A federal magistrate has blocked the Museum of Modern Art from sending back to Austria a painting that may have been stolen by Nazis from its Jewish owner.
The move came hours after a state court said that Egon Schiele's "Portrait of Wally" could be returned.
It was not known whether a seizure warrant also would be sought for "Dead City III," a second Schiele painting whose origin has been questioned.
On Tuesday, the state's highest court cleared the way for the paintings to be returned to the Leopold Foundation of Vienna. The New York Court of Appeals threw out a subpoena for the works, saying museum art was immune from seizure in criminal or civil proceedings. The museum argued that it was contractually obligated to return the paintings.
The paintings were among more than 100 loaned to the museum. Three days after the exhibit ended last year, Henry Bondi of Princeton, N.J., Kathleen Rief of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Rita Rief of New York City filed claims saying the paintings had been taken from their relatives when Germany annexed Austria in 1938.
Leopold Foundation board member Elisabeth Leopold said the board was positive that both paintings were legitimate acquisitions and that both had to be returned.
The paintings were collected by Rudolf Leopold, who sold them to the Austrian government in 1993 and has argued that they were legally acquired.
While the Museum of Modern Art successfully fought the state, it will take a back seat this time. "The Leopold Foundation must now take the lead in ownership issues," museum officials said in a statement.
CAPTION: Egon Schiele's "Portrait of Wally."