Ownership of a Mahler Photograph in Dispute

The first one she married was Mahler, 
Whose buddies all knew him as Gustav. 
And each time he saw her he’d holler: 
“Ach, that is the fraulein I moost have!”
Tom Lehrer, “Alma” (1965)

Who: Cliff Fraser, 35
What: found a photograph
Where: in the boiler room of his grandmothers’ basement
Where: in Los Angeles
Content: portrait of Gustav Mahler
Additional Details: The photograph is signed as a gift to Arnold Schoenberg.
Biographical Note 1: Gustav Mahler —  one of the leading conductors and composers of the late 19th/20th century, Jewish, born in Austria.
Biographical Note 2: Arnold Schoenberg — important Austrian composer and painter.

Following this discover, Mr. Fraser contacted the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna. Schoenberg’s heirs contacted Fraser and offered to buy the picture, suggesting that the photograph disappeared from their collection, probably as a result of theft. Later, they demanded the return of the photograph and threatened litigation. Probably the offering price for the purchase did not satisfy Mr. Fraser, who reportedly offered to sell it for $350,000.  Ultimately Fraser refused to hand over the photograph arguing that Schoenberg’s heirs had no evidence of theft and offering his own theory of how the photograph left their collection, such as a subsequent gift of the photograph to his grandfather. Now both sides are building cases to support their theories of the photograph’s chain of custody.

Fraser has been quoted as saying that the heirs are “just trying to throw a bag over my head, to get this thing which doesn’t belong to them.” And as for the Schoenberg/Mahler music, “I’m not a very big fan of their music… I tried but it just doesn’t work for me.”

The next movement in this concerto may be litigation, stay tuned.

Source: New York Times.

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