De Volkskrant: Amsterdam may after all return Kandinsky's painting to heirs of Jewish owners
[THIS IS AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THE ORIGINAL DUTCH ARTICLE "Amsterdam geeft schilderĳ van Kandinsky misschien toch terug aan erfgenamen Joodse eigenaren" PUBLISHED ON DE VOLKSKRANT ON FEBRUARY, 20, 2021]. (https://krant.volkskrant.nl/titles/volkskrant/7929/publications/1186/articles/1303798/14/2)
Page 14 Saturday February 20 2021
KANDINSKY: PICTURE WITH HOUSES (1909).
PHOTO STEDELIJK MUSEUM
The city of Amsterdam may return the painting Bild mit Häusern by Wassily Kandinsky from the collection of the Stedelijk Museum to the heirs of the Jewish owners. The municipality, in possession of the work since 1940, wants to submit the case again to the Restitutions Committee, which advises on the restitution of looted art from the Nazi era.
The case has been running since 2012 and is a heavy burden on the city council, says Alderman of Culture Touria Meliani (GroenLinks). 'In recent years, too little has been about the victims and too much about the system in which the restitution of looted art is arranged. I have an uncomfortable feeling about that. '
Kandinsky's painting was bought by the Stedelijk Museum at an auction in October 1940. Three heirs of the original Jewish owners claimed it nine years ago. The painting is said to have been sold under pressure of the German occupation and thus fall under the broad definition of looted art. The Restitutions Committee ruled in 2018 that there was too little ground for that statement.
"I am pleased that the case is moving again," says Axel Hagedorn, who acts as a lawyer on behalf of the heirs. 'Only one of the heirs, Elsa Guidotti from Amsterdam, died just last week. The previous procedure before the Restitutions Committee took five years. Why do we have to redo it? We can also reach a negotiation. '
The reason for Amsterdam to propose a 'reassessment' now is the evaluation presented in December of the Dutch policy on restitution of looted art. It must be more empathetic, the Kohnstamm committee advised the cabinet. Amsterdam endorses that conclusion, Meliani wrote in a letter to the city council on Friday. The city implicitly calls on Minister of Culture Ingrid van Engelshoven (D66) to amend the guidelines. Her response is expected in the spring.
The Kohnstamm Committee advised no longer to weigh up the interests between the victims and the current owners. The 'restoration of injustice' takes precedence over public exhibition. The argument that owners did not immediately demand art back after the war should also not play a role. Understandably, Jewish survivors had something else on their mind. In 2018, the Restitutions Committee included those arguments in its final judgment on the Kandinsky.
Bild mit Häusern (1909) dates from his expressionist period. If it were to be auctioned again now, it could fetch tens of millions. In the collection of the Stedelijk Museum, the work is 'from an art-historical point of view an important bridge to his later work', says director Rein Wolfs. As a 'lover' he would regret it if the painting was no longer on display, but 'the museum interest should not come first'.