By Lesley Sotolongo
After a 13-year legal battle that seemed to have ended in 2011, Egon Schiele’s 1912 Portrait of Wally remains embroiled in disputes. By way of re-introduction: the painting was taken from the owner, the Bondi family, in 1939 by another dealer and Nazi party member; it was later acquired under questionable circumstances by an Austrian Schiele collector Rudolf Leopold. After a famous and protracted litigation, the case was settled in favor of the Bondi heirs in the amount of $19 million. (See “Schiele — still stolen? Ruling on Portrait of Wally (110 pages)” and “$19 million settlement frees “Portrait of Wally” after 13 year of legal disputes”).
However, it appears that barely any of the $19 million settlement has been dispersed to the heirs due to yet another legal claim. Robert Roistacher, the boyfriend of one of the heirs, filed a compensation claim seeking $2.75 million as a finders fee. Roistacher argued pro se that he was entitled to compensation alleging that his efforts to contact the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office led to the painting’s seizure by authorities and eventually the settlement.
On February 10, 2014, US District Judge Katherine Forrest in New York dismissed Roistacher’s claim for compensation on jurisdictional grounds, noting that his grievance with Bondi’s estate was a moral rather than a legal one. Roistacher may appeal, given his unwavering position that he was not acting as a volunteer in the restitution efforts.
Sources: U.S. v. Portrait of Wally, 105 F. Supp. 2d 288 (S.D.N.Y. 2000); Roistacher v. Bondi, et. al., No. 11 Civ. 8200 (S.D.N.Y. 2014); The Art Newspaper.
Center for Art Law presents “Portrait of Wally Evening” on March 3, 2014. Those in NYC and interested in sharing Portrait of Wally thoughts and stories over a casual dinner followed by the screening of the documentary narrating the history of recovering the painting should RSVP by March 2, 2014. The screening is co-sponsored with Holocaust Restitution Practicum (Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law). Details Here.
About the Author: Lesley Sotolongo is a third-year law student at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and may be reached at Lesley.Sotolongo@law.cardozo.yu.edu.
Disclaimer: This article is intended as general information, not legal advice, and is no substitute for seeking representation.