'Krumau, 1916' or 'Städtchen am Fluß' by Egon Schiele
In late 2002, the City of Linz decided to return the painting 'Krumau, 1916' by Egon Schiele to the heirs of Daisy Hellmann.
In June 1948, Daisy Hellmann - then residing in Sao Paolo, Brasil - deposited a claim for the restitution of the Schiele painting 'Krumau, 1916' at the Restitution Commission of the Provincial Court in Graz (Styria). Hellmann had to leave the painting behind when fleeing Vienna in 1938. The Schiele was looted by the Vugesta and put up for auction at the Dorotheum on 24-27 February 1942, where it was bought by the Viennese Sanct Lucas gallery for RM 1,800 on behalf of the art dealer Wolfgang Gurlitt. In 1953, the painting was among the group of works the City of Linz acquired from Gurlitt's collection for the 'Neue Galerie' in Linz.
Daisy Hellmann claimed the painting under the third restitution law (1947). An essential criterion written into this law was that the claimant had to provide proof that the buyer knew or must have known that the work was looted. Gurlitt denied this knowledge, as did the 'Sanct Lucas' gallery. In reply to an enquiry by the Restitution Commission, the Dorotheum simply wrote that "at auctions on behalf of the Gestapo (Vugesta) or other Nazi authorities, there was no announcement stating that the objects put up for auction were looted, and the names of the aggrieved owners were not mentioned". The case was decided in favour of Gurlitt on
10 January 1949. A complaint by Daisy Hellmann at the Higher Restitution Commission at the Higher Provincial Court in Graz arguing that an insider like Wolfgang Gurlitt must have known that looted works of art were on the market in the early 1940s was unsuccessful.
On 25 February 1949, the Higher Provincial Court issued a certificate to Gurlitt which declared that: "the defendant [i.e. Gurlitt] could [...] not have known through public announcement [...] nor from information provided by the Dorotheum, that [the painting] was looted property".
In 1998, the mayor of the city of Linz commissioned the city's municipal archive to undertake research into the Gurlitt collection in the 'Neue Galerie' in Linz. In the resulting report, Dr. Walter Schuster (Linz Municipal Archive) writes that the Hellmann case "vividly documents Austrian restitution practice". The basic fact - that the painting was looted - was acknowledged by all. But in order to obtain its return, the claimant was required to provide proof that the buyer knew or must have known that he/she was purchasing looted property. This, however, was virtually impossible. In his report, which also included additional research on the Hellmann case, Schuster comments that this "testifies to the lack of will to compensate those aggrieved through aryanisations."
The Jewish Community of Vienna represented the heirs of Daisy Hellmann and has campaigned for the return of the painting since 1999, working closely with the auction house Sotheby's, and enlisting the support of political, financial and art historical experts. From today's perspective and available proof, the decision of the 1949 Higher Provincial Court is considered to have been wrong. It is acknowledged that, with reference to the criteria of the third restitution law, Gurlitt must have known that the painting was looted. As a result of considerable political pressure, the Linz municipal authorities decided to return the painting to the heirs of Daisy Hellmann in mid-December 2002. The city of Linz has not passed a restitution law, but is said to have perceived the return the painting as a moral obligation.
The painting was sold at an auction at Sotheby's in London on 23 June 2003.
Articles and other texts on the Krumau case:
News Item (in German): [http://www.oberoesterreich.com/artikel/00/00/09/art944.html]
News Item (in English):
News Item (in English): [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/04/11/nart11.xml&sSheet=/news/2003/04/11/ixhome.html]
Linz Press Report of December 2002 (in German only)
News Item (in English): [http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,983910,00.html ]
Walter Schuster, Die ?Sammlung Gurlitt? der Neuen Galerie Linz, Linz: Archiv der Stadt Linz, 1999, p. 60-64 < http://www.linz.at/archiv/gurlitt/bericht.htm >, accessed 8 July 2003
<http://www.oberoesterreich.com/artikel/00/00/09/art944.html >, accessed 8 July 2003
<http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2002/12/19/wnazi19.xml >, accessed 8 July 2003
<http://www.linz.at/aktuell/presse/2002/021217.htm#3 >, accessed 8 July 2003