Auctions News Market Austria

Mysterious portfolio of watercolours by Schiele turns out to be mostly fakes

While Austrian newspapers report on the discovery of early works in an attic, we have the real story

The Austrian press went into overdrive last month after reports emerged that a portfolio purportedly by the artist Egon Schiele was discovered in an attic in Mistelbach, 40km northeast of Vienna. But, according to the New York-based Schiele expert Jane Kallir, who was asked to authenticate the portfolio, this story is “totally inaccurate”.

In December, Austrian newspapers reported that a 38-year-old man made a lucky discovery while rummaging through his father’s estate. Among the discarded objects in the attic, he found a portfolio signed by Schiele containing pictures and texts. “It includes motifs that [Schiele] had never painted before,” the man told the Austrian tabloid Heute. Kallir inspected the portfolio and found it to be genuine, said local reports.

But Kallir, who published the first Schiele catalogue raisonné in 1990, was already familiar with the collection. “In 1986, I was shown the portfolio by a Viennese dealer,” Kallir tells The Art Newspaper. “It contained three authentic early Schiele watercolours but the rest of the portfolio was, in my opinion, fake. Somebody had evidently taken these three early (and not particularly important) works and pasted them into a larger complex of images including what I believe to be a fake self-portrait and fake pages of Schiele poetry in order to make the early works more interesting.” Kallir published the three watercolours in her 1990 catalogue raisonné and again in 1998, “with the notation that they are affixed within this dubious portfolio”, she says.

When Kallir was in Vienna in October last year, she was approached by a collector who wanted to know if the portfolio was real. The collector had acquired it from a friend in payment of a debt, he told her. “I have no idea where the story about the attic comes from,” she says.

Now, two of the three watercolours, Garten mit Baum, 1907, and Segelschiff mit Spiegelungen, 1907, will go to auction at Bonham’s London on 4 February. Both works have an estimate of £30,00 to £50,000. “This means they have finally been removed from the portfolio, which is what should have been done,” Kallir says.

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