02 April 2011

Cardozo Law School follow-up—Larry Kaye and the 'Portrait of Walli'

Portrait of Wally, Egon Scheile
Source: MJH
Larry Kaye discussed the circumstances under which Egon Schiele's 'Portrait of Walli' had been seized under orders of the then-District of Attorney of Manhattan, Robert Morgenthau, in early January 1998 from an exhibit of Schiele's works held at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City.

According to Larry, the claimant family represented by the late Henry Bondi, on behalf of his deceased aunt, Ruth Jarai Bondi, had petitioned Morgenthau's office to intervene in the squabble between his family, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Leopold Foundation, current owner of 'Walli.'

Larry was unaware of the role played by the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP) in the events leading up to the seizure of 'Walli'.  Indeed, Henry Bondi had sought HARP's help in November-December 1997 via Willi Korte, a veteran German-educated legal and historical researcher and investigator on looted art issues whom Henry Bondi had retained to flesh out the provenance of the 'Portrait of Walli.'

HARP conducted its own research and inquired into the legal circumstances under which 'the Portrait of Walli' had entered the United States.  It turns out that MOMA had made a number of mistakes both at the Federal and State levels which exposed it to possible legal action.  HARP recorded these flaws and transmitted them to Robert Morgenthau's office in the hope that it could use them to act on behalf of the Bondi family.  Previous attempts by HARP's chairperson, Ori Z. Soltes, then director of the B'nai B'rith Klutznick Museum in Washington, DC, to open up a dialogue with MOMA over the ownership of 'Walli' had been met by blunt dismissals and invitations to sue MOMA in order to keep the painting from being returned to Vienna, Austria.

As Larry pointed out, the rest is history.