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Who Owns a Drawing That May Be Nazi Loot? A Judge Will Decide.

Who Owns a Drawing That May Be Nazi Loot? A Judge Will Decide.


In 1964, Robert Owen Lehman Sr., a philanthropist and artwork collector who led the Lehman Brothers funding agency by way of the Great Depression, purchased a small drawing by the Austrian artist Egon Schiele. A couple of weeks later, his son Robert Owen Lehman Jr. says, he acquired the drawing, a portrait of a rosy cheeked girl with a gentle smile, from his father as a vacation present.

Now, the drawing, created in 1917, is on the heart of an uncommon courtroom battle during which a basis created by the son is defending its possession of the work in opposition to claims from the heirs of two Jewish artwork collectors, who say their kinfolk misplaced the work in the course of the Holocaust.

The collectors, Karl Mayländer and Heinrich Rieger, have been associates of Schiele in Austria, and their heirs have every claimed possession of “Portrait of the Artist’s Wife,” an outline of Edith Schiele.

Mayländer was a textile service provider who’s depicted in a minimum of two Schiele portraits. Rieger was Schiele’s dentist. Both males have been killed by the Nazis throughout World War II.

A bench trial that may look at possession of the work started Tuesday in Rochester, N.Y., because the representatives of three households with Jewish roots began to current their claims on the drawing to a State Supreme Court judge.

Testimony is predicted to final till the top of the month. Anticipated witnesses embrace a handwriting specialist from Vienna and consultants on Schiele, an early-1900s Expressionist whose artwork has soared in worth lately. The drawing on the heart of the case is estimated to be price a number of million {dollars}.

In court docket papers filed prematurely of the trial, every of the events outlined the proof that they stated would present their shoppers have been the rightful house owners. “At the top of the day, the Rieger heirs ought to go dwelling with this paintings,” Claudia G. Jaffe, a lawyer for the dentist’s heirs, stated in a gap argument.

The first witness to take the stand was Robert Owen Lehman Jr., 87, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who goes by Robin. He informed the court docket that he had previously been “boiling mad” over the dispute, which has lingered for eight years.

When the primary set of heirs, the Mayländers, emerged, Mr. Lehman testified, he had been open to resolving their possession declare. But, he stated, that turned difficult when a second group of heirs stepped ahead. When he discovered of the second declare, Mr. Lehman stated, “I got here to the conclusion that probably two claims can’t be right.”

In reaching a call, Justice Daniel J. Doyle should think about circumstantial proof, decades-old information and a provenance with vital gaps. The Robert Owen Lehman Jr. Foundation, to which Mr. Lehman gave the drawing in 2016, has stated there are not any surviving information of the drawing’s whereabouts from 1930 till 1964, some extent that the competing heirs dispute.

Mr. Lehman’s basis famous in court docket papers that neither the Mayländer nor the Rieger heirs had listed the drawing in “any database of stolen or looted works” for many years after World War II, suggesting that it was not seen as misplaced. The heirs have stated that they’ve paperwork that clearly present their kinfolk owned the work and that the muse or its consultants didn’t correctly examine its provenance.

The case is noteworthy partially due to the Lehman household’s distinguished place in American commerce and tradition. Mr. Lehman is a great-grandson of Emanuel Lehman, certainly one of three immigrant brothers who based Lehman Brothers in 1850.

His father, Robert Owen Lehman Sr., ran the agency for many years and was a faithful artwork collector. After his loss of life in 1969, practically 3,000 of his works, by artists similar to Goya, Matisse and Rodin, have been donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the place they’re housed in a wing named after him. “The Lehman Trilogy,” a play that traces the rise and fall of the household empire, just lately appeared on Broadway.

Instead of becoming a member of the household funding enterprise, which collapsed in the course of the 2008 international monetary disaster, Robert Owen Lehman Jr. studied music with the pioneering composer and conductor Nadia Boulanger, after which turned a documentary filmmaker. He gained Academy Awards in 1975 and 1976 for brief nature-themed movies and has lived in Rochester for years.

The dispute has additionally attracted consideration as a result of it entails Schiele, who died on the age of 28 in the course of the influenza epidemic of 1918. Although the Nazis labeled his work as “decadent,” he’s seen right now as one of the crucial unique and influential artists of his period.

Robert Owen Lehman Sr. paid 2,000 kilos, or about $5,600, for the drawing when he purchased it from a London gallery, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd. The 17-by-11-inch gouache and black crayon illustration was certainly one of a number of drawings Schiele made from his spouse, who additionally died of the flu in 1918.

Mr. Lehman’s basis stated in court docket papers that he acquired the drawing from his father in 1964 as a Christmas current and that it was displayed in his dwelling in London till 1972. After Mr. Lehman and his spouse divorced, she claimed that it had been destroyed, misplaced or stolen, in accordance with court docket papers filed by the muse. But when she died in 2013, the papers added, the Schiele drawing was discovered beneath her mattress.

In 2016, Mr. Lehman stated he gave the drawing to his basis, which stated in court docket papers that it deliberate to promote the work and use the proceeds to “promote the appreciation and public consciousness of classical music and encourage the creation of latest inventive work together with musical composition.”

The possession claims by the heirs of the Austrian collectors emerged quickly after the muse consigned the work on the market with Christie’s. To clear the work for public sale, the muse stated, Christie’s reviewed its database of details about looted artworks, recognized potential connections to Mayländer and Rieger, after which contacted representatives of their heirs. The drawing has remained with the public sale home because it was consigned.

One pair of heirs, the Susan Zirkl Memorial Foundation Trust and its trustee, Michael D. Lissner, stated that the work had been owned by Zirkl’s relative, Mayländer, who was deported in 1941 to the Lodz ghetto in German-occupied Poland, the place he was killed.

After the battle, artworks as soon as owned by Mayländer got here into the possession of an acquaintance of his, Etelka Hoffman, who offered a number of of them to a collector in 1960, in accordance with the court docket papers filed by the Mayländer heirs. “Portrait of the Artist’s Wife” was included within the sale, in accordance with the court docket submitting, which says the drawing is recognized in a contract signed by the collector and Hofmann as “Edith Schiele, seated, watercolored drawing, signed and dated 1917.”

But the Rieger heirs have cited different paperwork in asserting that the dentist, who was killed in a Nazi focus camp in 1942, was the true former proprietor of the drawing. In their court docket papers they are saying the dentist had collected 120 to 150 watercolors by Schiele and {that a} journal article together with a catalog and an invite for a 1928 exhibition confirmed that these works included “Portrait of the Artist’s Wife.”

Avi Bar, one of many Rieger heirs, stated in an interview that the case was vital as a result of “the justice of returning what was stolen in the course of the Holocaust to the rightful heirs should be executed.”

The Lehman basis argues in its court docket filings that, though proof indicated that Mayländer and Rieger had owned drawings of Edith Schiele, neither ever owned the one Robert Owen Lehman Sr. purchased in 1964.

During testimony by Robert Owen Lehman Jr., he stated that he “spent an excellent yr making an attempt to get these two events and myself collectively to make some form of equitable, honest division of the paintings.”

Although Mr. Lehman stated he was pissed off by the failure of these efforts, he stated he has sympathy for the heirs whose kinfolk suffered by the hands of the Nazis.

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