Volume 23, Number 14 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 11 - 17, 2010
“Portrait of Wally” by Egon Schiele
A woman named Wally has a story to tell in BPC
BY John Bayles
There is a painting hanging on the third floor of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City that could use a little more light. The painting is not that large and because of its delicate nature, the lighting must be kept at low levels for preservation purposes. But the brush strokes are just too intricate, too marvelous that the lighting does not do them justice.
“A Portrait of Wally” will be on display at the museum until August 18, after which it will be returned to it’s original home in Vienna, Austria. The painting, by Egon Schiele, has been the subject of decade-long court battle, when it was seized by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. The District attorney subpoenaed the painting after it had been loaned to the Museum of Modern Art in the late 90s, and the U.S. Government commenced a forfeiture action alleging a Nazi named Frederick Welz during World War II had stolen the painting from one Lea Bondi Jaray and had been illegally exported to the country by the Leopold Museum.
During the case the judge ruled that the painting had indeed been stolen from Jaray and then subsequently was seized by U.S. Forces in Austria and ultimately delivered to the Austrian National Gallery in 1950. The painting was then traded to the Leopold Museum in the early 90s.
Last month the Bondi Estate, the Leopold Museum and the U. S. Government reached an agreement. The settlement required the museum to pay the Bondi Jaray Estate $19 million and as a result, the U.S. Government would dismiss all civil forfeiture action against the museum. And last but not least, that the painting hang in the Museum of Jewish Heritage for three weeks before returning to the Leopold Museum in Vienna.
For Director Dr. David G. Marwell, it is not the first time a stolen painting has hung in the Museum of Jewish Heritage, but it is the first time such a painting has had such an impact on him.
“I did not expect to be as moved as I was by the art itself,” said Marwell.
Marwell’s office is on the fourth floor of the Museum and “Wally” resides on the third. Marwell has two computer monitors on his desk, one for his work and then one that is constantly trained on “Wally,” via a security camera feed. He said he just likes to keep his eye on “her” and he enjoys watching people look at the painting and their reactions.
On the day “Wally arrived” there was line that stretched around the block from the museum. There was also a special ceremony and Andre, Lea Bondi Jaray’s great nephew, spoke on behalf of her estate. Andre’s mother, Inge, was also present, and Marwell noted the emotional moment that occurred when the two walked up to “Wally,” having not seen the painting since it hung in MOMA over a decade ago.
“It was a very private and personal moment,” said Marwell. “For them it represented a family history. It was a family reunion.”
Prior to that day, “Wally” was in custody, stored in an art warehouse in the city. Now “Wally” is free again.
Before she travels home to Vienna, the museum will host a panel discussion on August 18, featuring J.D. Bindenagel, former U.S. Ambassador and Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues; Marilyn Henry, columnist, The Jerusalem Post; Jane Kallir, Author of the catalogue raisonné “Egon Schiele: The Complete Works” and Co-Director of the Galerie St. Etienne, NY.
The event will be moderated by Marwell and will focus on the history of “Wally” and its owners, the court battle, and the case’s impact on the art world.