Leopold Museum

Leopold Museum

Blick auf das Museumsgebäude, Farbfoto

other name: Leopold Museum Private Foundation


From the 1950s, the Viennese ophthalmologists Rudolf Leopold (1925–2010) and his wife Elisabeth Leopold (born 1926) started an extensive art collection. Their original focus on nineteenth-century Austrian art was gradually extended to include early twentieth-century Austrian Modernists. Leopold purchased works on the art market and from private collectors and museums such as the Österreichische Galerie and was in regular communication with various art and culture institutions. His network included art experts and collectors such as Erich Lederer, Arthur Roessler and Otto Kallir, art dealers such as Wolfgang Gurlitt, Serge Sabarsky and Franz Kieslinger, museologists such as Bruno Grimschitz and Karl Garzarolli-Thurnlackh, and also the descendants of artists, such as Egon Schiele's sister Melanie Schuster. From the 1970s, Leopold was interested in the idea of founding a museum for his collection. After protracted negotiations with the Republic of Austria, the Leopold Museum Private Foundation (LMPF) was founded in 1994. According to its statutes, the aim of the foundation is to "preserve the founder's collection, make it publicly accessible as a museum, and document it and conduct research." As the founder, Rudolf Leopold donated the majority of his private art collection, a total of 5,266 works including paintings and graphic art, sculptures, furniture and autographs. In return, the Republic of Austria pledged to pay 2.2 billion schillings, which enabled the founder to settle his considerable bank obligations and to donate the collection to the foundation without encumbrance. The board of the foundation, which consisted of eight equal members appointed by the founder and the Republic of Austria, was responsible for nominating a managing and artistic director. Rudolf Leopold was appointed for life as the museum director and was also designated with his wife as lifelong members of the board. After selection of a suitable site, the Leopold Museum, designed by architects Manfred and Lurids Ortner, was built in the MuseumsQuartier with financing by the Republic of Austria and due to open on 21 September 2001. With Rudolf Leopold's death in 2010, his right of appointment also expired. At present Elisabeth Leopold is still on the board as one of the founder's appointees. With the death of Rudolf Leopold in 2010, his right of appointment as founder expired. Since Elisabeth Leopold's resignation in 2022, there have been no more members of the board appointed by the founder.

Even before the museum opened, the LMPF organized numerous exhibitions in Austria and other countries. The New York Museum of Modern Art showed major works from the collection from 12 October 1997 to 4 November 1998 in an exhibition entitled Egon Schiele: The Leopold Collection, Vienna. Just a few days before the exhibition closed, the New York district attorney seized two paintings by Egon Schiele, Portrait of Wally Neuzil and Dead City III, in response to a claim for restitution filed by the legal successors of Lea Bondi-Jaray and Fritz Grünbaum, who stated that the pictures had been confiscated during the Nazi period. The seizure and subsequent legal dispute aroused international media interest and provided the impetus for investigating the origins of objects in the LMPF and also works owned by the Republic of Austria throughout the country, which had not been researched adequately hitherto. A direct result was the establishment in early 1998 of the Commission for Provenance Research and in November of that year the Federal Act on the Restitution of Works of Art and Other Movable Cultural Assets from Austrian Federal Museums and Collections and Other Federal Property. The Art Restitution Act, as it is called for short, did not cover the Leopold Museum's holdings, however, because it was a private foundation and a private rather than a federal legal entity. In 2003, the Leopold Museum appointed a provenance researcher to investigate the origins of the museum's holdings. The continuing high media and international interest, pending restitution claims and an escalating confrontation with the Vienna Jewish Community prompted the Federal Ministry of Education, Art and Culture to appoint two external state-financed provenance researchers in 2008 to conduct a systematic investigation of the inventory. They summed up the results of their research in subsequent years in case dossiers. An "advisory committee on the provenance of works from the collection of the Leopold Museum Private Foundation" established by Federal Minister Claudia Schmied, which held its constituting meeting on 1 March 2010, was tasked with evaluating future dossiers. Based on the Art Restitution Act, it considered whether the conditions for restitution to the original owners would have been met if the works had belonged to the State. The decisions of the advisory committee were submitted as recommendations to the board of the LMPF, which had undertaken to seek "just and fair solutions" in the meaning of the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art adopted by the Washington Conference on Holocaust Assets in 1998.

