Egon Schiele, Bildnis Wally Neuzil, 1912 © Leopold Museum, Inv. 453

Egon Schiele, Portrait of Wally Neuzil

1912

Most likely the best-known portrait of his partner Wally Neuzil, Egon Schiele painted this as a counterpart to his Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant. This harmoniously composed likeness shows Wally Neuzil with her slightly-lowered head, auburn hair, and oversized, bright blue eyes looking directly at the viewer. Particularly impressive are Schiele’s use of geometric shapes and the harmony of colors: orange and blue, white and black, red and green. The portrait exudes intimacy and tenderness, thus revealing the lovers’ closeness.

 

Egon Schiele’s painting Portrait of Wally Neuzil was the personal property of Lea Bondi Jaray (b. 1880 in Mainz – d. 1969 in London), a Jewish art dealer and owner of the Galerie Würthle in Vienna. After she was forced to turn the gallery over to art dealer Friedrich Welz in April 1938, Lea Bondi Jaray fled to London in 1939 to escape the Nazis. The Painting became the subject of court proceedings in New York City from 1998 to 2010, after it was loaned in 1997 to the Museum of Modern Art in New York by the Leopold Museum as part of an exhibition of Schiele works from the Leopold Museum's collection. In 1999 the United States Government commenced a civil forfeiture action in New York, alleging that the Painting was stolen from Lea Bondi Jaray during the Nazi era by Friedrich Welz, and was imported into the United States in 1997 by the Leopold Museum in violation of U.S. law. The Estate of Lea Bondi Jaray asserted a claim to the Painting in the proceedings, and the U.S. Government agreed that upon forfeiture of the Painting, it would transfer to the Estate all right and title to the Painting.

Based on the evidence presented during the case, the United States District Court in New York concluded in 2009 that the Painting had been  the personal property of Lea Bondi Jaray and that it was stolen from her in Vienna in the late 1930's by Friedrich Welz, a member of NSDAP and Nazi collaborator,  when he took over the Würthle Galerie from Lea Bondi Jaray as part of the “Aryanization” process. The Court found that the Painting had been seized from Welz by the U.S. Forces in Austria after the War and delivered in 1947 to the Austrian Federal Office for the Preservation of Historical Monuments (the »Bundesdenkmalamt«), along with paintings Welz had acquired from Heinrich Rieger, a Jewish art collector who was murdered in 1942 at the Theresienstadt concentration camp. In 1950 the Bundesdenkmalamt delivered artworks to an agent for the Rieger heirs and included Portrait of Wally Neuzil in the delivery. Later that year, the Rieger heirs sold their works to the Austrian National Gallery (the »Belvedere«), with Portrait of Wally Neuzil among these works. In 1954, the Belvedere traded the Painting to Rudolf Leopold. In 1994  Rudolf Leopold transferred the Painting to the Leopold Museum Private Foundation.

Following the Court's findings on these issues, the case was finally resolved in 2010 by the U.S. Government, the Estate of Lea Bondi Jaray and the Leopold Museum. The Leopold Museum agreed to pay the Estate a substantial sum and, in return, the Estate agreed to release its claim to the Painting and the Government agreed to dismiss the civil forfeiture action and release the Painting to the Leopold Museum.

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