Paintings seized from three US museums over Nazi looting claims

Sep 19, 2023, 9:45 AM

Egon Schiele's "Girl with Black Hair," at Ohio's Allen Memorial Art Museum, is among the works that...

Egon Schiele's "Girl with Black Hair," at Ohio's Allen Memorial Art Museum, is among the works that heirs of Jewish collector Fritz Grünbaum say were stolen by the Nazis during World War II. Mandatory Credit: Handout/Manhattan District Attorney's Office

(CNN) — US investigators seized artworks by Austrian painter Egon Schiele from three museums amid claims Nazis stole them from a Jewish collector during World War II.

Museums in Chicago, Pittsburgh and Oberlin, Ohio were named in search warrants issued by New York state’s Supreme Court, which said it has “reasonable cause” to believe that the works in their collections are “stolen property.”

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office declined CNN’s request for comment on the nature of its investigation, though all three artworks — the Chicago Institute of Art’s “Russian Prisoner of War,” Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh’s “Portrait of a Man” and the Allen Memorial Art Museum’s “Girl with Black Hair” — are currently part of civil lawsuits filed by the heirs of Fritz Grünbaum.

Prior to the war, Grünbaum, a well-known Austrian comic, cabaret star and songwriter, amassed an art collection of almost 450 works, according to court documents filed by his heirs. Among them were 81 artworks by Schiele, an expressionist painter and protégé of Gustav Klimt.

In 1938, Grünbaum was sent to Dachau concentration camp, where his heirs say he was tortured and “compelled … to sign an unlawful power of attorney” over to his wife before he was murdered in 1941. Court documents claim that his wife, Elisabeth, was then “forced to liquidate” his assets, including his art collection, which was looted and dispersed by the Nazis. She, too, was later killed in a concentration camp.

The three seized items, which include watercolor and pencil works on paper, were produced during the later years of Schiele’s life, between 1911 and 1917. Investigators have valued each at between $1 million and $1.5 million.

A spokesperson for the Art Institute of Chicago said the museum is “confident” in its “legal acquisition and lawful possession of this work,” adding the matter is “being properly litigated” in the ongoing civil suit.

Oberlin College also expressed confidence that its Schiele watercolor had been “legally acquired” and was “lawfully possess(ed)”, adding: “We believe that Oberlin is not the target of the Manhattan DA’s criminal investigation into this matter.”

A Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh spokesperson meanwhile told CNN that the institution is “deeply committed” to its “mission of preserving the resources of art and science by acting in accordance with ethical, legal and professional requirements and norms.”

“We will of course cooperate fully with inquiries from the relevant authorities,” the statement added.

The search warrants specify that the three items be seized “in place,” meaning they may, for now, remain at the museums.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

National News

FILE - Donald Trump Jr., speaks at a rally for his father, Republican presidential candidate former...

Jill Colvin and David Fischer, The Associated Press

Letter containing white powder sent to Donald Trump Jr.’s home

Emergency crews responded Monday after a letter containing an unidentified white powder was sent to the Florida home of Donald Trump Jr., the eldest son of former President and GOP front-runner Donald Trump.

10 hours ago

Aaron Bushnell as seen from his LinkedIn profile. Bushnell set himself ablaze outside the Israeli E...

Michael Balsamo, Associated Press

US airman dies after setting himself ablaze outside Israeli Embassy in Israel-Hamas war protest

An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force has died after he set himself ablaze outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., while declaring that he “will no longer be complicit in genocide.”

14 hours ago

An artist's impression depicts a dead white dwarf star and its magnetic field, which is usually inv...

Ashley Strickland, CNN

Dead ‘cannibal’ star spotted with metal scar after consuming part of a planet

Astronomers have spotted an unusual sign that a dead star feasted on a fragment of a planet orbiting it: a metal scar on the star’s surface.

14 hours ago

The Birmingham England Temple Rendering...

Michael Houck

Church releases location for Vancouver Washington Temple, renderings for England, US temples

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has released the site location of the Vancouver Washington Temple and artistic renderings for temples in England, Nevada and Texas.

15 hours ago

FILE - A sign advertises Yeezy shoes made by Adidas at Kickclusive, a sneaker resale store, in Para...

Associated Press

Adidas sells another batch of Yeezy sneakers left over from breakup with Ye

Shoe and sports clothing maker Adidas says it has started a third sale of the Yeezy sneakers it was left with after severing ties with Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West.

16 hours ago

FILE - Asylum-seekers walk to a U.S. Border Patrol van after crossing the nearby border with Mexico...

Seung Min Kim, Colleen Long, Zeke Miller, and Jill Colvin, Associated Press

Biden and Trump are making dueling trips to the Mexico border in Texas on Thursday, AP sources say

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will make dueling trips to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas on Thursday.

18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Paintings seized from three US museums over Nazi looting claims