Mahler portrait is stolen

Mahler portrait is stolen


norman lebrecht

July 23, 2015

We reported yesterday that a portrait of Gustav Mahler, inscribed by him to Arnold Schoenberg, had been put up for sale on ebay. The ownership looked a bit suspicious. It now appears to be decidedly questionable.

We have received the following message from Larry Schoenberg, the composer’s son:

‘It is clear to me that the photograph was taken from our father’s legacy. My father did not give it away, my father did not sell it, my mother did not give it away and she did not sell it. We, his children did not give it away nor did we sell it. My sister, Nuria Nono remembers it well in our father’s study and discovered that there were only empty frames at the Schoenberg Institute at USC. She disclosed this to the archivist and later again to the archivist at the Schoenberg Center in Vienna.

‘If someone had purchased it or received it as a gift would they not display it prominently rather than stuffing into a drawer?

‘Anyone interested can gather more information by reading Randy’s blog.

Randy is E Randol Schoenberg, a Los Angeles attorney specialising in restitution, and star of the Helen Mirren film, Woman in Gold (below). This file will doubtless be on his desk this morning.


There might be a case for charging ebay with the sale of stolen goods.


  • RW2013 says:

    Film sequel to “Woman in Gold”? (hopefully with a better director)

  • Clifford Fraser says:

    How can Slipped Disk call this article “Mahler portrait is stolen?” The comments by Larry Schoenberg in no way demonstrate a theft has taken place. He is simply making conjectures. Why does this article say that my ownership is decidedly in question? Larry Schoenberg admits that he has never before seen the portrait. How can this person’s assumptions hold such weight? Is it because he is the son of a great composer and therefore he is beyond reproach. And what does his nephew’s new movie have to do with anything? I appeal to the editor of this article to please reconsider this post. I have never lied or used deception when dealing with the Schoenbergs. Thank you for your consideration.

    • Clifford Fraser says:

      One last comment: my grandfather did not stuff it in a drawer, he placed it in a frame.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      It is not suggested that you lied or obtained the portrait by deception. There is, however, a problem with its earlier provenance. It was owned by the Schoenberg family, none of whom sold or gave it away.

      • Clifford Fraser says:

        There is no evidence that the portrait was ever in their possession. How can they speak for their father’s actions before any of them were born?

        • Larry Schoenberg says:

          In fact what is important to me is to discover who and when someone took items from my father’s legacy. He was very careful to retain everything in order. After he died in 1951, my mother did the same. We, his three children, donated his archives to USC when they established the Arnold Schoenberg Institute in 1974. We later transferred the entire contents of his legacy to Vienna when USC, in effect, evicted us –the USC administration publicly stating that “we were not getting enough bang for the buck”. What is important to me is to find out who took some Moses and Aron sketches, who took two Schoenberg drawings that were being exhibited at the USC Fisher Gallery (incidentally they were removed from their frames just as the Mahler photograph had been), who took the Kokoschka crayon drawing that was hanging in our house among other items.

          What makes you think that I had never seen or heard of the Mahler photograph before 2012? My sister did, in fact, see the photograph in our home in Los Angeles. She did, in fact mention that it was missing to the archivist at USC. There are others that could have seen it in my father’s study including Robert Craft, Richard Hoffmann, Norman Lloyd, David Raksin, Josef Rufer, Leonard Stein, Jan Maagard, Mitzi Kolisch … unfortunately, many of them are deceased and others, like your grandmother, are elderly with fragile memories.

          I am not sure what is the relevance your statement: the archivist at USC has no recollection of your sister looking for the inscribed picture. Are you talking about Clara Steuermann, Jerry McBride or Wayne Shoaf? They all were archivists at the Institute. If one of them said to you that they did not recall that my sister inquired about the photograph, that would only mean that they did not recall a conversation. That would not be entirely surprising since obviously, they had not seen the photograph – they had only seen the empty frame.

          I will post a chronology that will illustrate why your version of how the photograph’s journey from our home in Los Angeles to your grandfather’s house “buried in the back of the boiler room” in is not possible.

          • Clifford Fraser says:

            So, after going back and forth for over two years, you, Larry Schoenberg, now remember the picture. In one of our fist conversations, you stated “ I am not aware of the picture.” You may want to read our original emails. You mention a bunch of items allegedly stolen from USC. The Mahler picture wasn’t on the 1974 Sonja Lane inventory, it never made it to USC. Also, you ask which archivist has discredited your sister’s story. The only archivist Nuria specifically claims to have spoken to about the photo’s disappearance. Read your nephews blog.

