Trouw: Amsterdam returns painting Kandinsky to heirs

[THIS IS AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THE ORIGINAL DUTCH ARTICLE “Amsterdam geeft schilderij Kandinsky terug aan erfgenamen” PUBLISHED ON THE TROUW ON AUGUST 26, 2021.(

Roof has never been proven, but the municipality of Amsterdam returns a Kandinsky painting acquired in 1940 to the Jewish Lewenstein family. Correction of injustice must come first, according to the city council.

Iris Pronk August 26, 2021 , 19:00

The canvas ‘Bild mit Hausern’ that goes back to the heirs. Image EPA

After eight years of litigation, the Lewenstein family gets its way. The municipality of Amsterdam decided on Thursday to return the painting Bild mit Häusern by Wassily Kandinsky to the heirs of the Jewish family. He sold the painting in 1940 to the Stedelijk Museum, where it still hangs.

Previous attempts by the family to get the painting back were unsuccessful. But now the municipality has decided that “redressing injustice” must come first. The city council feels “the moral obligation” to deal as well as possible with “the irreparable suffering inflicted on the Jewish population during the Second World War”. This entails a generous restitution of art to the rightful owners or their heirs.

Low sales amount proves that it was about looted art

Before the war, the painting was part of the art collection of the Lewensteins. In 1940 the municipality bought it at an auction for 160 guilders, while in 1923 it had been purchased for 500 guilders. According to the heirs, this low sales amount was one of the proofs that this was looted art.

But the Restitutions Committee, which advises on the return of art that changed hands during the war, did not consider it proven that the family sold the painting under duress. Nor that the Stedelijk Museum was acting in bad faith. That is why the committee advised the municipality in 2018 not to return the Kandinsky.

The Restitutions Committee also took into account that Bild mit Häusern is of great importance to the museum. An argument that was widely criticized internationally. The heirs went to court, but he also thought that the Kandinsky should remain in the museum.

The interests of the museum should not count

The views have since changed, also under the influence of the Kohnstamm Committee. He conducted research into dealing with looted art and published a report last year. It states that the interests of the museum should not count.

The municipality of Amsterdam now adheres to this guideline. So far, four applications for restitution have been submitted, three have been granted and one application is still under consideration by the Restitutions Committee. This concerns two silver salt cellars by Johannes Lutma, which are now in the Amsterdam Museum.

“This is very good news,” says Simon van der Sluijs, lawyer for the Lewenstein family. “I see looted art as a form of historical injustice, it doesn’t happen very often that that can be rectified.” It is a pity that they had to wait so long for this outcome, he thinks, “but the happy feeling prevails.” The Stedelijk Museum has announced that it is “obviously” committed to the decision of the municipal council.