Who Owns a Drawing That May Be Nazi Loot? A Judge Will Decide.

In 1964, Robert Owen Lehman Sr., a philanthropist and art collector who led the Lehman Brothers investment firm through the Great Depression, bought a small drawing by the Austrian artist Egon Schiele. A few weeks later, his son Robert Owen Lehman Jr. says, he received the drawing, a portrait of a rosy cheeked woman with a soft smile, from his father as a holiday gift.

Now, the drawing, created in 1917, is at the center of an unusual courtroom battle in which a foundation created by the son is defending its ownership of the work against claims from the heirs of two Jewish art collectors, who say their relatives lost the work during the Holocaust.

The collectors, Karl Mayländer and Heinrich Rieger, were associates of Schiele in Austria, and their heirs have each claimed ownership of “Portrait of the Artist’s Wife,” a depiction of Edith Schiele.

Mayländer was a textile merchant who is depicted in at least two Schiele portraits. Rieger was Schiele’s dentist. Both men were killed by the Nazis during World War II.

A bench trial that will examine ownership of the work began Tuesday in Rochester, N.Y., as the representatives of three families with Jewish roots started to present their claims on the drawing to a State Supreme Court judge.

Testimony is expected to last until the end of the month. Anticipated witnesses include a handwriting specialist from Vienna and experts on Schiele, an early-1900s Expressionist whose art has soared in value in recent years. The drawing at the center of the case is estimated to be worth several million dollars.

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