            I will save you the trouble of constructing a chronological time line. Using only documented evidence, and excluding your sister Nuria’s claim, leaves only one logical conclusion; Mahler gives the picture to Schoenberg in 1907, Schoenberg gives the document to Schmid in Berlin between 1912 and 1915, Schmid brings the picture to Brooklyn in 1936, Schmid gives the picture to my grandfather in 1958 who brings it to California, I discover it in 2012.

            Lastly, you have named a number of people that you claim may now remember the picture. You have had over two years to mention these sources but instead you waited for today. Although, Im sure if they are friends of yours they would be more than willing to support your claim.

  • Larry Schoenberg says:

    Thank you for saving me the trouble of presenting you with a chronology that would demonstrate how absurd your conjectures regarding how the photograph went from our home to your home.
    Enough with this nonsense!

  • Clifford Fraser says:

    I believe it is important for the public to be able to examine the claims made by the Schoenbergs and the events that they say prove the photograph’s theft.
    Nuria remembers seeing the photograph in her father’s Brentwood study in the early 1950’s, prior to her prompt move to Europe. Her brother Larry, who has no memory of the picture, resides in their father’s home where he still lives to this day. At some point, the Schoenbergs suggest that their mother lends the picture to some unknown exhibition and makes no record of it. In 1974 Sonja Lane makes an inventory list of the Schoenberg collection which does not include the photograph. Despite this, in the late 1980’s Nuria returns to California in search for the picture in the USC archives. Unable to find it, she informs the Archivist in charge, who has no recollection of the conversation. Furthermore, Nuria does not request a police report or leaves any form of writing documentation about the events, nor the whereabouts of the photograph. Next, instead of going to her brother Larry, who still lives in the home where she remembers last seeing it, she keeps the information to her self for 25 years and ultimately tells her story after my discovery.
    Regarding Nuria’s claim to have seen the photograph in her father’s Brentwood study, there is conflicting evidence. On the Arnold Schoenberg Center website there are over a Thousand photographs of the Brentwood home. Fifteen of these photographs are of Schoenberg’s study. The Mahler photograph is no where to be found. The Schoenbergs’ claim that the item in question was one of their father’s prized possessions, although it has managed to evade the camera and people’s memory.
    The Schoenbergs’ claim that their mother would never sell nor give away the photograph, but also state that she lent it to some unknown party without documenting ownership, purpose of use, or time it should be returned. Is this not what someone does when giving something away? Regardless, there would be a record of the photograph if it where displayed at an exhibition or a museum. An item of such importance would have been showcased. The item, however, is neither mentioned nor appears in any magazine, article, or journal.
    Lastly, Nuria claims to have noticed the photograph missing when searching the archives at USC. Despite that fact that the archivist has no memory of this claim, is it not reasonable to think Nuria would ask her brother Larry about the picture’s whereabouts? Larry was still living in their father’s Brentwood home, the location Nuria remembers last seeing it, which is right down the street from USC.
    I would also like to add that Larry Schoenberg lists a number of items that have disappeared from the Schoenberg collection. These items are well documented as being in Schoenberg’s possession, their disappearance is documented, and are nowhere near as significant as the item in question.

  • Van Howell says:

    Just for the hell of it I searched for “Gustav Mahler” in Google News, wonder what sort of news the guy might be making these days. I got pulled in by the comments, and after reading everything by everyone, I’ve ended up with no opinion, but I can offer an analogy. Circa 1910, my uncle and Enrico Caruso happened to be in the same doctor’s waiting room. Caruso did a nice pencil doodle of my uncle (with musical notes pouring out of his mouth), signed it, and gave it to him. It’s now somewhere in the house, and I’m responsible for it — but I don’t actually know where it is, and it’s quite possible it will fall through the cracks before it gets passed on to the next generation. It’s a treasured heirloom, but treasured heirlooms can go astray. And if I were struggling with debts (as Arnold S. allegedly was), I probably wouldn’t sell it but I might give it to a creditor who I trusted would appreciate it (although my uncle, an amateur singer, was not famous outside our family). A signed original drawing is certainly more of a treasure than a photograph, although of course the combination of Mahler and Schoenberg means far more to the world than the combination of Caruso and my uncle. I guess if there is any conclusion to be reached from this analogy, it’s just that I can imagine both sides are telling the truth, or at least sincerely believe they are.