The painting was owned by Lea Bondi Jaray. Although she owned an art gallery this, particular, painting was part of her private collection; and hung in her home. Which, of course, didn’t stop the Nazi’s. Not only did they close down her gallery, she was also forced to give up her own art, as well. She and her husband escaped to the U.S. and she never saw the portrait again.
In 1954, it was purchased by an obsessive collector, Rudolf Leopold, and became part of the collection at the Leopold Museum, in Vienna. Near the end of a 1997-1998 exhibit of Schiele’s work at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, its history was revealed in a New York Times article.
That’s when Lea Bondi Jaray’s heirs contacted the New York County District Attorney, who issued a subpoena, forbidding its return to Austria. The work was tied up in litigation for years. The entire story is told, in meticulous detail, in the documentary, “The Portrait of Wally”. From the Nazi occupation of Austria, to Jaray’s attempts to get the painting back after the war, to the extremely lengthy, complicated and costly legal proceedings, to the family finally getting restitution:
Acknowledgement that the painting had, in fact, belonged to Lea Bondi Jaray; and a $19 million settlement. In exchange, the heirs had to agree to allow the painting to be returned to the Leopold Museum where, once again, it now hangs next to the self-portrait of the artist.
Personally, I’m sorry it went back to Austria. I would have preferred to see it hang at the Jewish Museum, in New York. Just saying.
Anyway, the movie was fascinating. And, needless to say, it was a poignant reminder of one of the worst times in the history of the world. I suppose I’m fortunate, in that none of my family perished in the death camps. Everyone was safe in Canada or the U.S. I have friends and extended family members who were not so lucky.
Not that it matters. What happened in Europe during WWII, affected all mankind. The world over. Jewish or not.
Of course, watching films like this, you have to think of all the hatred and prejudice around us. At least I do. Especially as I just recently saw another documentary about a member of the Klu Klux Klan. I am amazed, and horrified, to think we are capable of committing atrocities like these. That we believe we are entitled to judge others. To believe they are of less value, then we are.
To segregate them. To stop them from going to school, or from voting. To shut down their businesses. To loot their homes. To take what’s theirs.
To shoot them. To hang them. To starve them. To make them dig their own graves and then kill them. To incinerate them. To turn the planes they’re in, into weapons and fly them into buildings. To threaten the world with nuclear weapons.
All without conscience.
I find it impossible to comprehend. And what really amazes me, is knowing the sick and twisted individuals who conceive these evil acts, manage to find like-minded souls to help them. Hundreds and thousands and even millions of other sick and twisted individuals. And frankly, there’s no punishment severe enough, no restitution big enough, no memorial high enough, to ever make up for these crimes against humanity.
Why are we so focussed on our differences? Why can’t we see our commonalities? Look beyond colour. Look beyond race. Look beyond religion. What do you see? Men and women. Boys and girls. Husbands. Wives. Parents. Children. Sisters. Brothers. Friends. Neighbours. Colleagues. Fellow citizens.
We’re all the same. And yet we continue to teach our children to hate, instead of to love. Instead of respecting and honouring the lives, the belongings, the beliefs and the rights of others.
Sometimes I’m ashamed to be a part of the human race.