Four decades ago, the Vision Foundation (then named the Greater London Fund for the Blind) received a bequest of the estate of Irma Löwenstein Austin (c.1892-1976) when she died without an heir.
More recently, the charity discovered that pictures she and her husband had sold under duress in Vienna in 1938 were in museums in Munich, Dortmund and Berlin. The restitution process that began in 2018 was concluded last year.
On June 7, The Compassionate Child (The Beggar) by Austrian artist Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1793-1865) was offered at Dorotheum with an estimate of €150,000- 200,000. It was hammered down at €240,000 (£207,000) (plus 28/25/22/18% buyer’s premium). Two other pictures by Waldmüller returned to the Löwenstein Austin estate had sold at Dorotheum in November 2020: Preparing the Celebration of the Wine Harvest (also €240,000) and The Grandparents’ Visit (€70,000).
The three pictures were part of the private collection of Irma and Oscar Löwenstein, members of Vienna’s Jewish community, who in 1938 fled Nazi persecution for London.
During her lifetime Irma made various unsuccessful attempts to recover the lost items from their art collection, the remainder of which is still missing.
The Vision Foundation was assisted on a pro bono basis by law firm Charles Russell Speechlys and consultant Cadell & Co, with the auction house also waiving its vendor’s fees. Rudy Capildeo, partner at Charles Russell Speechlys, said: “The restitution of these artworks was complex and required careful navigation of various laws. It has been a real honour to help support the legacy.”