Amsterdam mayor announces talks with Jewish heirs over Kandinsky's claim

The mayor of Amsterdam announced Thursday that she has started talks to hand over a painting by Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsk...


The mayor of Amsterdam announced Thursday that she has started talks to hand over a painting by Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky to the heirs of a Jewish couple who owned the work before the Nazis took control of the Netherlands.

The work “Painting with Houses” was acquired at an auction in 1940 by David Röell, director of the Stedelijk Museum, who is responsible for the current art collection of the city of Amsterdam from around 95 000 works.

Although it is not clear who decided to sell the painting, the auction took place just a few months after the Nazi invasion and the Stedelijk admitted that it was “possible that it was an involuntary sale “.

The heirs demanded the return of the work several years ago, arguing that the sale was motivated by Nazi persecution. But in 2018, the Dutch Restitution Commission, a national panel that deals with allegations of Nazi looting, said the painting could stay with the museum. A court subsequently upheld this decision. More recently, however, a committee convened by the Dutch Minister of Culture advocated a new approach in dealing with restitution claims.

Announcing the talks Thursday in a letter, Mayor Femke Halsema and city alderman for art and culture Touria Meliani cited the importance of righting wrongs, according to a translation provided to New York Times.

A return of the painting would be subject to the approval of Amsterdam’s city council, said two people involved in the Kandinsky talks. James Palmer of Mondex Corporation, who assists the heirs, said he understood that once the mayor and the heirs came to an agreement, his terms would be sent to council for consideration.

The history of painting has attracted a lot of attention as it is considered by some to be emblematic of changes in the Netherlands related to the way the country dealt with requests for the return of works allegedly looted by the Nazis. or sold under constraint.

For many years, the country was considered to be at the forefront of efforts to return stolen works to the heirs of their rightful owners. For the past decade or so, critics have challenged a “balance of interest” test that the commission used in an attempt to weigh the work’s value to the museum against the claims of the heirs.

After examining the Kandinsky’s case, the Restitution Commission wrote that the sale of the painting cannot “be viewed in isolation from the Nazi regime”, but added that it was also “caused to some extent” by the fact that its owners, Robert Lewenstein and Irma Klein, had experienced “deteriorating financial circumstances” before the German invasion.

The commission also wrote that although an applicant, an heir to Ms Klein, “has no special connection with” the painting, the work “occupies an important place” in Stedelijk’s collection.

The Committee of the Minister of Culture advised in 2020 that the “balance” test be abandoned and calls for a more empathetic approach, believing that the restitution commission must become less formalistic in its responses to complaints. Soon after, Ms Halsema and several other officials, known collectively as the College of Mayors and Aldermen, demanded that the painting be handed over to the heirs.

“The suffering inflicted on Jewish citizens especially during World War II is unprecedented and irreversible,” they said. written in february, adding that the company had “a moral obligation” to remedy this.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Amsterdam mayor announces talks with Jewish heirs over Kandinsky's claim
Amsterdam mayor announces talks with Jewish heirs over Kandinsky's claim
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