After years of legal dispute, Amsterdam city officials announced that they will be restituting a Wassily Kandinsky painting to the heirs of its original owner.
The painting in question, Painting With Houses, was finished by Kandinsky in 1909. It was owned by the couple Robert Lewenstein and Irma Klein until the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands in 1940. Post-invasion, the work was sold at a meagre price – though it is unclear who made the sale. For many years, the heirs of the couple have been fighting for the work to return, claiming that it was sold under duress. It has been displayed at the Stedelijk Museum since 1940.
A Dutch court ruled in 2018 that since the painting was bought by the museum in “good faith”, without knowledge of how it was obtained, it had the right to keep it. The court cited the “balance of interests”, which measures the importance of an artwork to a museum compared to that to its heirs. The 2018 ruling was again upheld in 2020 by a Dutch restitution committee, which decided that the painting must remain with the museum. It is worth noting that the painting which was bought for $1600 (inflation-adjusted) by the museum is worth more than $22 million today.
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The 2020 decision led to widespread criticism, both within and outside the country. Two members of the committee resigned in protest. The Dutch minister of culture later formed the Kohnstamm Committee, which recommended changes in restitution policies so that they might favor the victims over the museums. Now, the city officials have finally come up with the decision to return the work to its heirs.
The decision by welcomed by many parties. Simon van der Sluijs (attorney of the heirs) called it a “historic injustice done right”. The municipality of Amsterdam said that it had a moral obligation to return the work to its heirs.