Het Parool: Heirs can’t believe their luck with the return of Kandinsky

[THIS IS AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THE ORIGINAL DUTCH ARTICLE “Erven kunnen geluk niet op met teruggave Kandinsky: ‘Wat zou mijn vader blij zijn geweest’” PUBLISHED ON THE HET PAROOL ON SEPTEMBER 3 2021. (https://www.parool.nl/amsterdam/erven-kunnen-geluk-niet-op-met-teruggave-kandinsky-wat-zou-mijn-vader-blij-zijn-geweest~ba83da00/)]

The Stedelijk Museum will return the painting Bild mit Häusern by Kandinsky, which was acquired during the war, to the Lewenstein heirs. Rob Lewenstein, one of the heirs: “This is justice. For us and hopefully soon also for other victims.’

Hanneloes Pen September 3 2021, 11:14

The painting Bild mit Häusern by Wassily Kandinsky. IMAGE EPA

American heir Rob Lewenstein heard the news shortly after the decision was made. He was totally taken aback by it, he says by phone. “We’ve been working on this for years.

Finally, it’s here. I have to let the news sink in for a while. Not until the transfer is official will I be truly happy.”

Lewenstein, in his late sixties, lives in a self-built log cabin in a remote spot in the United States. He never knew his grandfather Emanuel Albert Lewenstein (1870-1930), who ran a sewing machine business on Dam Square in Amsterdam. He did know, however, that because of the lucrative trade, his grandparents were able to build an extensive collection of paintings by Kandinsky, Van Gogh, Renoir, Manet and others.

The sewing machine business was continued before the war by his father Robert Gotschalk Lewenstein (1905-1974). But he and his wife fled to France in 1940 and lost the entire art collection – except for an etching by Rembrandt. The painting Bild mit Häusern (1909) came into the possession of the Stedelijk Museum through an auction in 1940.


Eight years ago, a legal battle began over the painting – requesting that the Restitutions Committee look into the sale in 2013 and ruling five years later that it had not become apparent that the museum had not acquired the work ‘in good faith’ at the time.

The heirs unsuccessfully filed a lawsuit against the museum and the municipality of Amsterdam, which was officially in possession of the painting because the museum was not independent in 1940.

Last week the municipality decided to return the work after all: “As a city, we have a history and with it a great responsibility how to deal with injustice and the irreparable suffering that was inflicted on the Jewish population in the Second World War.

Lewenstein: “What a relief that was. I don’t give up easily, but for a long time I wasn’t sure I would succeed. My father had already tried to get the works back. How happy he would have been. This is justice.”

Thank you

And right after that, “Would you like to thank Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven? She was monumental. She made sure the ball was rolling our way and committed to returning looted art. Also thank the parliament and the mayor of Amsterdam “for doing the right thing”.

Kandinsky’s painting is close to his heart. “Every day I look at the work on my computer. Those extraordinarily beautiful colors! Like listening to the Dutch Chamber Orchestra playing Bach.”

Lewenstein hopes that others will also get their looted art back. Their representative James Palmer of the Canadian company Mondex Corporation, which assists heirs of stolen Jewish heritage, believes the transfer will take place before the end of the year.

Other place

Lewenstein, a talented musician who performed many times with Wells and Buddy Guy, hopes to meet with other heirs in Amsterdam. “I want to see that painting live and see it hanging in another place. Of course, it would be nice to have it at home. It would look wonderful here, but that’s not realistic for all sorts of reasons.”

The family is also trying to get back the second Kandinsky painting Das Bunte Leben (1907) from the art collection, which hangs in a museum in Munich. “That work is completely dazzling. Your mouth falls open from it.” He doesn’t know if other works from his grandparents’ art collection can also be traced. “But who knows…”