Who ya gonna call? Randol Schoenberg

KlimtAnne-Marie O'Connor had a good piece on Monday's LAT front page about the Los Angeles lawyer who is about to recover a Gustav Klimt portrait looted by the Nazis in Austria in 1938. Randol Schoenberg remembered seeing the painting in a Vienna museum when he was a child. He devoted the last seven years to its return on behalf of a Cheviot Hills woman whose family owned the Klimt. His law partners told him it was a losing cause, so Schoenberg started his own firm.

Arbitrators in Austria recently ruled that five Klimts, possibly worth $200 million, should be returned—"one of the most valuable Nazi art restitutions ever."

For Schoenberg kinetic, restless and intense, with the boundless snap of a Spencer Tracy character the case is far more than a simple legal wrangle, it's an obsession.

He pulls art tomes out of bookshelves at his cluttered West Los Angeles office and points to paintings and sepia photographs of the people who lived this drama. To him, the paintings are a link to the legendary lost world his family and Altmann's shared in the early 1900s, when Vienna rivaled Paris in music, art and intellectual life.

Schoenberg's paternal grandfather, a contemporary of Klimt and Freud, was known for his atonal works: brooding, deeply psychological compositions that then seemed shockingly experimental. His maternal grandfather, composer Eric Zeisl, was born into this world. Adele Bloch-Bauer presided over intellectual salons where Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss mingled with artists and social reformers. When the 1907 Klimt portrait made her a celebrity, people whispered that she and Klimt were lovers.

Such stories were the heartbeat of family lore. This deep sense of destiny turned Schoenberg into an understudy of history, a man ready for the right role to come along.

His paternal grandfather was the heralded Vienna-born composer Arnold Schoenberg, who fled the Nazis in 1933 and immigrated to Los Angeles. How important a Los Angeles figure did he become? How about concert halls named for him at both UCLA and USC.


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