At its meeting on 25 June 2010, the advisory committee determined that three paintings by Anton Romako had been confiscated in the context of Nazi persecution and recommended their restitution to the legal successors of Oskar Reichel. At the same meeting, it concluded that Egon Schiele's House by the Sea would have been subject to return to the heirs of Jenny Steiner if it had come under the provisions of the Art Restitution Act. In a further meeting on 18 November 2010, the committee recommended the restitution of five works by Schiele to the legal successors of Karl Mayländer and two works by Romako to those of the art collector Moriz Eisler. While the seized painting Dead City III was returned to the Leopold Museum in 1999 as the claimant was not eligible as an heir, the dispute between the heirs to Bondi-Jaray and the LMPF over Portrait of Wally Neuzil was finally settled in 2010 after ten years of wrangling. In return for the payment of around 15 million euros to the legal successors of Bondi-Jaray and for the affixing additional text next to the painting referring to its confiscation by the Nazis, the LMPF was able take over the painting again in the same year. In 2011 and 2012, the LMPF board also reached an agreement on the payment of financial compensation to settle the restitution claims of the heirs of Reichel, Eisler and Steiner. In 2016 a further settlement was agreed with the legal successors of Mayländer: two of the five Schiele pictures were returned to the heirs and three remained in the Leopold Museum.

By 2020, the provenance of most of the paintings and drawings in the collection by Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka had been investigated. Based on the resulting dossiers, the advisory committee has adopted 145 decisions, published with the dossiers in question on the website of the ministry responsible. Since 2020, systematic provenance research in the Leopold Museum has been conducted by the Federal Ministry of Art, Culture, the Civil Service and Sport in close cooperation with the Commission for Provenance Research. The dossiers are presented to the Art Restitution Advisory Board for consideration and decision, with the members of the former advisory committee being consulted where necessary.

This article was written in cooperation with Sonja Niederacher.

Author Info
Publications about the person / institution

Beschlüsse des beratenden Gremiums betreffend Provenienzen von Werken aus der Sammlung der Leopold Museum – Privatstiftung sowie diesem vorgelegte Dossiers, URL: www.bmkoes.gv.at/Kunst-und-Kultur/restitution/leopold-museum-privatstiftung.html (20.9.2021).

Parnass, Sonderheft Nr. 10/1994, Die Sammlung Leopold.

Diethard Leopold, Rudolf Leopld, Kunstsammler, Wien 2003.

Rudolf Leopold, Egon Schiele. Gemälde, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen, Salzburg 1972 [Überarbeitete 2. Auflage, herausgegeben von Elisabeth Leopold unter Mitwirkung von Stefan Kutzenberger, Sonja Niederacher und Michael Wladika, Wien-München 2021].


Zeitungsberichte (Auswahl, chronologisch):

Horst Christoph, Leichen im Keller?, in: profil, 5.1.1998, 80–81.

Horst Christoph, Böse Folgen, in: profil, 12.1.1998, 75–78.

Hubertus Czernin, "Alle sind in Wien auf Leopolds Seite", in: Der Standard, 30./31.5.1998, 2.

Hubertus Czernin, The Austrian Evasion, in: ARTnews, June 1998, 112–119.

N. N., Schiele heimgekehrt, in: Die Presse, 24.9.1999, 27.

Hubertus Czernin, Im Geist des jüdischen Großbürgertums, in: Der Standard, 17.3.2000, URL: www.derstandard.at/story/190294/im-geist-des-juedischen-grossbuergertums (14.10.2021).

Thomas Trenkler, Der Raubkunstsammler, in: Der Standard, 20.11.2000, URL: www.derstandard.at/story/364702/der-raubkunstsammler-von-thomas-trenkler- (14.10.2021).

Thomas Trenkler, Kunstrückgabegesetz: Grüne fordern Novelle, in: Der Standard, 22.10.2000, URL: www.derstandard.at/story/364701/kunstrueckgabegesetz-gruene-fordern-novelle (14.10.2021).

O. Iten, Nachbeben der Arisierungen in Österreich. Jüdische Forderungen – Zwist um Kunstwerke, in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 4./5.8.2001, S. 6.

Marianne Enigl, Der Fall "Wally", in: profil, 10.7.2006, 42–43.

