Authorities seize from US museums 3 artworks worth millions said stolen by Nazis

Paintings by Egon Schiele are sought by heirs of Jewish art collector who died in the Holocaust

Russian War Prisoner, Egon Schiele (Art Institute of Chicago)
Russian War Prisoner, Egon Schiele (Art Institute of Chicago)

NEW YORK — US authorities have seized three artworks sought by the heirs of a Jewish art collector who died in the Holocaust, officials said Thursday.

They confirmed a story in The New York Times that said New York investigators had taken these works by the 1900s Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele from three museums throughout the country.

In warrants issued Tuesday and seen by AFP, the New York State Supreme Court said “there is reasonable cause to believe” the works constitute stolen property.

The works were seized from the Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, and the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in Ohio.

The works in question are: “Russian War Prisoner” (1916), a watercolor and pencil on paper piece valued at $1.25 million, seized from the Art Institute; “Portrait of a Man” (1917), a pencil on paper drawing valued at $1 million and seized from the Carnegie Museum of Art; and “Girl With Black Hair” (1911), a watercolor and pencil on paper work valued at $1.5 million and taken from Oberlin.

The warrants state that these works can remain where they are for 60 days, and they will be taken to New York at a later date.

“We are confident in our legal acquisition and lawful possession of this work,” the Art Institute of Chicago said, adding that the piece held there is the subject of a civil case in federal court.

This photo illustration created in Los Angeles, California, on September 13, 2023, shows a person looking on a computer screen at artwork by Austrian Expressionist Egon Schiele entitled ‘Russian War Prisoner’ (L), ‘Portrait of a Man’ (R) and ‘Girl With Black Hair’ (top), which were seized by investigators after the Manhattan district attorney’s office issued warrants. (Chris Delmas/AFP)

The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh pledged to “cooperate fully with inquiries from relevant authorities.”

The works are being sought by the living heirs of Fritz Grunbaum, a prominent Jewish art collector and cabaret artist who died in the Dachau concentration camp in Germany in 1941.

The Times said the probe underway concerns about a dozen Schiele works allegedly stolen by the Nazis.

Grunbaum’s heirs have been in court for years trying to recover works that belonged to him.

Courts ruled in 2005 that they had waited too long to act but in 2018 they got a favorable judgment and recovered two pieces.

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