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Five Schiele Watercolors – Leopold Museum and Eva Zirkl

Karl Mayländer, a Jewish businessman and art collector, was deported from Austria to occupied Poland and later killed in the Holocaust. Before leaving, he left his art collection to his partner who later sold it. Five Schiele watercolors from his collection came into the possession of the Leopold Museum. Negotiations between the museum and Eva Zirkl, Mayländer’s heir, concluded with the return of two of the five watercolors to Zirkl.

 

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Citation: Morgan Drake, Justine Ferland, Marc-André Renold, “Five Schiele Watercolors – Leopold Museum and Eva Zirkl” Platform ArThemis (http://unige.ch/art-adr), Art-Law Centre, University of Geneva.

Karl Mayländer, a Jewish businessman and art collector, was deported from Austria to occupied Poland and later killed in the Holocaust. Before leaving, he left his art collection to his partner who later sold it. Five Schiele watercolors from his collection came into the possession of the Leopold Museum. Negotiations between the museum and Eva Zirkl, Mayländer’s heir, concluded with the return of two of the five watercolors to Zirkl.

 

I. Chronology

Nazi looted art

  • 1941: Karl Mayländer was deported from Austria to Poland where he was later killed in the Holocaust. Before leaving Austria, Mayländer gave the entirety of his art collection to his partner Etelka Hoffman.
  • 1945: After the end of World War II, Hoffman sold the collection, which eventually ended up in the possession of the Leopold Museum.[1]
  • 1998: Austria passed the Federal Law on the Restitution of Works of Art and Other Movable Cultural Property From the Austrian Federal Museums and Collection and From Other Federal Property (“Art Restitution Act”)[2] which facilitates the restitution of stolen artworks to their original owners or their heirs.[3]
  • 2006: After Rudolf Leopold, the Leopold Museum Director for Life died, his son Diethard Leopold took his father’s position on the Board of the museum.[4]
  • 2010: A commission established by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Arts, Education, and Culture to evaluate claims under Austria’s Art Restitution Act recommended that the five watercolors be restituted to Zirkl. However, as a private institution, the Leopold Museum did not have to follow the Commission’s recommendation.[5] 
  • April 2016: Negotiations resulted in the return of two of the five drawings to Zirkl.[6]

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II. Dispute Resolution Process

Negotiation – Ad hoc facilitator – Settlement agreement

  • When Rudolf Leopold was the director of the Leopold Museum, he was not willing make restitutions. After his death and the appointment of Diethard Leopold as director, the museum became willing to enter into negotiations.[7]
  • In 2012 the Leopold offered what they considered a “reasonable and constructive sum of money.”[8] This sum was apparently rejected by Zirkl, because the negotiations continued and eventually came to an impasse until the Austrian Culture Minister, Josef Ostermayer, stepped in and helped the parties come to a settlement. [9]  

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III. Legal Issues

Ownership – Procedural issue

  • The passage of the 1998 Art Restitution Act in Austria established a commission for the research of provenance of potentially Nazi looted pieces in Austrian museums. If a piece was identified as having been looted by the Nazis, then it was to be removed from the museum’s collection and returned to the original owner of the heirs if they were identifiable. However, this law does not apply to private museums.[10]
  • Since the Leopold Museum is a private institution, they were not required to follow the Austrian Federal Ministry of Arts, Education, and Culture commission’s recommendation to return the five Schiele watercolors, and chose not to.

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IV. Adopted Solution

Unconditional restitution

  • The final agreement saw the return of two watercolors (“Self Portrait With Red Hair And Striped Oversleeves” and “Seated Boy With Folded Hands”) to Zirkl, while the other three Schiele watercolors (“Girl Squatting on a Flower Meadow”, “Self-portrait in White Suit and Panama Hat” and “Bended Male Nude Back View”) remained at the Leopold Museum.[11]

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V. Comment

  • The previous director of the museum, Rudolf Leopold was continually against the restitution of any of the collections to Holocaust victims. In 1998 he told the Jerusalem Report that “I’m not a Nazi, and I’m not a Nazi profiteer. . . My family [was] totally against Hitler’s regime.”[12] The new director, Rudolf Leopold’s son, Diethard Leopold, seems to have taken a very different stance and feels that the museum should address the issue of Nazi-looted art in order to be seen by the public as a “wonderful museum” free from the taint of questions of provenance.[13] In this instance, the change of leadership was the catalyst for repatriation. The perspectives of the two Directors vary greatly, one rejecting a duty to repatriate, and the other embracing it and seeing it as necessary for the operation of the museum. Rudolf Leopold seems to have seen repatriations as something to be done by the guilty, whereas Diethard Leopold has taken the stance that it is less a question of guilt, and more a question of morals.

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VI. Sources

a. Legislation

b. Documents

c. Media

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[1] Julia Michalska, “Leopold Museum returns two Schiele drawings to New York heir,” The Art Newspaper, April 7, 2016. Accessed June 20, 2016. http://theartnewspaper.com/news/leopold-museum-finally-returns-two-schiele-drawings-to-new-york-heir-/.

[2] StF: BGB1. I Nr. 181/1998.

[3] Danny Lewis, “In ‘Solomonic Solution’ Museum Returns Two Nazi Looted Artworks to 95-Year-Old Descendant,” The Art Newspaper, April 8, 2016. Accessed June 20, 2016. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/smart-news/vienna-museum-returns-two-works-of-art-stolen-nazis-180958705/.

[4] William D. Cohan, “Charting A New Course,” Art News, September 6, 2012. Accessed June 20, 2016. http://www.artnews.com/2012/09/06/charting-a-new-course/.

[5] Austrian Federal Ministry of Arts, Education, and Culture commission. “Beschluss Maylaender” (Mayländer decision), November 18, 2010. Accessed July 20, 2016. http://www.kunstkultur.bka.gv.at/Docs/kuku/medienpool/19813/beschluss_maylaender.pdf  

[6] Julia Michalska, “Leopold Museum returns two Schiele drawings to New York heir”.

[7] William D. Cohan, “Charting A New Course”.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Danny Lewis, “In ‘Solomonic Solution’ Museum Returns Two Nazi Looted Artworks to 95-Year-Old Descendant”.

[10] Art Restitution Act, op. cit., note 2.

[11] Danny Lewis, “In ‘Solomonic Solution’ Museum Returns Two Nazi Looted Artworks to 95-Year-Old Descendant”.

[12] William D. Cohan, “Charting A New Course”.

[13] Ibid.

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