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Egon Schiele Paintings at Center of Lawsuit Over Plundered Nazi Art

Egon Schiele Woman

Egon Schiele painting ‘Woman in a Black Pinafore’ is at the center of a legal dispute dating back to Hitler’s Third Reich.

Egon Schiele paintings are at the center of a legal dispute in Manhattan filed by the heirs of holocaust victim Fritz Grunbaum. The Nazis plundered his art and sent him to a concentration camp in 1938. But the two paintings have recently resurfaced and may be worth $5.5 million.

Grunbaum’s heirs, Timothy Reif and David Fraenkel, filed the complaint this week in Manhattan Supreme Court to block a pending auction of the paintings.

Egon Schiele painting 'Woman in a Black Pinafore' is at the center of a legal dispute dating back to Hitler's Third Reich.

Egon Schiele’s ‘Woman in a Black Pinafore’ full size.

Grunbaum, a Jewish cabaret performer in Germany, had an eye for art. He collected more than 80 paintings before his arrest by the Gestapo.

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His wife was forced to sell the paintings under Nazi duress. The proceeds were handed over to Hitler’s Third Reich to fund its war effort, according to the lawsuit.

Egon Schiele was an Austrian painter and protégé of Gustav Klimt. He died in 1918 at the age of 28 during the Spanish flu pandemic.

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He was an early proponent of Expressionism and is noted for intense, raw and highly sexualized paintings, including naked self-portraits and portraits of young teen girls.

The Nazis would have considered his art “degenerate,” as they did most modern art. After confiscating the paintings, they were shipped to the Doreotheum, a Nazi-controlled auction house in Vienna.

Austrian painter Egon Schiele in 1914. (Photo by  Josef Anton Trcka)

Austrian painter Egon Schiele in 1914. (Photo by Josef Anton Trcka)

The Nazi regime sold the art plundered from Jews on the world market, according to court papers.

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The paintings, “Woman in a Black Pinafore” and “Woman Hiding Her Face,” were discovered earlier this month by a reporter for The Art Newspaper in a collection owned by British art dealer Richard Nagy.

They were scheduled to be auctioned at the Salon Art + Design Show at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan, according to the complaint. The show closed Nov. 25.

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The heirs are represented by Raymond J. Dowd with the law firm of Dunnington Bartholow & Miller. Dowd specializes in litigation and arbitration, intellectual property and art law, according to his firm’s bio.

Among his more noted cases, Dowd won the removal of the co-executors of tobacco heiress Doris Duke’s estate and secured the first honorary pet trust in New York history. It established a $100,000 trust for Duke’s dogs.

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Following his arrest in 1938, Grunbaum was sent to the Dachau concentration camp where he died in 1941. His wife, Elisabeth, was sent to the Maly Trostinec death camp in Minsk, Russia, but survived. She died in August 2013.

The case is pending in court. For more, check out Courthouse News Service.

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