Nazi Art Litigation Alert: Seized Schiele Painting Case Cleared for

By David Bario
Am Law Litigation Daily
October 08, 2009

One Schiele painting in New York has been off limits to art lovers ever since it was seized by Manhattan’s district attorney in 1997 while on loan from Vienna. The 1912 painting “Portrait of Wally” has remained in U.S. custody, locked in a Queens warehouse, as government lawyers and heirs to a Jewish art dealer battled with Austria’s Leopold Museum over allegations that the work was stolen by the Nazis.

Now, thanks to a ruling by Manhattan federal district court judge Loretta Preska, the long-simmering litigation over “Portrait of Wally” may finally be headed for trial–and the painting may be closer to seeing the light of day. Late last month, Judge Preska denied motions for summary judgment by the Leopold Museum and the Justice Department, finding that the question of whether the Leopold knew the portrait was allegedly stolen when it was brought to the U.S. is a triable issue of fact. Here’s the judge’s 110-page opinion. [Hat tip to Courthouse News.]

The backstory shares elements with other cases involving allegedly looted Nazi art, though the Schiele case has garnered particular attention in part because of the number of reversals involved.

Manhattan assistant U.S. attorney Barbara Ward is leading the government’s case. Bondi’s heirs are represented by Howard Spiegler of Herrick Feinstein. We reached out to the Leopold Museum’s lead lawyer, William Barron of Smith, Gambrell & Russell, to see how he felt about the prospects of a trial. Barron told us that he was still having the judge’s opinion translated into German for the museum foundation’s board and could not comment