Tribeca Film Festival
SilverDocs Documentary Festival
Toronto Jewish Film Festival
“As detailed in Andrew Shea’s fascinating documentary “Portrait of Wally,”Egon Schiele ‘s haunting 1912 painting of his mistress and favorite model Wally Neuzil had a complicated, extremely dramatic history as well as a legal and cultural significance that can’t be overestimated… By showing how difficult and problematic righting a wrong can turn out to be, “Portrait of Wally” does itself proud.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
“Works like a suspense drama! A painting’s provenance matters, and so does this portrait of ‘Portrait of Wally.’” – Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
“[A] bombshell! ‘Portrait of Wally’ isn’t just about stolen art: It’s about cultural skulduggery, political sleaze, institutional hypocrisy and the virtues of persistence.” – John Anderson in Variety
“A cinematic masterwork about a painted masterpiece.” – E. Nina Rothe, Huffington Post
“An ace legal thriller, spinning a web of shame that snags everything from the Austrian government to America’s most beloved not-for-profits.” – Eric Hynes in Time Out New York
“A surprisingly engaging account of a landmark case that shook up the art world.” – indieWire
“Portrait Of Wally tells a gripping story.” – Onion’s AV Club
“A serpentine thriller” – Graham Fuller in ARTINFO
“An energetic retelling of a tale well worth hearing!” – George Robinson in Jewish Week
“Portrait of Wally, a testament to art’s baffling ability to somehow encapsulate everything and nothing of life at once, deserves to be one of the docs that breaks into the American pop consciousness this year.” – Chuck Bowen in Slant Magazine
“Portrait of Wally”, Egon Schiele’s tender picture of his mistress, Walburga (“Wally”) Neuzil, is the pride of the Leopold Museum in Vienna. But for 13 years the painting was locked up in New York, caught in a legal battle between the Austrian museum and the Jewish family from whom the Nazis seized the painting in 1939.
PORTRAIT OF WALLY traces the history of this iconic image – from Schiele’s gesture of affection toward his young lover, to the theft of the painting from Lea Bondi, a Jewish art dealer fleeing Vienna for her life, to the post-war confusion and subterfuge that evoke THE THIRD MAN, to the surprise resurfacing of “Wally” on loan to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan in 1997.
The “Wally” case brought the story of Nazi art loot into the open, eventually forcing museums in Europe and the U.S. to search their own collections for suspect objects. Many museums ended up returning art to Jewish families who had abandoned hope until “Wally” showed that institutions could be held accountable for holding property stolen during the Holocaust. The case was resolved in dramatic fashion in the summer of 2010, but only after the history of Schiele’s extraordinary painting was unearthed to revisit the crimes of the Holocaust and to witness the reluctance of major institutions in Europe and New York to send the “last prisoners of war” back to their families.
More about the film
“Portrait of Wally”, Egon Schiele’s tender picture of his mistress, Valerie Neuzil, is the pride of the Leopold Museum in Vienna. But until last year the 1912 painting was locked up in New York, caught in a legal battle between the Austria museum and the Jewish family from whom the Nazis seized the painting in 1939.
The documentary PORTRAIT OF WALLY traces the history of this iconic image – from Schiele’s gesture of affection toward his young lover, to the theft of the painting from Lea Bondi, a Jewish art dealer fleeing Vienna for her life, to the post-war confusion and subterfuge that evoke THE THIRD MAN, to the surprise resurfacing of “Wally” on loan to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan in 1997.
In 1997, when the heirs of art dealer Lea Bondi asked MoMA to hold the painting in New York, the Museum and the Leopold Museum dug in their heels and refused. District Attorney Robert Morgenthau issued a subpoena and launched a criminal investigation. A 13-year battle in court followed, tracking the course of a Holocaust property crime and reopening the wounds of one of the century’s worst tragedies – all at a time when the prices of Egon Schiele’s works rose faster than those of any painter on the art market.
Schiele collector Ronald Lauder found himself caught between several loyalties – he was chairman of MoMA and the founder of the Commission for Art Recovery, an organization committed to returning looted art to the Jews who lost it to the Nazis. Lauder sided with the Museum, and against the Jewish family. So did all the museums in New York – even the Jewish Museum.
