Dutch Museum Returns Kandinsky Painting Worth Millions To Jewish Heirs After They Sold It To Escape Nazis During WWII
A museum in Amsterdam has returned a Kandinsky painting worth millions to the descendants of its Jewish owners who had to sell it under duress to escape the Nazis during World War II.
The handover of the ‘Bild mit Haeusern’ (‘Picture with Houses’, 1909) by the famous Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), who was born in Moscow and who died in Paris, took place yesterday (Monday, 28th February).
The handover is the result of a lengthy dispute started in 2013, between the municipality of Amsterdam and the heirs of the paintings Jewish owners, who sold it at auction under duress during World War II.
The Jewish couple, named as Robert Lewenstein and his wife Irma Klein, had inherited the oil painting, along with other works such as paintings by Renoir, Van Gogh and Rembrandt but they had no choice but to sell it off in October 1940 when they fled Adolf Hitler’s war machine a few months after the Nazis marched on the Netherlands.
The painting was bought by the director at the time of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, David Roell, who purchased the painting for a fraction of its value. It had remained in the permanent collection of the museum until now.
The Dutch newspaper Het Parool said that the director had paid “a pittance” for the painting at the time, some 160 guilders, compared to its value, then estimated to be between 2000 and 3000 guilders.
The heirs of the family, who have not been named, launched a complaint with the authorities in 2013, but the Dutch Restitutions Committee, which decides who the rightful owners are in cases of artefacts looted during the Nazi occupation, rejected the complaint.
So they then went to the Amsterdam District Court in 2020 but they were also snubbed by them too, after being told that “serious defects did not exist in the investigation” that had been conducted by the Dutch Restitutions Committee.
The heirs appealed and a second committee that the government of the Netherlands set up in 2020 reversed course and argued that the case needed to be re-evaluated, and this led to new talks between the Jewish heirs and the municipality of Amsterdam.
Marit van Kooij, a spokesperson for Amsterdam deputy mayor Touria Meliani, reportedly said: “Part of the agreement with them is that there is no further litigation in the matter.”
Deputy mayor Meliani said in a statement: “As a city, we bear a great responsibility for dealing with the indescribable suffering and injustice inflicted on the Jewish population in World War II.”
She added: “To the extent that anything can be restored, we as a society have a moral duty to act accordingly.”
The Nazis deported over 100,000 Jews from the Netherlands to concentration camps during World War II. Most of them lived in Amsterdam.
Kandinsky is widely considered to have been one of the pioneers of modern abstract art and his paintings now command bids in the millions of euros at auction these days.