A New York judge ruled that two Egon Schiele drawings were forcibly taken by the Nazis, and must be returned to the rightful heirs.
The judge ordered Richard Nagy, a British art dealer, to turn Schiele’s Woman in a Black Pinafore (1911) and Woman Hiding her Face (1912) over to the heirs of Franz Friedrich “Fritz” Grünbaum in a ruling handed down Thursday. Judge Charles E. Ramos of the state supreme court in Manhattan found that Grünbaum, a Jewish cabaret performer, was forced to transfer ownership of the pieces to his wife at gunpoint in 1938 before being murdered in a concentration camp three years later. In New York, stolen property cannot be legally acquired, even if subsequent buyers purchased it in good faith. Lawyers for Nagy argued that the pieces were actually not looted, but instead were legally sold by Grünbaum’s sister-in-law to a Swiss gallery in 1956, and that, regardless, the heirs forfeited title to the works by not searching for them after the war. Another owner of a different artwork tied to Grünbaum successfully invoked that defense, known as laches, to beat back a similar claim on his pieces by the heirs in 2012. But Judge Ramos dismissed that defense in this case, asserting that the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) act, which passed in 2016, meant that the heirs’ claim was timely, given they discovered the pieces in 2015 at the Salon Art + Design Show at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. A lawyer for the Grünbaum heirs told Reuters that the ruling “brought us a step closer to recovering all of the culture that was stolen during the largest mass theft in history.”