Sotheby’s set to auction two paintings that may be Nazi loot

Two paintings with a combined value of nearly $10 million will be auctioned on Monday amid questions over whether they were looted from Jewish owners by the Nazis during the Third Reich, The Washington Post has learned.

Egon Schiele’s Self-Portrait (1910) and Standing Girl in a White Petticoat (1911) have gaps in the history of ownership during the Nazi era (1933-1945), experts say. The paintings are scheduled to be auctioned by Sotheby’s on November 14 as part of the firm’s Modern Evening Sale.

One of the paintings, “Self-Portrait,” a watercolor depicting Schiller’s distorted pose, had a pre-auction estimate of between $4 million and $6 million and listed Munich-based Nazi art predator Galerie Wolfgang Gurlitt as its original owner.

Schiller's "self-portrait" The pre-auction estimate was between $4 million and $6 million and listed Munich-based Nazi art predator Galerie Wolfgang Gurlitt as its original owner.
Schiller’s “Self-Portrait” had an estimated pre-auction estimate of between $4 million and $6 million, originally owned by the Nazi art predator Galerie Wolfgang Gurlitt, Munich.

Gurlitt was a German dealer who sold looted art and was a cousin of Hildebrand Gurlitt, Adolf Hitler’s personal art dealer. He was also close to Hermann Voss, director of Hitler’s private museum in the Führer’s hometown of Linz, Austria. Much of the museum’s collection of art, which was in the planning stages during World War II, was confiscated from Jewish owners in Nazi-occupied countries in Europe.

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“Wolfgang Gullit is a ‘red flag’, the name of the first prize,” said Jonathan Petropoulos, an expert on Nazi-looted artwork and a professor of European history at Claremont McKenna College in California. Jonathan Petropoulos told The Washington Post.

"standing girl in white petticoat" Painted in 1911, but the Sotheby's catalog does not mention who owned the painting during the Third Reich, which is considered a red flag for experts.
“Standing Girl in a White Petticoat” was painted in 1911, but Sotheby’s catalog doesn’t mention who owned the painting during the Third Reich, which is considered a red flag for experts.

“Wolfgang Gullit not only sold Nazi-looted art, he was a key figure in the Austrian establishment, denying any responsibility for Nazi-looting schemes in the postwar decades,” Goering in Paris The People: The Story, author Petropoulos speaks of the Nazi art looters and his world. ”

“As his lies exacerbated his questionable art dealing practices, Wolfgang Gurlitt’s name in provenance immediately raised alarm and further research,” the authors said.

Wolfgang was also associated with Cornelius Gurlitt, son of the reclusive German art collector and Hildebrand, who owned more than 1,200 paintings, including Henri Matisse, Marc Works by Chagall and Pablo Picasso – several of which turned out to be looted by the Nazis – were stuffed into his apartment in Munich. In 2013, during a routine inspection by German tax authorities, Cornelius had inherited the paintings from his Nazi art dealer father, a discovery that made headlines around the world.

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"Wolfgang Gurlitt is a first-order
“Wolfgang Gurlitt is a ‘red flag’ name for the first prize,” expert Jonathan Petropoulos said of the art dealer listed in the provenance of “Self-Portrait” Say.
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images

Another Schiller painting at Sotheby’s, “Standing Girl in a White Petticoat,” is owned by New Yorkers Frederick and Ilona Gerstel, the first U.S. collections of the artist’s work people. A watercolor of a woman who appears to be interrupted while getting dressed has an estimate of between $2 million and $3 million before auction. The couple acquired it in 1960, according to Sotheby’s catalogues. But there was no mention of who owned the Third Reich-era art, which was seen as a red flag for Nazi loot experts.

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A Sotheby’s spokesperson told The Washington Post: “Sotheby’s has dedicated art and restitution experts who focus on historical provenance research and assess whether a work of art that is about to be auctioned may have been a result of persecution during World War II. Displaced and never returned. Experts frequently consult art loss registers…Neither of Schiele’s works are registered in any available databases and resources as lost, displaced, or to track art loss in the interim , and both have been cleared by the Art Register of Losses.”

Schiele was an Austrian expressionist who often created portraits of himself and those around him in nude and disturbing poses. Although he died of the Spanish flu in 1918 at the age of 28, he was a prolific artist throughout his life, leaving behind more than 3,000 drawings and paintings. According to art historian and Schiller expert Sophie Lille, most of his early collectors were Austrian Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Cornelius Gullit

Cornelius Gurlitt was a reclusive German art collector with a collection of more than 1,200 paintings in his Munich apartment.

Cornelius Gullit

Cornelius inherited the works from his Nazi art dealer father.

“Their property was dispossessed by a series of forced sales, expropriation, and dispersal,” Lille wrote in “Lost Legacy: The Fate of Egon Schiele’s Early Collectors,” an essay for New York’s New Gallery Article written for the Schiller portrait exhibition in 2014. “Others… managed to escape with partial or total property damage.”

Schiller’s work has been the subject of New York’s restitution demands for decades. In 1998, then-Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau ordered the seizure of two Schillers, who had been loaned to the Museum of Modern Art from the Austrian government-run museum.

The work of artist Egon Schiele has been the subject of restitution demands in New York for decades.
The work of artist Egon Schiele has been the subject of restitution demands in New York for decades.
Getty Images

Subpoena orders MoMA not to return the paintings – “Portrait of Wally” and “City of the Dead III” – to Leo Vienna until grand jury completes criminal investigation into charges of theft following Nazi invasion of Austria in 1938 Pod Foundation.

In October 1997, the Leopold Foundation loaned more than 150 Schiller works to the Museum of Modern Art for a three-month exhibition. In 2010, the Leopold Foundation agreed to pay $19 million for “Portrait of Wally.” Another painting, “City of the Dead III,” was returned to the foundation after a New York Court of Appeals ruled to quash Morgenthau’s subpoena.


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