[MSN] Returning an heirloom. Family finds comfort in painting's recovery.

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Mon Dec 18 06:33:17 CET 2006

Returning an heirloom
Family finds comfort in paintings recovery 

Jos Omar Ornelas, The Desert Sun

Lilian Fox and her cousin Lisl Wertheim were able to recover a painting that
had been owned by their family during World War II. The painting, titled
Totentanz 1809 von Anno Neun (Dance of the Dead) by the painter Albin
Egger-Lienz (1868-1926), has since been sold by the family.
It's a family heirloom that some in the family didn't actually like.

But it was theirs, an investment bought by an uncle with an eye for art. The
uncle had a feeling that the late Austrian painter Albin Egger-Lienz would
one day be recognized as a great artist and his painting, "Totentanz 1809,"
("Dance of Death 1809"), would be one of his best works.

It hung in the Vienna home of Lillian Fox's grandparents until, like many
Jewish families, they lost everything to the Nazis.

Nearly 70 years later, with help from several people who help track down
looted art work, the Fox family finally found justice, and more than $1
million, after they recovered their stolen painting from a Lienz museum.

"It's really a living reminder of what my grandmother and our family went
through. Now (with the recovery of the painting) I feel we regained her
pride," Fox said from her Rancho Mirage home.

One of the people that helped Fox get her family's painting back is Jonathan
Petropoulos, a professor of European history who will talk about his
experiences helping recover stolen art Tuesday at a Palm Springs Art Museum
lecture titled "Delayed Justice: The Search for Nazi-Era Stolen Art."

"He was instrumental in helping us get (the painting) back," Fox said.

"He gave me resource information, Web sites and helped me find documentation
on looted artwork and information about the painter," Fox said.

"It gave me an avenue and direction which to pursue the painting."

 Fox sat at her Rancho Mirage home with her cousin Lisl Wertheim, who was 15
years old in 1938 and remembers the painting her uncle bought.
"It was an enormous and most unpleasant thing to look at," she said.

"But my uncle knew that the (painter) was going to come up in the art

But as World War II loomed, and the Nazis began rounding up Jewish families,
the family made plans to escape

Wertheim and her family headed for England, Fox's grandparents and her
mother Herta were headed for America.

As the family fled, Fox's grandmother packed all of their belongings to be
shipped to the United States.

But their possessions never arrived.

They disappeared, along with the painting, which unbeknownst to the family,
was illegally sold to the Lienz museum in 1938.

"My grandmother came to the United States and that was it ... it was a
forgotten subject for 60 years," Fox said.

But interest in the painting was sparked again when a relative saw a
postcard in Europe with a picture of the painting.

After years of research and accumulating stacks of paperwork dating back to
Nazi Germany, the Fox family found out the painting was at the Schloss Bruck
museum in Lienz, Austria.

It was the prized possession there, were it hung on a wall for visitors to

"In about '97 or '98 my mother approached me to write a letter to try to get
the painting back," Fox said.

It took a few more years but Lienz city commissions finally informed Fox and
her mother that they had verified the painting belonged to family.

"The museum offered to buy it, but we were advised to sell it at auction,"
Fox said.

The sale netted the family more than $1 million. The painting was purchased
by an anonymous collector and is no longer on public display.

"A lot of museums around the world are having to deal with these
(situations). They're having to implement policies to deal with this," said
Kimberly Nichols, director of marketing and communication for the museum.

Before the painting was sold in May, family members went to the Lienz museum
to see the long-lost heirloom.

"When I first saw it I told my mom that I can imagine your mother must have
had a fit when her husband brought it home," Fox said.

"The subject and the shapes and the colors, it was very morbid," she said.

"But for me this gave me the history of my family to pursue your ancestry is
an extremely gratifying and enriching experience and it makes you a whole
person," Fox said.


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