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Sotheby’s Faked Provenance of Painting Owned By Jewish Gallerist, Claim Heirs

Heirs of an Austrian, Jewish gallery owner have filed a case against Sotheby’s for faking the provenance of a painting sold in 2019.

The painting in question is St. Francis of Paola Holding a Rosary, Book, and Staff by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, believed to have been made in the 1730s. On Friday, three people – who are the heirs of Austrian gallery owner Otto Fröhlich – filed a case at the State Supreme Court in Manhattan. The affidavit claims that Sotheby’s, which was in possession of the painting, faked the provenance of the work when it was sold in 2019 to anonymous buyers. However, as per the filing, the painting was owned by their ancestor Otto Fröhlich, who had to sell the painting to another gallery and flee the country to escape Nazi persecution.

During the 2019 auction, the description of the painting said that the work came from a ‘distinguished private collection’ and was, at one time, owned by Galerie Wolfgang Böhler in Germany. However, the affidavit alleges that the painting was actually acquired from Julius Böhler, the notorious art dealer who was even named by the US government for his involvement in dealing with looted art.

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While Sotheby’s accepted that their initial provenance details were incorrect, they denied the claims of the heirs of Otto Fröhlich. Instead, Sotheby’s revealed that they did their own research into the provenance of the painting and found that the work was once owned by one Adele Fischer. Records suggest that Fischer was a Viennese Jewish woman who died in a Nazi concentration camp. In the affidavit, the heirs countered that while Fischel did own the work, she had sold it to Fröhlich “in good faith”. The affidavit also attached evidence that Otto Fröhlich tried to reclaim the work after WWII was over.