There was no shortage of demand for Schiele, whose works were considered acceptable by Nazi standards. “In 1995/1996, Rudolf Leopold exhibited 152 personally selected works by [Egon] Schiele in Tubingen, Dusseldorf, and Hamburg. Additional stops in 1997 included Graz, New York, and Barcelona,” Dobrzynski writes. The most famous of the controversial works shown in this travelling exhibit was a Schiele entitled “Portrait of Wally” (Dobrzynski).
“Wally” is featured prominently in the show in question and several other works shown alongside it in “Egon Schiele: The Leopold Collection” in New York, Barcelona, Tokyo, London, and Germany.
The piece, the exhibit, and the curator were well received; “the Modern feted Dr. Leopold with a black-tie dinner” (Dobryznski). The director of the Museum of Modern Art, Glenn Lowry expressed admiration for the Collection and for Leopold and chairman of the board Ronald Lauder expressed his envy of Leopold’s collection.
In 1998, towards the end of the Collection’s stay in New York, new information about the Bondi exhibit came to light in a New York Times article. The case of ‘Wally,’ in particular, became instantly infamous due, in part, to the publicized primary source documentation about it’s origins. In 1937, a Jewish art dealer named Lea Bondi Jaray was coerced into giving the piece to a Nazi art dealer named Freidrich Welz before fleeing Austria. When she returned to Vienna after the war, she was told the piece was in Austria’s National Gallery. Leopold met with Mrs. Bondi in London and agreed to acquire ‘Wally’ on her behalf in exchange for other, less prominent works by Schiele. “The next thing [she] heard was that [her] picture was … owned by Dr. Leopold (Dobrzynski). In addition to this written account, Mrs. Bondi worked, personally, to reclaim the painting until her death in the 70s (Dobryznski).
The “Wally” controversy has remained infamous thanks to the unprecedented nature of the litigation that followed the New York Times piece. In true American fashion, the exposé launched twelve years of litigation, forming the precedent for dealing with the US ‘Recovery’ doctrine. Ultimately, the case was settled, with Mrs. Bondi’s estate for 19 million dollars (Lufkin).
Photo Courtesy the Leopold Collection