Le Figaro: Sold under duress in 1940, a Kandinsky returned to the heirs of a Jewish collector

By Le Figaro with AFP
Posted on 02/28/2022 at 5:47 p.m.
The descendants of businessman Emmanuel Lewenstein took legal action for the first time in 2013, with the aim of having Bild mit Häusern returned (detail). Wikimedia Commons/Wmpearl/Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam had acquired Painting with Houses during the Second World War, five months after Germany invaded the Netherlands.


A work by painter Vassily Kandinsky sold during World War II to an Amsterdam museum has been returned to the heirs of a Jewish collector, ending a nine-year legal saga, the municipality said on Monday. The descendants of businessman Emmanuel Lewenstein first took legal action in 2013, seeking the return of Bild mit Häusern ( Painting with Houses ), a 1909 painting by Kandisky. painting was sold at auction at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam under duress by Robert Lewenstein, son of Emmanuel Lewenstein, and his wife Irma Klein in October 1940, five months after Germany invaded the Netherlands. "The heirs and the municipality have reached (...) an amicable agreement , ”said the City of Amsterdam in a press release, specifying that the painting had been given to the heirs on Monday.


The National Restitution Committee - responsible for ruling on cases of art objects looted during the German occupation of the Netherlands - in 2013 rejected the first request of the heirs. The case was sent back to the Amsterdam court in 2020, which in turn dismissed the claim, ruling that the committee had not made a mistake in its investigation. The heirs appealed the decision. In a twist, a second committee set up by the Dutch government in 2020 decided the matter needed to be reassessed, leading to further discussions between the heirs and the municipality.


"To the extent that something can be returned, we as a society have a moral duty to act accordingly."

Touria Meliani, Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam

The two parties have now reached an agreement. “ Part of the agreement with the heirs is that there is no further litigation in this case ,” Marit van Kooij, spokesperson for Touria Meliani, deputy mayor of Amsterdam, told AFP. “ As a city, we bear a great responsibility in dealing with the untold suffering and injustice inflicted on the Jewish population during World War II ,” Touria Meliani said in a statement. " To the extent that something can be returned, we as a society have a moral duty to act on it," she added.


More than 100,000 Jews were deported from the Netherlands to Nazi death camps during World War II, the majority of them living in Amsterdam. The paintings of Vassily Kandisky, a painter born in Moscow and a pioneer of abstract art, are very popular and sell for several million euros.


{This is an English translation of the French article "Vendu sous la contrainte en 1940, un Kandinsky restitué aux héritiers d'un collectionneur juif" from Le Figaro on February 28, 2022.}
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