The painting Image with Häusern by the Russian expressionist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) has been returned to the heirs of the Jewish couple Lewenstein. Until today, the work hung in the permanent exhibition space of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, but has been packed and handed over to the heirs.†
“Today begins a new chapter in the lives of the Lewenstein family after their years of quest for justice, dignity and respect,” said a family adviser, who accepted the painting on their behalf, in a press release.
Director Rein Wolfs of the Stedelijk Museum calls it “a farewell with melancholy”. But the return of the painting also marks “an important moment in Dutch restitution policy”, according to the director.
Years of conflict
About the rightful owner of Image with Häusern There has been a dispute for years between the Lewenstein family and the municipality of Amsterdam, which bought the work from the family in 1940.
The oil painting came into the possession of the Lewenstein couple in 1923, who at the time had a sewing machine factory on Dam Square. In 1940 the couple fled from the Nazis and their son sold the painting to the municipality for 160 guilders, a price far below the market value.
The sale took place under pressure from the Nazis, according to the heirs. As early as 2013, they demanded that the painting be returned. But the Restitutions Committee, which issues advice on Nazi looted art, ruled in 2018 that the municipality was not required to relinquish the painting. This was endorsed by the judge in December 2020.
But last summer, the municipality of Amsterdam decided to return the work to the family. That decision had to do with a critical report on the working method of the Restitutions Committee. The municipality did not want to wait for a new judgment from that committee and took a decision in anticipation of this.
The painting was handed over to the heirs at the Stedelijk Museum today:
The municipality writes that returning the painting is part of the principle of returning looted art from the Second World War to the then owners or their heirs.
“We must never forget the indescribable suffering and injustice inflicted on the Jewish population in World War II,” Alderman Touria Meliani wrote in a press release. “As far as anything can be repaired, we as a society have a moral obligation to act accordingly.”
The heirs hope that the work will one day hang in a museum, Het Parool writes. The value of the canvas is estimated at 20 million euros.
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