Amsterdam to return $23.5 million painting to Jewish heirs

City officials end 9-year legal battle by giving up rights to Kandinsky painting sold under duress by Jewish art collector during Holocaust.

Dan Verbin ,

Amsterdam
Amsterdam
iStock

Amsterdam city council has reached an agreement to return a Wassily Kandinsky painting to the descendants of a Jewish family who were coerced into selling it during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, reported DutchNews.nl.

The family’s legal battle to retrieve their painting had been ongoing for nine years.

In December 2020, a Dutch court rejected a bid by the heirs of Jewish art collector, Amsterdam businessman and modern art aficionado Emmanuel Lewenstein, who was forced to sell Kandinsky's 1909 work "Painting with Houses" during the Nazi occupation.

The city's decision came after the Dutch Restitutions Committee -- which rules in cases of artefacts looted during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands -- rejected the family's original claim in 2020.

The heirs had argued that the sale of the painting to Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum by Lewenstein's son Robert and his wife Irma Klein in October 1940, five months after the Nazi’s invaded the country, was not made willingly.

At the time, the Amsterdam District court ruled the painting was the property of the Amsterdam municipality, and said that the city had legally purchased the painting in 1940.

However, new rules on art restitution changed the outcome of the case a year later, with the city deciding to return the painting to the family’s heirs, ending the legal dispute.

"In view of the long time period and the importance of redressing injustice, we will return the work without a new intervention by the Restitutions Committee," Amsterdam officials wrote in a letter

The family’s lawyer, Simon van der Sluijs, told DutchNews.nl that they welcomed the decision.

“We see this as a form of historical injustice that is now corrected, and it’s not so often that you have a chance to do that,” he said. “Unfortunately, in February, one of the heirs died, and the litigation has been going on since 2013, so it’s a shame she didn’t live to see this.”

The family will now be faced with the choice of whether to leave the Kandinsky on public display at Amerstdam’s Stedelijk Museum. The painting is estimated to be worth $23.5 million.



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