"Portrait of Wally" and Nazi Spoliation Litigation

Over at Culturegrrl, Lee Rosenbaum has some interesting information on Egon Schiele’s Portrait of Wally which has been sitting in storage for about 8-9 years now pending litigation. Two other articles on this topic have appeared in the last week as well. Carol Kino has an article in the NY Times on this as well. Kelly Crow had an article ($) in last week’s Wall Street Journal as well.

Here’s what Rosenbaum had to say on “Portrait of Wally”:

“Wally” is still languishing in storage, but not at MoMA. Having been seized by the U.S. Customs Service, it is now in a warehouse run by the Department of Homeland Security. According to MoMA’s deputy general counsel, Stephen Clark, “No trial date [at U.S. District Court in Manhattan] has been set.”

The Times reported that New York art-restitution attorneys Lawrence Kaye and Howard Spiegler are “helping the heirs” of the Viennese dealer in their effort to recover the Schiele painting from the Leopold Museum, Vienna, which had lent it to the MoMA show. The heirs assert that it had been confiscated from Jaray by the Nazis and should be returned to the family.

Spiegler told CultureGrrl today that an effort early last year at mediation in the case had failed, but he was hopeful that the matter would be resolved in court by “the end of this year or the beginning of next.”

Well, let’s hope that is the case. Rosenbaum blames the law for this extended delay, and that’s right in a sense. This painting was seized under a civil forfeiture statute. The relevant federal prosecutor seized the work years ago, but the judicial machinery has been incredibly slow. I write about this at length in my article for the Cardozo Journal of Art and Entertainment law which should appear sometime next fall. Jennifer Anglim Kreder had an outstanding article on this dispute, and civil forfeiture a couple of years ago in the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law. I think this is a topic which warrants some more discussion, so I’ll revisit it later this week when I have more time.

In the meantime, you can see what I’ve written on the “Portrait of Wally” dispute.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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