A Slower Look At The Gallery Of Lost Art

Two posts in one day? Yes, but it’s special circumstances in my opinion. As I explained in my earlier post, I’ve only just found out about the Gallery of Lost Art, an online project about “lost, stolen, discarded, rejected and destroyed” art works which, according to the site, is due to disappear today.

Since my morning post I’ve been able to download the essays for each of the works. What I’ve found is that many of the pieces are classed as ‘ephemeral’ or ‘transient’. Fair enough, but all performance art and such like is ‘transient’. What interested me more were the works which were meant to be permanent but which are now missing or have been destroyed.

All the essays have a fascinating amount of information about the works. I may reproduce extracts from some of them in the future, but Rosie would complain if I didn’t start with the story, written by Jennifer Mundy, of Egon Schiele’s Self-Seer (1910):

“Egon Schiele’s Self-Seer 1910 was the first in a year-long series of three double self-portraits, and although missing for over seventy years remains much discussed by those interested in the work of the short-lived Austrian artist. For some, it signals an important moment in Schiele’s relationship with his mentor, the symbolist artist Gustav Klimt (1862–1918).  …


“Egon Schiele died in 1918, aged just twenty-eight, a victim of the Spanish flu epidemic that claimed more than twenty million lives across Europe. Nonetheless, his fame in Vienna continued to grow after his demise. In October 1928 the city’s Neue Galerie and a local artists’ association jointly staged an exhibition of over two hundred Schiele works. … the catalogue for this exhibition listed the 1910 Self-Seer as among four works lent from the collection of ‘Fritz Grünbaum, Vienna’.

“Fritz Grünbaum was born in the Czech city of Brno, where his father ran an art dealership. Moving to Vienna aged eighteen, Grünbaum embarked on a career as a cabaret artist in 1903. Returning from service in the First World War, Grünbaum found considerable success in both Austria and Germany. His travels between Vienna and Berlin allowed him to build up an art collection that by the late 1920s numbered some four hundred pieces, including no less than eighty works by Schiele. With the arrival of the National Socialist government in Germany in 1933, Grünbaum, like many cabaret artists, began to use his shows to voice his opposition to the regime. However, it very soon became clear that it was not safe for him to perform in Germany…

“Attempting to flee to Czechoslovakia by train, Fritz Grünbaum and his wife Lily were arrested and returned to Vienna. Grünbaum was deported to the Dachau concentration camp in May 1938, while in Vienna Lily was left to ‘authorise’ the governmental confiscation of the couple’s property… A property assessment for Lily Grünbaum dated 20 July 1938 provides the last record of Self-Seer; later documents refer to the collection, but only in general terms. … Lily Grünbaum was finally arrested on 5 October 1942 and deported to the Maly Trostinc extermination camp near Minsk, where she was murdered on 9 October. Her husband had already died … of tuberculosis…

“The story of what happened to Schiele’s Self-Seer, however, does not end there. After Lily Grünbaum’s deportation, her collection would have become the property of the German Reich. In theory, the collection should have been confiscated and sold off through a sub-section of the Gestapo responsible for selling off Jewish-owned luxury goods. But the Grünbaum collection does not figure in any of the related records. In 1956, however, around forty Schiele works from the Grünbaum collection appeared on the market via a dealership in Switzerland. According to the dealership’s owner, he had acquired the work from Mathilde Lukacs, sister of Lily Grünbaum, who survived the war in Belgium. The sale attracted buyers from across Europe and America, and included the 1911 oil Dead City III, which had appeared alongside Self-Seer in Lily Grünbaum’s July 1938 property assessment. Mathilde Lukacs died in 1979; it was never verified whether she had indeed passed the works to the Swiss gallery or whether she had the right to do so.

“In 1998 forty-four governments agreed to the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi Confiscated Art. While encouraging research into potentially stolen works, the principles paved the way for international legal recognition of heirs’ rights to reclaim works lost by their ancestors. As a result of the sheer number of high value works it contained, and the uncertainty surrounding the 1956 Swiss sale, the Grünbaum collection has come to play a central role in determining the scope of these international laws. Can the sister-in-law of a collector be presumed to have had the right to sell that collector’s work? Should normal limitation periods apply? If a work is transported from German-occupied Austria, sold in Switzerland and currently held by a gallery in New York, which country’s law applies? Many of these difficult questions remain to be resolved. … Given the fate of those works that reappeared in Switzerland in 1956, it remains possible that Self-Seer still exists and may one day resurface.”

If you have the chance, visit the Gallery of Lost Art before it disappears for ever.


About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website johnpindararts.weebly.com
This entry was posted in Art, Artists, exhibition and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A Slower Look At The Gallery Of Lost Art

  1. Thank you for bringing this site to our attention. The Lost Art site has just under 3 days and 12 hours to go at time of writing. As you did, I downloaded essays which would be interesting to read when time allows…. The concept is simultaneously intriguing and frustrating although what will be lost is the amalgamation of the information on one site, rather the information itself, which is consoling. Some artists mentioned were new to me and the many fascinating tales of how artworks disappeared (and, like the Schiele, may resurface), were destroyed or never fully realised could surely inspire further artwork.

    • My daughter used to work in sales and the ‘The offer is only on today so you must buy it now’ approach was one of the mainstays. I wonder if I’d have known about it before whether I would have downloaded so much and uploaded two posts about it.
      I found it originally on my android phone which has a slightly different version with a lot of easily visible links to other sites. On the computer version they are probably there but not as easy to find. It is the links which I want to explore more if I get the chance.

  2. Fascinating stuff. I had no idea Beuys’ felt suit had been consumed by clothes moths.

    • I think it’s only one of the edition. Perhaps the others have mothballs in the pockets!

      • Ha, yes! Contemporary art must pose some quite interesting problems for conservators – Chris Ofili’s elephant dung paintings for one.

        Beuys once lectured at my old art college and left behind one of his famous blackboards full of diagrams etc and a fat corner. Sadly, the next day they were gone – the cleaners had helpfully got rid of them.

  3. Tragic. Thanks for sharing.

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