In the ongoing cases, Dowd, and his clients, Reif, Fraenkel and Vavra, are again challenging the credibility of Kornfeld’s account. Their arguments were embraced by the judge in a case they filed in 2015 in New York State Supreme Court against Richard Nagy, a London art dealer who was trying to sell two other Grünbaum Schieles, also bought from Kornfeld in 1956.
The judge in the case, Charles Ramos, found for the heirs, writing in his decision: “A signature at gunpoint cannot lead to a valid conveyance.” That ruling was upheld on appeal in 2019, when the appellate court said, among other things, that it had not found credible documentary evidence that “the artworks were purchased by Kornfeld from Mathilde. Moreover, even if Mathilde had possession of Grünbaum ’s art collection, possession is not equivalent to legal title.”
There are those such as Otto Kallir’s granddaughter, Jane Kallir, who continue to believe Kornfeld’s account. She runs the Kallir Research Institute, an art historical research organization, and before that her grandfather’s gallery, and has testified in court that she does not believe “Dead City III” was stolen from Grünbaum. She declined to be interviewed, citing the pending litigation in Austria. But in a 2007 deposition in another case, she said she regarded Kornfeld’s account of his purchase of works from Lukacs as credible.
The Grünbaum heirs face an uphill legal battle in the case against Austria because of the difficulties of suing a sovereign nation in U.S. courts. Typically, the courts have not allowed lawsuits against sovereign nations except in instances where there has been a viable claim that international law was violated or where nations had waived their sovereign immunity.
The Grünbaum heirs have asserted that there has been such a waiver, but Austria and its museums deny that. The case involving Austria is on a delayed schedule because of the intricacies of lawsuits involving sovereign nations, but the Art Institute case has moved forward in recent weeks as the parties debate whether the district attorney’s office, because of its seizure order, should now be a party to the suit.