Le Quotidien de l’Art: The Stedelijk in Amsterdam returns a Kandinsky

By Jade Pillaudin
Edition N°2338/01 March 2022 at 23h56
Wassily Kandinsky, “Bild mit Häusern (Painting with Houses)”, 1909, oil on canvas, 98 x 133 cm.
Courtesy Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

The Stedelijk in Amsterdam returns a Kandinsky

The city of Amsterdam and the Stedelijk Museum put an end to 9 years of legal proceedings on Monday by returning a painting by Vassily Kandinsky to the heirs of the Jewish businessman, Emanuel Lewenstein. Bild mit Häusern (Painting with houses) was until now exhibited in the museum’s rooms and considered one of its masterpieces. The descendants of the collector had for the first time taken the matter to court in 2013 in order to recover the painting, painted by the Russian artist in 1909 and entered into the possession of the family in 1923. It was sold at auction in October 1940, well below the market price (160 lorins, or 80 euros today, suggesting the hypothesis of a forced sale) to the Amsterdam City Council, while Robert Lewenstein, they of Emanuel Lewenstein, and his wife Irma Klein were fleeing the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands. The National Restitution Committee, responsible for ruling on cases of art objects looted during the occupation period, had initially rejected the restitution request in 2018, after a five-year investigation. The Amsterdam court was then seized, also issuing an unfavorable opinion.

But in 2020, the case took an unexpected twist when the Dutch government set up a new committee, the Kohnstamm Commission, which decided to reassess the case and initiate talks between the family and the city. Marit van Kooij, spokesperson for Touria Meliani, deputy mayor of Amsterdam, said in a statement on the day of the painting’s presentation: “As a city, we bear a great responsibility for dealing with the unspeakable suffering and injustices inflicted on the Jewish population during World War II. To the extent that anything can be restored, we as a society have a moral duty to act accordingly.” The painting is now estimated to be worth around 20 million euros. The heirs’ representative, James Palmer, president of Mondex Corporation (also invested in the restitution of Chagall’s Father, see QDA of February 22) said he is investigating the return of another Kandinsky painting once held by the family, Das bunte Leben (1907).