August 31, 2021
The exterior of the Stedelijk Museum. Photo by John Lewis Marshall
A nine-year legal battle that has transfixed the international art world has come to an unexpected end with the decision by Amsterdam’s city council to unilaterally return a $22 million artwork by Wassily Kandinsky to the family of its previous Jewish owners.
Possession of "Painting with Houses," which is believed to be worth at least $22 million, should be transferred from the city-owned Stedelijk Museum to the family of Irma Klein, which has been fighting for about a decade in court to retrieve the painting, the municipality said in a statement Thursday.
Wassily Kandinsky, Bild mit Häusern. Courtesy the Stedelijk Museum
The case was seen as a litmus test for the moral authority of the commission – which was set up to process claims to art confiscated or looted during the Nazi occupation – and whose ruling in the Kandinsky case was upheld by an Amsterdam court just last year.
The late Hedwig Lewenstein-Weijermann, who was Jewish, inherited the painting in 1930 from her husband, Emanuel Albert Lewenstein, according to the Stedelijk’s documentation. It remains unclear who put the work up for auction in 1940, when the Stedelijk bought it, and is possible that it was an involuntary sale. As a result, in 2013, the city of Amsterdam, the museum, and heirs of the Lewensteins, submitted an application to the Dutch Restitution Committee asking for further investigation and advice.
James Palmer, the director of Mondex Corporation, a firm that handles art restitution research told the Associated Press that the decision “clearly disposes with the flawed approach of the balance of interest test, which effectively placed the rights of the museum to display stolen property ahead of the rights of the property owners."