Schiele painting in Nazi row back at Vienna Museum

AFP 23 August 2010

VIENNA - A Vienna museum returned to display Monday a painting by Austrian artist Egon Schiele after settling a decade-long row over claims it had been extorted by the Nazis from its previous Jewish owner.

The small canvas "Portrait of Wally", depicting Schiele's partner Walburga Neuzil, took its former place next to a self-portrait of the artist at the Leopold Museum in the Austrian capital.

U.S. authorities had seized the work in 1998 following an exhibition in New York, after the estate of Jewish art dealer Lea Jaray-Bondi alleged that it had been extorted by a Nazi collector in 1939.

But the Leopold Museum always insisted it had acquired the painting legitimately.

In July the museum paid out 19 million dollars (15 million euros) in a settlement with Jaray-Bondi's heirs to regain it and it returned to Vienna last Friday.

"You will see . . . how much these two pictures complement each other," Elisabeth Leopold, widow of museum founder Rudolf Leopold, told journalists before unveiling the picture.

"Schiele leans to the right, Wally to the left and no woman in Schiele's life has ever been portrayed as so truly belonging to him," she added.

"Therefore there was such a strong desire that this painting return (to the museum), because it is actually one half of these two paintings, which belong together," said Leopold.

"On behalf of the Leopold Museum, I want to thank the heirs of Lea Bondi-Jaray for making this settlement, this historic settlement, possible and for agreeing to it," Leopold's son Diethard told journalists Monday.

Elisabeth Leopold said her late husband would have been delighted at the painting's return.

The disputed origins of "Wally" led Austria to pass legislation on the restitution of looted art in 1998.
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