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"Wally" Settlement Heaps New Criticism on Leopold Museum

1970
1945
Artinfo 27 July 2010
By Emma Allen

NEW YORK— Rudolf Leopold "died on June 29 at age 85 and, within less than a month, historic litigation concerning a painting from the Austrian museum bearing his name was settled, just as if the terms had been worked out in advance, awaiting only his departure from this earth," Thomas R. Kline, a lawyer specializing in cultural property suits, writes in today's Wall Street Journal. But the settlement reached last week — allowing the Nazi-looted Egon Schiele "Portrait of Wally" (1912) to remain in Vienna’s Leopold Museum after the Leopold Foundation's payment of $19 million to the heirs of Jewish dealer Lea Bondi Jaray — and the death of the unprincipled collector hardly end the long saga of the Schiele's restitution case. Rather, Leopold’s inveterate lack of concern for the provenance of his acquisitions will continue to resonate in ongoing disputes about this and many other global restitution battles.

According to Artforum.com, the Vienna Israelite Community is levying a critique against Diethard Leopold, son of the late collector, for his plan to sell another Schiele work stolen by Nazis — this time taken from Austrian collector Jenny Steiner — to aid in the payment of the Jaray settlement. Leopold has been making preparations to auction off Schiele’s "Houses on the Sea," acquired by his father in 1955, intending to offer only half of the profits to Steiner’s heirs and to apply the other half to financing the "Wally" settlement. In an article in Der Standard, as translated by Artforum.com, Vienna Israelite Community president Ariel Muzicant and executive director Erika Jakubovits compared Leopold’s plan for financing payments to the Jaray estate "to a fox caught in a chicken stall who proposes to sell the chicken and split the profits instead of giving the booty back to the farmer." It's a confusing analogy, perhaps, but one with an undeniably dark import.

Yet Kline, who has exhaustively studied the history of long-mired restitution cases, sees the Leopold-Jaray settlement as a victory, albeit one to be celebrated warily — with an eye to clarifying legislation, and increasing the diligence of collectors and institutions in their future acquisitions. "It deserves muted applause for the courage that facilitated resolution by compromise on the eve of trial," Kline writes in the Journal, "if not for the constellation of attitudes that allowed the case to run on for so long."

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