Arcy of the Art Newspaper. They are expected to sell for anywhere between $5 million and $7 million.

The pieces, however, are at the heart of a legal battle. The heirs of Fritz Grünbaum, a Jewish collector and theater artist who died in 1941 at the Dachau concentration camp, say that the works belong to them, as the Nazis stole the pieces from Grünbaum. The heirs made their claim to the works in 2015. A judge ruled in their favor in April of this year, before a trial could be set—a test of the new Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (or HEAR) Act. The heirs were also given “damages, costs, and reasonable attorneys’ fees,” as ordered by the judge.

Nagy’s lawyer, Thaddeus Stauber, is planning to appeal the decision, as he feels it was made prematurely. A clear title to the Schiele works cannot be set until a court rules on the appeal, said Stauber. “It’s very odd,” the lawyer added, “that there would be a signed consignment agreement with any auction house when you’ve got this cloud over the painting.” The lawyer for Grünbaum’s heirs, however, thinks that “the chances of an appeal being successful are zero.”

Nagy’s provenance researchers say that the works were sold at auction in 1955 and 1956 by Grünbaum’s sister-in-law in Bern, Switzerland, which means that the works weren’t looted by the Nazis or owned by Grünbaum. Stauber went on to argue that the heirs haven’t made any new evidence available to challenge these findings. Lynn Nicholas, the author of The Rape of Europa (1994), a book about art thefts by the Third Reich, wrote in a court brief on Nagy’s behalf: “There is also no evidence that either work was sold under duress, confiscated, stolen or looted by the Nazis.”