While the new ruling could be appealed, The Art Newspaper reported that it may be the end of a years-long restitution saga that has played out in New York courtrooms. The legal battle over two works by the Viennese master began in November 2015, when authorities seized the watercolors from the booth of dealer Richard Nagy at the Salon Art + Design fair at New York’s Park Avenue Armory, after a Manhattan Supreme Court Justice had ordered a stop on any attempted sale. The 2015 ruling stemmed from a restitution case filed by the heirs of the Jewish entertainer and collector Fritz Grünbaum, who they claimed was forced to give up his artworks to the Nazis before being imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp, where he died.
The deal to consign the work to Christie’s, and arrange for a November sale benefitting the Grünbaum heirs, comes after a ruling in April where the same court ruled in favor of the heirs and awarded them “damages, costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees,” citing the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act (HEAR), a law standardizing restitution claims that was signed by Barack Obama in December 2016. Nagy’s lawyers say they are preparing to appeal the decision, arguing that there is no evidence that the works were looted during the time of Grünbaum’s imprisonment, pointing to a record of the works being sold in 1955 and 1956 by Grünbaum’s sister-in-law, at the Kornfeld auction house in Switzerland.