Portrait of Wally, Egon Schiele's tender picture of his
mistress, Walburga ("Wally") Neuzil, is the pride of the Leopold
Museum in Vienna. But for 13 years the painting was locked up in New York,
caught in a legal battle between the Austrian museum and the Jewish family from
whom the Nazis seized the painting in 1939.
Directed by Andrew Shea, this captivating documentary film, Portrait of Wally, traces
the history of this iconic image – from the seizure of the painting by Nazis from
Jewish art dealer Lea Bondi, to the surprise resurfacing of "Wally"
on loan to the Museum of Modern Art in the 1990s and the dramatic, consequential court case
It was in 1997 when the heirs of art
dealer Lea Bondi asked MoMA to hold the painting in New York, MoMA and the
Leopold Museum dug in their heels and refused. District Attorney Robert
Morgenthau issued a subpoena and launched a criminal investigation. A 13-year
battle in court followed, tracking the course of a Holocaust property crime and
reopening the wounds of one of the century's worst tragedies — all at a time
when the prices of Egon Schiele's works rose faster than those of any painter
on the art market.
The "Wally" case brought the story of Nazi art
loot into the open, eventually forcing museums in Europe and the U.S. to search
their own collections for suspect objects. Many museums ended up returning art
to Jewish families who had abandoned hope until "Wally" showed that
institutions could be held accountable for holding property stolen during the
Holocaust. The case was resolved in dramatic fashion in the summer of 2010, but
only after the history of Schiele's extraordinary painting was unearthed to
revisit the crimes of the Holocaust and to witness the reluctance of major
institutions in Europe and New York to send the "last prisoners of
war" back to their families.
After the screening, the film's co-writer and producer David D'Arcy will answer questions from the audience.
Sponsored by the United Nations Association of New York and The New School.