December 16, 2020
Kandinsky’s Bild mit Häusern
An Amsterdam court has decided to uphold an earlier decision by the Restitution Committee not to return the painting Bild mit Häusern by Wassily Kandinsky to the heirs of former owner Robert Lewenstein, despite a recent report slating the committee’s work.
The family and the Amsterdam local authorities, which own the painting, have been locked in a battle over ownership since 2012. The Lewenstein family claims the painting, which is part of the Stedelijk Museum collection, may have been sold by family heirs under duress and therefore classified as looted art.
In 2018 the Restitution Commission, which evaluates whether or not art was parted with unwillingly, found that the Amsterdam authorities, which bought the painting for €160 guilders in 1940, had acted in good faith. That decision, which took four years to reach, has now been upheld although no new investigation has taken place into whether or not the painting can be classified as stolen.
The commission said at the time financial problems had underpinned the decision to sell, something the family disputes. It claims it is unclear how the painting ended up at auction.
Conflict of interest
The claim by the heirs that the committee was prejudiced – four out of seven members have ties with the Stedelijk Museum – and that this presented a conflict of interests was also dismissed by the court which said the family should have made their objections clear before the 2018 decision.
However, the judge also upheld the committee’s decision that the Stedelijk Museum had the bigger claim because the painting ‘has an important art historical value and forms an essential link in the museum’s limited collection of works by Kandinsky’.
This is in marked contrast with a recent report on the work of the Restitution Committee which stated it ‘was wrong on principle to weigh the interests of museums when it comes to looted art’. The committee’s decision-making process was also described as ‘extremely opaque’.
‘This is a complete abuse of the rights of Holocaust victims and is completely unacceptable. Accordingly, we will immediately appeal this flawed decision,’ the heirs’ representative James Palmer told DutchNews.nl.
Alex Hagedorn, who also represents the family, said the court had chosen to ignore the findings of the Kohnstamm commission. ’The Lewenstein family are appealing the decision in this area to get the justice which victims of the Holocaust deserve,’ Hagedorn said.