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Heirs Of Jewish Collectors Sue MoMA, Santa Barbara Museum Over Nazi-Looted Art

Heirs of Fritz Grünbaum are seeking the return of Egon Schiele works from the Museum of Modern Art and Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Timothy Reif and David Fraenkel are the relatives of Fritz Grünbaum, an Austrian Jewish art collector. Grünbaum died in the Dachau concentration camp in 1941 and the Nazis seized his assets. The heirs are now requesting the two museums to return the works that were allegedly looted and illegally obtained by the museums.

The first painting is Prostitue (1912) in the possession of MoMA. Documents show that the painting was sold in an open auction in 1956. However, Reif and Fraenkel argue that no proper providence exists for the work in the following decades. Thus, they want MoMA to return the painting because of their lack of proper diligence. The other painting, Portrait Of The Artist’s Wife (1915) is at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California. The suit alleges that the work was in possession of a private dealer in the 1950s and 60s, after which it was illegally moved. The museum, on the other hand, explained that they received the work as a donation from a private individual and were not aware of its history.

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This is not the first time Reif and Fraenkel have filed suits to acquire works from Grünbaum’s collection. Currently, they are embroiled in four other suits against other museums. They also won a suit in 2019 when two works (also by Schiele) were returned to them from a private London dealer.