The Gold Coast International Film Festival is presenting a special screening of “Portrait of Wally: The Face that Launched A Thousand Lawsuits,” about the 1939 theft of Egon Schiele’s celebrated painting by the Nazis from Lea Bondi, a Viennese gallery owner, and the legal struggle, decades later, to recover the painting for Bondi’s family.
The Thursday, May 30 screening at the Great Neck Arts Center, in Great Neck, will feature a discussion with Willi Korte, the German-born attorney, historian, researcher and author who has spent the past 20 years working on the identification and restitution of art looted by the Nazis and their collaborators, and who sued the Austrian Museum on behalf of the Bondi family.
The screening at the Great Neck Arts Center is presented in conjunction with the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County and sponsored by the Claire Friedlander Family Foundation.
“Portrait of Wally”, Egon Schiele’s tender 1912 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.
“Portrait of Wally” traces the history of this iconic image – from Schiele’s gesture of affection toward his young lover, to the theft of the painting from Lea Bondi, a Jewish art dealer fleeing Vienna for her life, to the post-war confusion and subterfuge that evoke “The Third Man,” to the surprise resurfacing of “Wally” on loan to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan in 1997.
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.
Willi Korte, who will be the guest at the screening, is a German-born jurist, historian, researcher, and author who studied history, law and politics at the Free University of Berlin, as well as at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He holds a law degree and a Ph. D. in history. He has spent the past 20 years on matters related to the identification and restitution of works and objects of art looted by the Nazis and their collaborators.
As one of the foremost historical investigators and researchers in the field of cultural assets misappropriated and looted between 1933 and 1945, Dr. Korte relies heavily on his special knowledge of private and public archives in North America and Europe. One of his earliest accomplishments was the location and return of the famous Quedlinburg treasure to its rightful owners in Germany.
He provided the historical research and background in regard to Egon Schiele’s “Portrait of Wally” and has been responsible for many restitutions of Old Masters belonging to the late Max Stern, the Jewish art dealer in Düsseldorf, Germany, who fled to Canada in the late 1930s. Dr. Korte is co-author of Quedlinburg-Texas und zurück: Schwarzhandel mit geraubter Kunst (1994), and a founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP).
The evening at the Great Neck Arts Center, begins at 6:30 pm with a reception, followed by the screening at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $20.
Great Neck Arts Center, 113 Middle Neck Road, Great Neck (entrance off Maple Drive). Visit goldcoastfilmfestival.org or call (516) 829-2570 for tickets.