London art dealer Richard Nagy had been contesting the claims made by the heirs of the Austrian-Jewish entertainer and Holocaust victim Franz Friedrich Grunbaum. Nagy will launch an appeal to the decision.
Nagy had offered the artworks at a fair in New York in 2015. His lawyers argued he had acquired legitimate title to the two drawings, stemming from a 1956 sale of some 50 Schiele works by Grunbaum’s sister-in-law to a gallery in Switzerland, and that the heirs’ rights to bring their claim had long since expired (statutory limitations).
Woman in a Black Pinafore and Woman Hiding her Face were originally owned by Grunbaum, who had amassed around 450 artworks. His art collection was seized by the Nazis after he was arrested in 1938 and he was killed in Dachau concentration camp in 1941.
Raymond Dowd, lawyer for the Grunbaum heirs (named in the case as Timothy Reif, David Frankel and Milos Vavra), argued the HEAR act, which came into force in 2016, overrode any title claims made by Nagy.
Justice Charles Ramos of the state Supreme Court in Manhattan ruled in the Grunbaum heirs favour.
Chris Marinello, chief executive of Art Recovery International and a restitution expert, said: “The case won’t be over. But this decision lets the art world know that relying on statute of limitations law in your own country is not enough. The HEAR act can supersede it.”
In a statement from Nagy he said the “acquisition and ownership of these Schiele artworks has always been transparent and well documented. These artworks come from well-regarded collections and have been repeatedly publicly shown.”
Nagy hired “recognized Holocaust provenance experts Sophie Lillie, Laurie Stein, and Lynn Nicholas” who produced independent reports on the situation and did not find that these particular artworks had been stolen by the Nazis.
Nagy added: “It is surprising that Justice Ramos ignored not only their reports, but also the decisions of the US federal court and two independent Austrian panels that previously found that this collection of artworks was not stolen by the Nazis.
“The tragic story of Fritz Grünbaum is well known and properly acknowledged. As an art dealer with a long record of working with German Expressionist artworks, and someone whose own family had to flee persecution, Richard is particularly sensitive to restitution claims and continues to believe that all such claims call for close and merit-based review.
“We trust that upon appeal the complete record, including the expert reports, will be given a full and fair review.”