The Austrian collector at the center of a fierce dispute over the ownership of two Egon Schiele paintings plundered by the Nazis says that 16 other works by Schiele in musuems and private collections in the United States share the same provenance as one of the two being questioned.
If Dr. Rudolf Leopold's claim holds true, four museums and several private collectors may face ownership questions about their own pieces similar to those that prompted the Manhattan District Attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, to issue a subpoena last week freezing the two Schiele paintings in New York. The paintings were supposed to be returned to Vienna when the Modern's exhibition, "Egon Schiele: The Leopold Collection," ended on Jan. 4, but Mr. Morgenthau's office wanted them kept in New York pending the outcome of its criminal investigation. The District Attorney's action set off an international art world furor.
Dr. Leopold's comments, first reported in the Austrian press, were confirmed yesterday by his wife, Elizabeth Leopold, a board member of the Leopold Museum, in a telephone interview. Her husband was not at home, she said. Dr. Leopold's statements refer to "Dead City," which is claimed by the Reif family, heirs of Fritz Grunbaum, a Jewish comedian who died in Dachau in 1940.
All of the 16 works Dr. Leopold singled out were once owned by Mr. Grunbaum and were sold in 1956 by the Klipstein & Kornfeld Gallery in Bern. Dr. Leopold told Austrian reporters that the Museum of Modern Art and the Santa Barbara Art Museum in California each own one of the works, while the Art Institute of Chicago and the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Ohio each have two.
Dr. Leopold bought "Dead City" from Otto Kallir, then the owner of Galerie St. Etienne in Manhattan, who bought it in the 1956 sale at Klipstein & Kornfeld. The other painting under question, "Portrait of Wally," is claimed by the heirs of Lea Bondi Jaray, who fled to London in 1938 but tried for years to reclaim it from the Austrian National Gallery. Dr. Leopold got it in a trade in 1954. "We bought 'Dead City' and 'Wally' from good people, and we could not know that they were stolen by the Nazis," Mrs. Leopold said. "Write in your newspaper that we are not Nazi-lovers, and we have nothing taken away from Jews."
Reached in Bern, Eberhard Kornfeld, the gallery owner, said, "My only comment is that it was 42 years ago, and I can't remember all the details. I have given all the information to the lawyer in Zurich for the Reifs and to Justice," a reference to the Swiss courts.
Timothy Reif, an heir to Mr. Grunbaum, however, said that Mr. Kornfeld had not "given us anything." He added: "He said he bought the painting from a Jewish emigrant from Vienna who lived in Brussels, but he never said what her relationship was to Grunbaum." Mr. Kornfeld has told other people that he bought many Schiele works from this same woman.
The Reifs said they conducted a search after World War II for relatives who survived the Holocaust. "No other relatives of Fritz Grunbaum were ever located," they said in a statement. "Accordingly, by official German Government documentation in 1963, Paul and Francis Reif were declared to be the only known survivors of Fritz Grunbaum."
The museums cited by Dr. Leopold were jolted by the news. Robert H. Frankel, the Santa Barbara Museum's director, confirmed that a Schiele drawing of the artist's wife had been given to the museum in 1957. "If there is an issue here, we'd want to discuss it with the appropriate parties to see what we could discover together," he said.
At the Modern, Glenn D. Lowry, the director, said the initial research about the newly questioned work showed it was acquired in 1957 from a gallery whose name and location are unclear in the records. "We will look into this seriously," he said. Mr. Reif said that Dr. Leopold's information was new also to his family.Continue reading the main story