The Allen Memorial Art Museum at Ohio’s Oberlin College and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh will voluntarily return works by Egon Schiele to the family of Fritz Grünbaum after the Manhattan District Attorney’s office issued warrants for them last month.
The seizure warrants were issued as part of a criminal investigation based on the claims the Schiele works had been stolen from Grünbaum, a Jewish art collector who was forced to liquidate his assets during his internment at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.
The returned works by Schiele are the pencil-on-paper drawing Portrait of a Man (1917), from the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the watercolor-and-pencil on paper work Girl With Black Hair (1911), from Oberlin’s Allen Memorial Art Museum.
The two stipulations about the returned works were signed by Carnegie Museums president and CEO Steven Knapp as well as Oberlin College vice president, general counsel, and secretary Matt Lahey.
Last December, the Manhattan DA’s office was first approached by Grünbaum’s heirs about investigating works by Schiele, formerly owned by their ancestor, that were in New York or had been bought and sold by American art dealer Otto Kallir. These works, the heirs believed, could constitute stolen property, as defined under New York law. They were emboldened by a 2018 ruling by a judge that said Grünbaum could not have voluntarily sold the works during his internment.
On September 20, the Manhattan DA’s office also held a ceremony to return seven other works by Schiele to three of Grünbaum’s heirs. The works were previously held by two private collectors—the late Serge Sabarsky and World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder—and several museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Morgan Library & Museum, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
The value of each of the works returned on September 20 is estimated to be between $780,000 and $2.75 million, according to the New York Times, which first reported the story.
MoMA surrendered the watercolor and pencil on paper work Prostitute (1912) and the watercolor and charcoal on paper work Girl Putting on Shoe (1910). The Santa Barbara Museum returned the pencil on paper drawing Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Edith (1915). The Morgan Library surrendered the black chalk and watercolor image on brown paper Self-Portrait (1910).
Lauder returned the watercolor and pencil on paper work I Love Antithesis (1912). The Sabarsky estate gave back two gouache, watercolor and pencil on paper works: Portrait of a Boy (Herbert Reiner), from 1910, and Seated Woman (1911).
“The evidence makes clear the two drawings were stolen by the Nazis and subsequently transported into Manhattan, before landing in these museums,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement sent to ARTnews. “We are proud to have now returned nine Egon Schiele drawings to Mr. Grünbaum’s relatives and continue to reflect on his indelible legacy.”
Before Grünbaum was sent to Dachau and killed there in 1941, his art collection grew to nearly 500 pieces, with at least 80 works by Schiele.