an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

Free “Portrait of Wally”!

Carol Kino‘s article in today’s NY Times “Museums” section about Stolen Artworks and the Lawyers Who Reclaim Them (less charitably termed “Bounty Hunters” in the headline of Kelly Crow‘s Wall Street Journal article on the same theme last Friday) has reminded me to follow up on a celebrated artworld case about which I wrote the following for the WSJ, back in 1999:
If there were habeas corpus for paintings, “Portrait of Wally” would have been released by now.
Nearly two years and three court decisions after the New York Times first reported the tangled story of the painting’s convoluted journey from the collection of Viennese art dealer Lea Bondi Jaray to that of Viennese ophthalmologist Rudolf Leopold, “Wally” is still languishing under house arrest at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which had borrowed her for a 1997 exhibition.

Flash forward to 2007: “Wally” is still languishing in storage, but not at MoMA. Having been seized by the U.S. Customs Service, it is now in a warehouse run by the Department of Homeland Security. According to MoMA’s deputy general counsel, Stephen Clark, “No trial date [at U.S. District Court in Manhattan] has been set.”
The Times reported that New York art-restitution attorneys Lawrence Kaye and Howard Spiegler are “helping the heirs” of the Viennese dealer in their effort to recover the Schiele painting from the Leopold Museum, Vienna, which had lent it to the MoMA show. The heirs assert that it had been confiscated from Jaray by the Nazis and should be returned to the family.
Spiegler told CultureGrrl today that an effort early last year at mediation in the case had failed, but he was hopeful that the matter would be resolved in court by “the end of this year or the beginning of next.”
The law’s inexcusable delay means that this innocent artwork has been sentenced to indefinite confinement, providing pleasure to no one—except, perhaps, the lawyers who, along with the District Court, are holding her hostage instead of expeditiously resolving the ownership dispute.

an ArtsJournal blog