Charity raises more that £550,000 from “unexpected” legacy

Sight loss charity the Vision Foundation has benefitted unexpectedly from a bequest that was made almost 50 years ago.

Irma Löwenstein Austin left the majority of her estate to the charity, in its former guise as the Greater London Fund for the Blind, when she died in April 1976.

Irma and her first husband, Oscar Löwenstein, had been prominent members of the Jewish community in Vienna in the 1920s and 1930s, and owned an extensive art collection. However, when they fled Austria to escape Nazi persecution in 1938, they were forced to leave much of it behind.

Sadly, Oscar died shortly after arriving in the UK and Irma later remarried, outliving her second husband and also having no heir.

Her efforts to reclaim her lost art collection were initially blocked by the Soviet authorities that partly administered Vienna between 1945 and 1955 and, although she was later able to retrieve some items, much remained missing.

However, in 2018, staff at the Vision Foundation heard that three paintings belonging to the Löwenstein collection, by the 19th-century artist Ferdinand Waldmüller, had been identified in German museums and, as the beneficiaries of Irma’s will, the charity had rights of restitution.

Two of the pictures were sold at auction in Vienna at the end of last year for €383,900 (£330,000) with the third, entitled The Compassionate Child (The Beggar), selling this week at the Dorotheum auction house in the Austrian capital for €240,000 (£207,000).

Olivia Curno, chief executive of the Vision Foundation, said:

“Legacies are vital to the foundation and this one, which brings with it such a powerful story of loss, is particularly poignant, as well of course as being hugely generous and quite unexpected.

“The funds raised by these three paintings will help us to deliver projects which empower people, educate employers, and change policy and public attitudes.
“Without Irma’s generous decision nearly 50 years ago, we wouldn’t be in a position to deliver this vital work.”

Law firm Charles Russell Speechlys and art advisory experts Cadell + Co, both working pro bono, helped the charity with the recovery of the three paintings.

(Pic credit: Dorotheum auction house)


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