The “Wally” base brought the story of Nazi art loot into the open, eventually forcing museums in Europe and the U.S. to search their own collections for suspect objects. Many museums ended up returning art to Jewish families who had abandoned hope until “Wally” showed that institutions could be held accountable for holding property stolen during the Holocaust.
Last summer, thirteen years after “Wally” was spotted on loan at MoMA, the Leopold Foundation paid $19 million in compensation to Lea Bondi’s heirs. (“Wally” was valued at $1 million in 1997.) The picture went back to Vienna, but only after its history was unearthed to revisit the crimes of the Holocaust and to witness the reluctance of major institutions in Europe and New York to send the “last prisoners of war” back to their families.
PORTRAIT OF WALLY the documentary takes you on that journey. The 13-year war over “Wally” was more than a dispute over property stolen from Jews during the Holocaust. It was a battle over history and memory. This time, the truth won.
ANDREW SHEA is a versatile, award-winning director and screenwriter who has enjoyed success in film, television and theatre. His films have premiered at several of the most prestigious and selective film festivals in the world: the Cannes Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, The Tribeca Film Festival and the South by Southwest Film Festival.
As one critic put it, life teaches the characters in Andrew’s films a whole new set of three R’s: Ruin, Revenge, and Redemption. Santa Fe, starring Gary Cole, Lolita Davidovich and Tina Majorino, explores the destructive allure of cults; The Corndog Man, featuring Noble Willingham (nominated for an Independent Spirit Best Actor award for his performance) as a boat salesman haunted by the past, explores the connection between torment and regret; Forfeit, starring Billy Burke, Sherry Stringfield, Gregory Itzin and Wayne Knight, is at once a heist caper, a psychological thriller and a modern morality tale of reckoning and revelation; Take My Breath Away, the story of a condemned inmate who sells the rights to film his execution in the California gas chamber as a music video, was one of two American shorts that were invited to screen in the International Critics Week of the 1993 Cannes Film Festival.
Andrew is a native of New York City, which is the principal location of his most recent release, Portrait of Wally, a documentary about a Nazi-looted painting by Egon Schiele that was discovered on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art in 1997, triggering a historic court battle that pitted the Manhattan District Attorney, the United States Government and the heirs of a Viennese gallery owner against a major Austrian museum and MoMA. Portrait of Wally premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, 2012 and went on to play to excellent notices across North America.
Andrew and his wife, film editor Melissa Shea, live in Austin with their two children. Andrew is a tenured associate professor in the department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin.
Reviews & Articles
The Association for Research into Crimes Against Art’s 3-part series on Portrait of Wally. They took an expert in-depth look at the film and the story of the painting here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
“If you thought a film about a painting could not possibly be as exciting as an action thriller, think again! Portrait of Wally will change your mind, with twists and turns to rival a James Bond caper, and a cast of characters that can put any detective fiction work to shame.” – E. Nina Rothe in Huffington Post
“A fascinating story… You leave the film haunted by the blurry black-and-white footage of a peaceful, stylish prewar Vienna; and by the words, used by one of the film’s narrators, speaking of works looted by Nazis and never returned to their owners: ‘They had an interest,’ he says of the art world, ‘in closing their eyes.’” – Moira Mcdonald, Seattle Times
“Fascinating and frighteningly revelatory!” – David Noh, Film Journal International
“More like an edge of your seat thriller than a documentary about an early Expressionist portrait.” – E. Nina Rothe, Huffington Post
“More like an edge of your seat thriller than a documentary about an early Expressionist portrait.” – Nora Lee Mandel, Film-Forward
“A more vital and immediate experience than even The Rape of Europa.” – Trust Movies
“Remarkable- Riveting… Part whodunit complete with fascinating sleuthing, and part morality tale- An astonishing and informative film.” – The Jewish Daily Forward feature story by Tom Freudenheim.
“8 out of 10!” – Pop Matters
Art and Idolatry in Austria by Alex Joffe, Jewish Ideas Daily
Egon Schiele – Wikipedia Page
Portrait of Wally in The Huffington Post
Association of Art Museum Directors Position Paper on Restitution of Nazi-Looted Works
The New York Times, “Museums Call for System To Address Nazi Booty,” February 5, 1998
The New Yorker, “A Critic at Large; Tunnel Vision,” November 10, 1997