Chicago Museum Says Investigators Have No Evidence Art Was Looted

The Art Institute of Chicago has rebuffed an attempt by New York investigators to seize an Egon Schiele drawing in its collection, asserting in a strongly-worded 132-page court filing that the investigators have produced no evidence that the artwork was looted by the Nazis as they claim.

The drawing, “Russian War Prisoner,” was purchased by the Art Institute in 1966. It is one of a number of works by Schiele that ended up in the hands of museums and collectors and have been sought by the heirs of the collector Fritz Grünbaum, a Jewish cabaret entertainer from Vienna who was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp in 1941.

In a court filing in February, the Manhattan district attorney’s office accused the museum of ignoring evidence of an elaborate fraud undertaken to conceal that the artwork had been stolen by the Nazis on the eve of World War II.

But the museum in its filing in New York Supreme Court on Tuesday argued that the drawing had legitimately passed from Grünbaum to his sister-in-law, who had sold it to a Swiss dealer after the war in 1956.

“There is no evidence at all — none — that the Work was ever physically seized by the Nazis,” the museum said in its court papers.

Megan Michienzi, executive director of public affairs at the Art Institute, said in a separate statement: “Our response provides specific details of the extensive evidence, documentation, and research that specifically refutes the allegations made by the Manhattan District Attorney. The evidence clearly demonstrates this work was never looted and was legally acquired, and we will continue to advocate for our lawful ownership of this work.”

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