The Leopold Museum in Vienna holds a significant collection of 19th century and 20th century art. The highlights of the collection are its more than 200 works by Egon Schiele. The museum also owns major works by Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Richard Gerstl, Alfred Kubin and Albin Egger-Lienz, and an important collection of furniture, decorative art and non-western art.
The Leopold Museum was created as a private foundation by the Austrian collector Rudolf Leopold and the Republic of Austria in 1994, with the assistance of the National Bank of Austria. The greater part of Leopold's collection was brought into the foundation, whose goal was to make the Leopold Collection available to the public. Leopold is the museum's acting director. In 2001 a new building at the heart of Vienna's museum quarter was inaugurated to house the museum.
The Leopold Museum has been undertaking provenance research on the collection since 1995. A first post for provenance research was created in 1998; currently two members of staff are undertaking provenance research at the museum. Since 2001, the results have been published on the museum's website. All 5,288 works in the collection are listed on the website and provenance information is added continuously. The provenance database is organised alphabetically by artist; there are no illustrations of the works.
To access the database, go to the website of the Leopold Museum, click on 'The Leopold Collection', then click on 'Research' at the bottom of the menu on the left to get to the provenance research page. At the bottom of that page you will find a "Link to the Research Database".
The museum is undertaking provenance research in accordance with the guidelines of the Federal Museums of Austria, and its research staff work together with the Commission for Provenance Research. However, the Federal Restitution Act does not apply to the Leopold Museum. Although the Republic of Austria acquired the Leopold collection, it is not legally a federal collection but a private foundation based on Austrian foundation law.
According to a report by the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation from May 2001, the Leopold Foundation responded to journalists criticising the absence of dates and other details in the provenance information at the launch of the museum's website in 2001 by describing the database as a work in progress. A spokesman for the foundation stated that provenance researchers faced a difficult task due to a lack of records because the Leopold Foundation is based on a private collection and much of the research relied on the records and memory of the collector Rudolf Leopold, who began building up the collection whilst still a student in 1948. At the same press conference, the head of the foundation, Mr. Schuler, also listed the following as problems faced by the museum's provenance researchers: the large number of purchases, which meant that the exact year of purchase could not remembered for every item; not all records dating back to the 1950s could be located in the private household of Rudolf Leopold; few dealers and auction houses are willing to provide information on the origin of the works sold by them.
There are currently two legal cases pending regarding works in the museum's collection:
a New York case regarding Egon Schiele's painting Portrait of Wally, claimed by the heirs of Lea Bondy-Jaray, and a Viennese case regarding the painting The Scythe Sharpener (Der Sensendengler ) by Albin Egger-Lienz, claimed by the heirs of Moric Pick (Moritz Pick). According to the museum, the latter case was decided in its favour in the court of appeal and is currently pending with the Supreme Court in Vienna.
The Schiele painting Dead City III (Tote Stadt III ), which in 1998 was seized in New York along with the painting Portrait of Wally mentioned above whilst on loan to the Museum of Modern Art, was returned to the Leopold Museum after the Viennese museum was able to document the provenance of the work.
A further work in the collection, Houses by the Sea (Häuser am Meer) by Egon Schiele, is currently being claimed by the heirs of Jenny Steiner. Steiner was forced to flee Austria in 1938. Her collection, including Häuser am Meer, was seized and put up for auction by the Gestapo. The provenance information on the Leopold Museum's website indicates that it was sold at the Dorotheum in Vienna, then a state-owned auction house, in 1940 and again in 1941. In an interview on Austrian radio in November 2000 Rudolf Leopold's wife, Elisabeth Leopold, acknowledged that the painting belonged to Jenny Steiner. Because of the museum's legal status as a private foundation, the work is not eligible for restitution under Austria's 1998 Federal Restitution Law. The painting Country House by the Attersee (Landhaus am Attersee ) by Gustav Klimt, also from the Steiner collection and sold at the same auction in 1940, was returned to the heirs from the Belvedere federal collection in 2000.
Dr Robert Holzbauer (Provenance Research)
Tel.: +43 1 525 70 1528
Fax: +43 1 525 70 1500
Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Central Registry Archives, Correspondence, 22 July 2003
Leopold Museum <www.leopoldmuseum.org/index_en.html>, first accessed 6 August 2003. Link updated 17 July 2007.
Hugh Eakin, 'Austria: Justice Delayed', ARTnews June (2003), pp. 102-111