Leopold Museum sells Schiele to pay victim of Nazi theft

Artforum 27 July 2010

As reported on, the Leopold Museum in Vienna, Austria has agreed to pay a Jewish art dealer’s estate nineteen million dollars for Schiele’s 1912 Bildnis Wally (Portrait of Wally), a painting that the Nazis stole from the dealer. But as Der Standard reports, not everyone is pleased with the museum’s latest proposal to raise the cash.

Vienna’s Israelitische Kultusgemeinde (the Vienna Israelite Community) has criticized Diethard Leopold, a museum board member and the son of the late art collector and museum founder Rudolf Leopold. According to the article, Diethard Leopold proposed to auction off another work by Schiele, Häuser am Meer (Houses on the sea), 1914, and to split the profits between the museum and the heirs of Viennese collector Jenny Steiner, from whom this Schiele work was also stolen by the Nazis.

For the Vienna Israelite Community, selling Schiele’s Häuser am Meer to finance part of the buy-back of Schiele’s Bildnis Wally, in other words, selling one work stolen by the Nazis to get back another work stolen by the Nazis, is “tasteless.” Ariel Muzicant and Erika Jakubovits compared the proposal to a fox caught in a chicken stall who proposes to sell the chicken and split the profits instead of giving the booty back to the farmer. Moreover, the restitution of artworks, also in terms of the law, is a money-free return, not deal-making. “That’s not a good beginning,” said Muzicant and Jakubovits, “after the death of Rudolf Leopold and the forced buy-back of Schiele’s Bildnis Wally for nineteen million dollars a few days ago."
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