While Lauder, who chairs the Commission for Art Recovery, has been active in the restitution movement since the 1980s, other restitution advocates and scholars have said his own practices with respect to detailing the provenance of works in the Neue Galerie and his private collection have not been as transparent as they could be. The museum, which in recent months has hired additional experts to research items in the collection and is overhauling its website to provide more details on their provenance, recently discovered a work in its collection with a disputed provenance. Commission for Art Recovery president Agnes Peresztegi, an expert on Holocaust-era property claims who has been examining the museum's holdings, would say only that the "Neue Galerie is in the process of evaluating the provenance information of an artwork, and discussion about restitution is currently ongoing."
According to Peresztegi, the Neue Galerie decided six or seven years ago not to display transfer dates until a full provenance for a work became available. Under its new policy, the museum will post provenance information as it becomes available and is repairing a link between the gallery's database and website that has been broken for nearly two years.
Lauder told the Times that over the years he has returned three works from his personal collection because of concerns over their rightful ownership. A lawyer for heirs of Fritz Grünbaum, who was murdered by the Nazis, said Lauder's representatives stonewalled when he sought the return of a drawing by Egon Schiele, while Marc Masurovsky, a co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, said his group has long sought to assess Lauder's private collection but was told that Lauder was unwilling to participate.
While this appears to be the first time that Lauder has been faced with the prospect of returning a work held by the Neue Galerie, which specializes in German and Austrian art created between 1890 and 1940, he has faced criticism for not doing enough as a board member of the Museum of Modern Art to return works that others have claimed were looted by the Nazis. Lauder has said that he worked behind the scenes to push the museum to consider the claims fairly.
"If you asked me a year ago, 'Do we have everything there?' I would have said yes, because that is what I was told," Lauder said of the Neue Galerie's provenance research at the time. "I was told there were no questions about the pieces we had....I am not happy, because I think we should have had more information, and we are doing it."