Sophie Lillie, Too Little, Too Late, in: ARTnews, December 2006, 136–137.

Ernst Ploil, Trifft die Leopold Museum – Privatstiftung eine Restitutionspflicht?, in: Parnass, Nr. 2/2008, 105–107.

Rudolf Lambrecht/Silke Müller, Im Schatten der Geschichte, in Stern Nr. 48/2008, 196–205.

Peter Schneeberger, "Was heißt hier antisemitisch?", in: profil, 3.3.2008, 128–132.

Thomas Trenkler, "Raubkunst bleibt Raubkunst", in: Der Standard, 9.11.2008, URL: www.derstandard.at/story/1226067160654/raubkunst-bleibt-raubkunst (14.10.2021).

Heinz Sichrovsky, Die Schlacht ums Leopold Museum, in: News Nr. 5/2009, 100–102.

Thomas Trenkler, Museum will für Wally-Deal erotische Schiele-Blätter verkaufen, in: Der Standard, 21.7.2010, URL: www.derstandard.at/story/1277338646137/plan-museum-will-fuer-wally-deal-erotische-schiele-blaetter-verkaufen (14.10.2021).

Thomas Trenkler/APA, Stiftung Leopold zahlt 19 Millionen Dollar, in: Der Standard, 21.7.2010, URL: www.derstandard.at/story/1277338571405/bildnis-wally-stiftung-leopold-zahlt-19-millionen-dollar (14.10.2021).

APA, "Bildnis Wally" seit Montag im Leopold Museum zu sehen, in: Der Standard, 23.8.2010, URL: www.derstandard.at/story/1282273378601/wien-bildnis-wally-seit-montag-im-leopold-museum-zu-sehen (14.10.2021).

Wiliam D. Cohan, The $ 19 Million Solution, in: ARTnews, September 2010, 48–49.

Thomas Trenkler, Neue Begehrlichkeiten nach Egon Schieles "Tote Stadt III", in: Kurier, 4.6.2015, URL: kurier.at/kultur/neue-begehrlichkeiten-nach-egon-schieles-tote-stadt-iii/134.313.325 (14.10.2021).

Publications by the person / institution

Magdalena Dabrowski/Rudolf Leopold, Egon Schiele. The Leopold Collection, Vienna, New York 1997, URL: assets.moma.org/documents/moma_catalogue_264_300063176.pdf?_ga=2.160130810.696376375.1635948034-2041595409.1635948034 (3.11.2021).

Rudolf Leopold/Romana Schuler (Hg.), Leopold. Meisterwerke aus dem Leopold Museum Wien, Köln 2001.

Leopold Museum – Privatstiftung (Hg.), 5 Jahre Leopold Museum. 12 Jahre Leopold Museum – Privatstiftung. Eine Zeitskizze, Wien 2006.

Leopold Museum – Privatstiftung (Hg.), 20 Jahre Leopold Museum – Privatstiftung, Wien 2014.

Tobias G. Natter/Elisabeth Leopold (Hg.), Gustav Klimt. Die Sammlung im Leopold Museum, Ostfildern 2013.

Hans-Peter Wipplinger (Hg.), 20 Jahre Leopold Museum. 2001–2021, Wien 2021.


Bundesgesetz betreffend die Finanzierung der "Sammlung Leopold", BGBl 621/1994, URL: www.ris.bka.gv.at/Dokumente/BgblPdf/1994_621_0/1994_621_0.pdf (20.9.2021).

Bundesgesetz betreffend die neue Erlassung des Bundesmuseen-Gesetzes sowie Änderung des Forschungsorganisationsgesetzes, des Bundesgesetzes zur Errichtung einer Museumsquartier-Errichtungs- und Betriebsgesellschaft und des Bundesgesetzes betreffend die Finanzierung des Erwerbs der "Sammlung Leopold", BGBl I 14/2002, URL: www.ris.bka.gv.at/Dokumente/BgblPdf/2002_14_1/2002_14_1.pdf (20.9.2021).

Bundesrecht konsolidiert: Gesamte Rechtsvorschrift für Finanzierung des Erwerbs der "Sammlung Leopold", URL: www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung.wxe?Abfrage=Bundesnormen&Gesetzesnummer=10004872 (20.9.2021).

Leopold Museum, Archiv Rudolf Leopold.