MYSTERY AT THE MUSEUM: It’s unclear why the heirs of Fritz Grünbaum have dropped their lawsuit against the Santa Barbara Museum of Art to reclaim the drawing “Portrait of the Artist’s Wife” by Egon Schiele. | Credit: Courtesy

The heirs of a Jewish cabaret singer and art collector killed in the Holocaust have dropped their claim against the Santa Barbara Museum of Art over a drawing they say was stolen from their late relative by the Nazis, sold into the New York dealers’ market, and ultimately gifted to the museum by one of its founders.

The reason for the voluntary dismissal in early August is unclear. Attorneys for the heirs of Franz Friedrich ‘Fritz’ Grünbaum, who have successfully sued other art institutions for the return of pieces from his scattered collection, declined to comment. Some legal observers speculate the drawing ― a small pencil on paper sketch by Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele ― is now also in the process of being returned. 

Santa Barbara Museum of Art spokesperson Katrina Carl said she was unable to speak about the case. “Things surrounding this matter are in process, and we should be able to make a statement when all is resolved,” she said. 

For reasons similarly vague, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is now also involved. The office’s press secretary declined to comment.

Born in 1880, Grünbaum was a well-known Viennese entertainer who wrote and performed cabarets, songs, and operettas. He also directed and acted in films. Over his lifetime, he amassed a nearly 500-piece art collection with at least 80 works by Schiele.

In 1938 Grünbaum was captured and held at the Dachau Concentration Camp by Hitler’s Third Reich, where he was tortured into signing over power of attorney to his wife. Grünbaum’s wife, Elisabeth, was then forced to liquidate her husband’s assets before she herself was imprisoned and killed.


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