Stedelijk: Painting by Kandinsky handed over to the heirs of Jewish former owners

News — 27 Feb 2022

Today the painting Bild mit Häusern by Wassily Kandinsky has been transferred to the heirs of the Jewish former owners. The painting has been the subject of a dispute between the municipality of Amsterdam and the heirs. The Restitutions Committee ruled in 2018 in a binding opinion that the municipality was not obliged to restitution. In 2021, the municipality decided to enter into consultation with the heirs in order to arrive at a settlement agreement that would lead to the restitution of the painting. The painting Bild mit Häusern has hung in the Stedelijk Museum until today and has now been handed over to the heirs.

Wassily Kandinsky, Bild mit Häusern, 1909, oil on canvas

The heirs and the municipality have, on the basis of mutual respect, reached a settlement agreement. This morning the painting Bild mit Häusern was handed over, in the presence of Deputy Mayor Touria Meliani (Art and Culture), James Palmer (founder of Mondex Corporation) on behalf of the heirs and Rein Wolfs (director Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam).

The expressionist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was an important pioneer of abstraction in the visual arts. The painting Bild mit Häusern, made in 1909, shows a figure in a colourful, abstracted landscape. The work was part of the permanent collection presentation of the Stedelijk Museum.

The municipality and the heirs agree that the restitution does justice to the principle of returning works of art that were involuntarily removed from possession during the Second World War due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime to heirs of the then owners where possible.

Deputy Mayor Touria Meliani (Art and Culture): As a city, we bear a great responsibility for dealing with the indescribable suffering and injustice inflicted on the Jewish population in the Second World War. To the extent that anything can be restored, we as a society have a moral duty to act accordingly. This certainly applies to the many works of art that were in the possession of Jewish citizens and were looted by Nazis or were otherwise lost to the owners.

James Palmer (Mondex Corporation): Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in the journey of the Lewenstein family to achieve the justice, dignity and respect that they have been rightfully seeking for so many years, which was made possible with the help of Mayor Femke Halsema, Deputy Mayor Touria Meliani, former Minister of Culture Ms Ingrid van Engelshoven, Senator Boris Dittrich, Professor Axel Hagedorn, Mr Simon van der Sluijs and Dr Waldemar de Boer, as well as many others who also made very important contributions. The Netherlands can be proud that the new restitution guidelines of its Kohnstamm Committee has established a viable and exemplary framework to find just and fair solutions for claimants and may serve as an example to which other countries can aspire to achieve.

Rein Wolfs (Stedelijk Museum): Today the Stedelijk bids farewell to ‘Bild mit Häusern’ by Wassily Kandinsky. This farewell marks an important moment in Dutch restitution policy, following the recommendations of the Kohnstamm Committee. At the same time, it is also a farewell with melancholy for the museum, because the painting was such an important link in our historically grown collection, loved by our visitors.

RUN-UP TO RETURN In 2013, the heirs of the former owners submitted an application for restitution of the painting Bild mit Häusern. In 2013, the heirs and the municipality submitted the case to the Restitutions Committee for a binding opinion. In 2018, the Restitutions Committee ruled that the municipality was not obliged to restitution. The heirs raised this binding opinion in proceedings before the courts. In 2020, the Kohnstamm Committee, set up by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science to evaluate the restitution policy, published the report Striving for justice. The Kohnstamm Committee recommended, among other things, that a new assessment framework be established. In February 2021, the municipality endorsed the conclusions of the Kohnstamm committee and announced that it would enter into consultation with the heirs of the owners of the Kandinsky. The municipality and the heirs both consider it plausible that, in the event of a reassessment of the application, the Restitutions Committee would recommend restitution of the painting, on the basis of the fact-finding investigation already carried out and the new assessment framework. The municipality and the heirs subsequently concluded a settlement agreement, with the result that the municipality proceeded to restitute the work of art today.