July 23, 2010

The Visit of Wally

     Egon Schiele  (1890 - 1918)
Portrait of Wally Neuzil, 1912
Leopold Museum, Vienna

As you may have read, the disposition of Egon Schiele’s Portrait of Wally has been settled. The Leopold Foundation in Vienna will pay the estate of Lea Bondi Jaray $19 million, and the painting will be returned to the Leopold Museum in Vienna. However, according to the terms of the settlement, the painting will be on temporary display here at the Museum beginning next Thursday, July 29 through August 18.

The painting was taken from Lea Bondi Jaray by a Nazi art collector shortly before Bondi Jaray’s departure to England in 1939, where she resided until her death in 1969. Following the war, Wally came into the possession of Dr. Rudolph Leopold, who subsequently placed it in the collection of the Leopold Foundation which operates the Leopold Museum. When the painting was loaned to the Museum of Modern Art by the Leopold Museum in 1997, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau prevented its planned return to Austria on the suspicion that it was stolen property. In 1999, the federal government commenced legal action against the Leopold Foundation with the aim of returning the portrait to the Bondi Jaray family. That action was finally settled this week.  It can be argued that the dispute over this painting was responsible for raising the entire issue of Nazi-looted art and for the establishment of policies and programs designed to identify artworks of questionable provenance and return them to their rightful owners.

We will mark the beginning of Wally’s short visit to the Museum and memorialize the Bondi Jaray family and others like them, whose property was stolen by Nazis, in a ceremony at the Museum next week.

We honor the memory of victims of the Holocaust every day at this Museum and we remember the millions who, while they may have themselves survived, lost their communities, families, homes, and property. While they can never recover what they have lost, it is important to set some things right when at all possible—no matter how long it takes. Compensating the heirs of Holocaust victims and survivors represents a small measure of justice, and we commend all parties for their dedication to this cause. We are honored to host Wally for her brief visit to the Museum where she will help our visitors understand an important element of Holocaust Remembrance and make clear that justice – even delayed – is worthy of pursuit.