Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Boats Mirrored in the Water (1908)
oil on canvas 6.69 x 9.41 in. (17 x 23.9 cm)
Boats Mirrored in the Water was one of eighty-one works by Austrian Expressionist Egon Schiele that belonged to Jewish cabaret star Franz Friedrich “Fritz” Grünbaum (1880-1941). Grünbaum amassed an impressive collection of over four hundred works of art in the interwar period.
Franz Friedrich “Fritz” Grünbaum (1880-1941) was born in Brno, capital of the Margraviate of Moravia in the Austrian Empire (today, the Czech Republic). After studying law in Vienna, he turned to performing and writing, with his career interrupted by his service in WWI. As his popularity grew upon his return to the stage in the 1920s, his performances became more political. Known for his clever wit and humor, Fritz openly mocked and criticized the National Socialists German Workers Party in the theaters of Berlin and Vienna until he was forced to end his performances in Germany and retreat to Austria due to the rise of the Nazi regime and Anti-Semitic legislation.
The Nazis annexed Austria into the Third Reich on March 12, 1938, in what was known as the Anschluss. Fritz, a Jew and outspoken political opponent of the Nazis, was no longer safe in Vienna. He attempted to flee east to Czechoslovakia with his wife, Elisabeth “Lilly” (née Herzl) during the invasion, but the two were apprehended at the border. The Gestapo subsequently arrested and imprisoned him in Vienna just days after his return. Lilly attempted in vain to have her husband released, going as far as to bribe local officials, but Fritz remained in Nazi custody and was deported to the Dachau concentration camp that June. He was briefly transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp but returned to Dachau where he ultimately perished in January 1941.
In late April 1938, the Nazis enacted the Decree for the Reporting of Jewish-Owned Property which required all Jews to register assets valued at more than 5,000 RM (Reichsmark) with authorities. Lilly complied on behalf of her husband, who was forced to assign power of attorney to his wife from Dachau, and the Grünbaum collection was inventoried and appraised that July by art historian and Nazi official, Dr. Franz Kieslinger. The collection was transferred to the Aryanized shipping company Schenker & Co. A.G. from the couple’s residence, frozen, and then confiscated and Aryanized— the process by which confiscated Jewish assets were transferred to non-Jewish custody and a trustee appointed by the Nazis. In the case of the Grünbaum collection, the Aryan trustee was Dr. Ludwig Rochlitzer. Lilly reported in June 1939 that she had been forced to pay extortionate fees associated with the Nazi persecution. At the time of Fritz’s death, she stated in a property declaration that the art collection was no longer an asset and testified that there was no estate.
Lilly suffered a similar fate to that of her husband. She was evicted from her home before early 1939, forced into smaller accommodations before being apprehended by Nazi authorities and placed in a designated Jewish residence under Nazi supervision in Vienna—a deplorable arrangement comparable to Jewish ghettos. She was deported to Maly Trostinec extermination camp near Minsk, Belarus, on October 5, 1942, where she perished four days later, almost certainly by execution.
The exact details of the war-time fate of Fritz’s collection after it was confiscated from Lilly by the Nazis are unknown. It is believed that it was mostly kept intact as almost eighty percent of it was sold by Swiss art dealer Eberhard Kornfeld in the 1950s. Controversy and mystery remain as to how Kornfeld acquired so many Grünbaum works—his claim that he acquired them from Fritz’s sister-in-law and Lilly’s sister, Mathilde Lukacs, has been disproven. Boats Mirrored in the Water was one of the works that passed through Gutekunst & Klipstein (later Galerie Kornfeld) in Bern, Switzerland, which acquired the painting in late 1955 and auctioned it the following year. It then passed to Los Angeles art dealer Felix Landau, most likely in the late 1960s. The painting has been in an unknown private collection since 1990.