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Portrait of Wally
by Kathryn Loggins

This documentary chronicles the harrowing tale of a seemingly inconsequential Egon Schiele painting that rattled the hearts of thousands of people. A companion piece to one of Schiele’s self-portraits, the “Portrait of Wally” is a well-known commodity in the art world. Given as a personal gift from the artist himself to his friend and art collector Lea Bondi, she was the rightful owner of the painting. This precious gift however, was seized by the Nazis in 1939 - a very common thing to happen to Jewish and party-opposing homes during that time. After the war ended the painting was turned over to the Austrian National Gallery from which Lea Bondi tried to retrieve it asking the help of Rudolph Leopold – an art collector and later director of the Leopold museum. Rudolph claimed the painting for himself, thus continuing the struggle to get the painting into the hands of the rightful owner. When the MOMA in New York City displayed the “Portrait of Wally” among other works by Schiele in an exhibit in 1997, an article in the New York Times revealed the painting’s true origin and caused uproar. The painting was practically held hostage at the museum while the heirs of Lea Bondi tried tirelessly to win back their ownership.  A settlement was eventually reached between Rudolph Leopold and the Bondi estate, but not until 2010. The film tells of the emotional journey of Lea Bondi and her friends and family members to claim back what was rightfully theirs. The various odds that they faced are sometimes infuriating and unfathomable, but the film also shows also a beautiful story about standing up for what you believe in and the meaning of triumph.

After the film was shown there was a panel discussion at the festival that included Andrew Shea, the director of the film. It was clear to the audience that this film was a personal and emotional journey for Shea himself. The deep emotion that this story evoked within him and the people he collaborated with was the drive of the film. He was very excited to be showing the film to audiences and making the story of the Bondi family and their struggle known.  Of course there are numerous cases of plundered artifacts and paintings that do not get the kind of attention or the chance of a legal process that the Portrait of Wally received. However there is much more being done to thoroughly research the history of artifacts and paintings since this case made it into the spotlight. There are also certain Nazi archives that used to be sealed, but are now open for viewing because of the Wally case. The struggle to return plundered objects to their rightful owners will go on for years to come, but Andrew Shea has shown in his film that there is hope and justice even in the toughest of cases.