Gavel (illustration)
Gavel (illustration)iStock

A Dutch court threw out a case on Wednesday brought by the heirs of a Jewish art collector to reclaim a painting by Wassily Kandinsky that was sold during World War II.

Descendants of Amsterdam businessman and modern art aficionado Emmanuel Lewenstein went to court to get back Kandinsky's 1909 work "Painting with Houses".

Their move came after the Dutch Restitutions Committee -- which rules in cases of artefacts looted during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands -- rejected their original claim in 2018.

The heirs said the painting was sold under duress to Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum by Lewenstein's son Robert and his wife Irma Klein in October 1940, five months after the German invasion.

However, the Amsterdam District court said on Wednesday that the painting remains the property of the Amsterdam municipality.

"All claims by the family who demanded back the painting have been rejected," the court said in a statement.

Judges denied the heirs' claim that the Restitution Committee's four-year probe had been inadequate and careless and that its advice should be quashed.

The heirs also accused the committee of bias and conflict of interest.

"The court however finds the heirs wrong on all points," it said.

"Only when the advice is seriously flawed on these points does the law allow the judge to set aside the advice.

"In the case of the investigation into Kandinsky's painting, these serious defects do not exist."

Representatives for the heirs said they would appeal the ruling.

"If this court decision is left unchallenged then Dutch restitution policy will effectively be non-existent, and important looted art in the Netherlands will likely never be restituted," said James Palmer of the Mondex Corporation, which helps with the recovery of art looted by the Nazis.

"After many years of struggles the Lewenstein family is very disappointed that the Amsterdam District Court did not recognize the Lewenstein family's rights to the restitution of its property," said lawyer Axel Hagedorn in a statement.

One of the pioneers of modern abstract art, Moscow-born Kandinsky's paintings are highly sought after and fetch millions of dollars.