Um…didn’t anyone notice the spectacular irony in this?!! Leonard Lauder, older brother of “Restitution” Ronald, is now having his own Klimt demanded back from him. Better yet, the piece was sold to Leonard by Ronald’s long time mentor Serge Sabarsky. It was Sabarsky’s idea to persuade Ronald to open the Neue Galerie back in 1996, soon before he died. He is now immortalized with over-priced Sacher Torte at the museum’s Cafe Sabarsky. We also witness the re-emergence Shoah-Chaser Randol E. Schoenberg (you know, grandson of 12-tone Arnold), but this time, instead of helping the Lauders acquire Klimts, he’s shaking them down for one they already own. And even with all this fabulous Viennese Secession Incest that’s really not the story here.
No folks, what is really big news here is that now the THE DECIDER can decide about the provenance of a painter’s oeuvre. This may sound like a minor development, but if Schoenberg’s strategy works it could place certain anointed art historians (basically those who write the catalogue raisonne for a given painter) in position to pass judgments worth millions of dollars. Alfred Weidinger has tred into this uncharted territory with his compendium of Klimt’s entire oeuvre.
Just look at this case, for example. Klimt painted Blooming Meadows around 1904-5
Now according to the claimant, Georges Jorisch of Montreal, the painting
was acquired by his grandmother’s brother Viktor Zuckerkandl, a Viennese steel magnate, collector and a friend of Klimt. After he died in 1928 the painting passed to Viktor’s sister Amalie [Redlich] and hung in her villa at the sanatorium in Purkersdorf outside Vienna of which she was part owner.
Redlich placed her paintings in storage in 1939, two years before she was deported to Lodz. Her son sought to recover her property in 1947 but discovered it had been looted. The Weidinger catalogue reports that after the war the painting was sold by Galerie Schebesta in Vienna to Rudolf Leopold who in turn sold it to Sabarsky in New York, from whom it was purchased in 1983 by Leonard Lauder.
By the way, that’s Rudolf Leopold as in Leopold Museum. And it’s not the first time Rudolf’s collection was embroiled in the a restitution case. That time as well, the problematic painting came by way of Galerie Schebesta. Hmmm. It’s looking like Theodor Schebesta may have had himself a stash of war plunder, which, to cut him some slack, is not that surprising, given that Jews had owned all the great art Fin de Siecle Vienna produced. They were the patrons of the Wiener Werkstatte, and the only ones who bought Klimt’s paintings.
But let’s return our attention to the real issue here, which is the new book by Professor Weidinger, who is also an assistant director at the Albertina.
In his entry on Blooming Meadow he corroborates the provenance as described by Jorisch, namely that Redlich had inherited the painting from Zuckerkandl and owned it until 1939, when she put it in storage.
Schoenberg has been using the traditionally legally unassailable position of the catalogue raisonne author, who would usually have final word on the authenticity of a painter’s works. Witness the current Pollack locker painting dispute. And Schoenberg is rightly anticipating Weidinger’s opinion on provenance will equally hold up in court.
But he may not have to go that far. One sub point to the whole imbroglio is that the Austrian government never gave it an export permit. In other words, it was smuggled out of Austria. Yeah right, big whoop, even Christies’ smuggles these days. But here’s the thing. Ronald Lauder in theory bought the painting for his brother from Sabarsky in 1983, but we don’t know where it was during those years. And in 1986 Reagan appointed him US Ambassador to Austria. So the real shakedown that Schoenberg is putting on Lauder is a closer investigation of his potential Ambassadorial abuse of Diplomatic Pouch to illegally export important Austrian art. That should probably get the Lauders to cough up the $4-8 million that Jorisch is asking to let the issue go away.
Leonard Lauder’s Klimt landscape belongs to me, says heir of Nazi victim [The Art Newspaper]
A Dispute Over a Klimt Purchased in New York [NYT] see bizarro correction appended. What?! There’s some serious hissy fit going on here.