NY Prosecutor Seizes Art Believed Stolen in Holocaust

Family of inmate killed at Dachau says he was forced to give up ownership
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 14, 2023 5:25 PM CDT
Artworks in Three Museums Seized in Holocaust Case
This combo of images provided by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office shows three artworks by Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele, from left, watercolor and pencil on paper artwork, dated 1916 and titled "Russian War Prisoner" (Art Institute of Chicago); a pencil on paper drawing, dated 1917, titled...   (Manhattan District Attorney's Office via AP)

Three artworks thought to have been stolen during the Holocaust from a Jewish art collector and entertainer have been seized from museums in three states by New York law enforcement authorities. The artworks by Austrian Expressionist Egon Schiele were all previously owned by Fritz Grünbaum, a cabaret performer and songwriter who died at the Dachau concentration camp in 1941. The art was seized Wednesday from the Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, and the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in Ohio. Warrants issued by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office say there's reasonable cause to believe the three artworks are stolen property, the AP reports.

The three works and several others from the collection, which Grünbaum began assembling in the 1920s, are already the subject of civil litigation on behalf of his heirs. They believe the entertainer was forced to cede ownership of his artworks under duress. Manhattan prosecutors believe they have jurisdiction in all of the cases because the artworks were bought and sold by Manhattan art dealers at some point. The son of a Jewish art dealer in what was then Moravia, Grünbaum studied law but began performing in cabarets in Vienna in 1906 and was a well-known performer in Vienna and Berlin by the time Adolf Hitler rose to power. Grünbaum was arrested and sent to Dachau in 1938. He gave his final performance for fellow inmates on New Year's Eve 1940 while gravely ill, then died on Jan. 14, 1941.

The three pieces seized by Bragg's office are: "Russian War Prisoner," a watercolor and pencil on paper piece valued at $1.25 million, which was seized from the Art Institute; "Portrait of a Man," a pencil on paper drawing valued at $1 million and seized from the Carnegie Museum of Art; and "Girl With Black Hair," a watercolor and pencil on paper work valued at $1.5 million and taken from Oberlin. The works will remain at the museums until they can be transported to the district attorney's office. The Art Institute said in a statement Thursday, "We are confident in our legal acquisition and lawful possession of this work." The Carnegie Museum and Oberlin said they are cooperating with investigators.

(More stolen art stories.)

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