The city of Amsterdam has returned a disputed painting by Wassili Kandinsky to the heirs of a Jewish couple, 10 months after first agreeing to do so.
Bild mit Häusern had hung in the city’s Stedelijk museum after being acquired at auction in 1940 for 160 guilders. The painting was part of a rich collection of art owned by the Lewenstein family which also included works by Van Gogh, Renoir and Manet.
The legal battle for the work, with an estimated worth of €20m, began nine years ago after an investigation into its origins by the state restitution committee. It ruled in 2018 that the council was not under a legal obligation to return the work to the family because it could not be proved that the museum had not acquired it ‘in good faith’.
The heirs took the issue to court, arguing that the museum was not an independent entity in 1940, but in December 2020, a Dutch court again ruled that the Stedelijk museum was entitled to keep the 1909 work, because of its ‘important art historical value’.
Since then, however, new guidelines have been issued for dealing with disputed art, which state that museums can no longer justify retaining artworks on the basis of their cultural significance and the committee should now focus on the ‘restoration of injustice’
Mayor Femke Halsema said last April she was not prepared to wait for the outcome of a re-evaluation by the restitution committee in the light of new guidelines and would return it to the family.
James Palmer of the Mondex Corporation which tracked down the work on behalf of the family told the Parool the heirs would now decide what to do with the painting. They hope, he said, that it will end up in a museum.
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