Het Parool: Amsterdam: looking again at the restitution of Kandinsky painting from Stedelijk

[THIS IS AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THE ORIGINAL DUTCH ARTICLE “Amsterdam: ‘opnieuw kijken naar teruggave schilderij Kandinsky uit Stedelijk” PUBLISHED ON HET PAROOL ON FEBRUARY 19, 2021]


The City of Amsterdam wants the Restitutions Committee to re-examine whether the Stedelijk Museum should return the painting Bild mit Häusern by Wassily Kandinsky, which was acquired during the Second World War.

Tahrim Ramdjan February 19, 2021 , 4:21 PM

The painting Bild mit Häusern by Wassily Kandinsky. EPA IMAGE

Mayor Femke Halsema and Alderman Touria Meliani (Art and Culture) write this in a letter to the city council on Friday.

The Lewenstein heirs have been trying to get the painting back since 2013 . In December last year, the Amsterdam judge decided that the Stedelijk Museum could keep the work . In the same month, the Council of Culture, through the Kohnstamm Commission, issued a report, in which it indicated that the Netherlands should make more efforts to return looted art.

Halsema and Meliani endorse the findings of the Kohnstamm Committee and therefore want a reassessment. “The return of these works of art can mean a lot to the victims and is of great importance in recognizing the injustice done to them,” they say. The co-operation of the Lewenstein heirs is required for the reassessment.

Looted art

In 2018, the Restitutions Committee ruled that the painting does not need to be returned , because, in its view, the sale of the painting must have been caused by Lewenstein’s ‘deteriorated financial circumstances’ before the German invasion.

But the Kohnstamm committee states in its report that the Netherlands is now doing too little to return looted art. After all, more is now possible thanks to improved technology, and the Netherlands is now acting in breach of international agreements, the so-called Washington Principles.

Municipal Museum

In October 1940, the then director of the Stedelijk Museum bought Bild mit Häusern at an auction, although it was unknown how the painting ended up up for auction. Before the Second World War, however, the artwork was part of the Lewenstein family’s collection. His heirs take the position that the work has been involuntarily lost from her possession.

The Restitutions Committee was established in 2001 to return looted art to next of kin. The municipality of Amsterdam has also concluded that 30 works in its management may involve looted art. There are four refund requests received by the municipality, including the request from the Lewenstein’s in 2013.

Rein Wolfs , director of the Stedelijk Museum, is ‘happy’ that the municipality is taking this step. “First of all, it is very important that we look at the possible injustice that has been done. That is paramount. Whether we should then give up the painting is only important in the second place. I hope that a new step can be taken and that the whole matter will be looked at in a different way. “

Lawyer Axel Hagedorn says on behalf of the heirs that they are pleased that the case is progressing and that the municipality endorses the findings of the Kohnstamm Committee. “One of the heirs was intended as a rightful claimant, but then it was said that the Stedelijk Museum had a greater interest. According to the Kohnstamm Committee, this weighing of interests should never be a reason not to return the painting. ”

Hagedorn does wonder why the Restitutions Committee should now look at the matter again. “It is already clear what needs to be done. Please note: the first procedure at the committee took five years, and the intended heir passed away last week. ” The heirs still plan to appeal against the December 2020 court decision if they do not agree with the municipality.