[THIS IS AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THE ORIGINAL DUTCH ARTICLE “Erven Lewenstein vorderen topstuk Kandinsky van Stedelijk” PUBLISHED ON THE NRC.NL WEBSITE ON OCTOBER 29, 2020] (https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2020/10/29/erven-lewenstein-vorderen-topstuk-kandinsky-van-stedelijk-a4017924)
Restitution dispute A negative recommendation about the restitution of an important work of the Stedelijk Museum is disputed in a lawsuit by descendants of the original owner.
Wassily Kandinsky, Image mit Häusern , 1909.Photo collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
One of the highlights of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the painting Bild mit Häusern (1909) by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, was claimed at the Amsterdam court on Thursday morning. This was done by the Lewenstein heirs, descendants of the previous owner. They brought proceedings against the current owners, the municipality of Amsterdam and the Stedelijk Museum.
The plaintiffs want to use the procedure to ensure that a binding recommendation from the Restitutions Committee is declared null and void. This committee, which advises on the restitution of art looted by the Nazis, ruled in 2018 that the heirs were not entitled to a return.
The family is said to have sold the painting in October 1940 due to its deteriorated financial circumstances. According to the committee, there was no question of forced sale due to the war circumstances, a reason for restitution. Moreover, according to the committee, the work would not be of emotional importance to the heirs and would be of greater value to the Stedelijk Museum.
The plaintiffs argued in court on Thursday morning that the Stedelijk Museum was not acting in good faith in the acquisition. Prior to the auction where the museum bought the painting, the museum made price agreements with another bidder.
The plaintiffs also argued that the Restitutions Committee created the appearance of partiality and a conflict of interest. Various members of the committee are said to have a special relationship with the Stedelijk. They should have changed themselves according to the claimants. According to the municipality’s lawyer, the Restitutions Committee has fulfilled its task properly.
The advice in the Lewenstein case has been internationally criticized. The committee’s balancing of interests would be in complete conflict with the Washington Principles, the international agreements on looted art. So said Stuart Eizenstat, the US Secretary of State who helped draft these rules. The Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote in response to the advice that the painting was “Too good to give back”.
The court pronounces judgment on December 16. Both parties can then still appeal.