On Monday, the painting Bild mit Häusern by Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky was transferred from Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum to the heirs of the Jewish former owners. The painting has been the subject of a long dispute between the municipality of Amsterdam and the heirs.
A Jewish couple, Robert Lewenstein and Irma Klein, had sold the work as they tried to escape the Netherlands after the Nazi invasion during World War II.
The couple's heirs submitted an application for restitution of the painting in 2013, and five years later the city's Restitutions Committee ruled in a binding opinion that the municipality was not obliged to restitution. After a new framework was established, in 2021, the municipality decided to enter into consultation with the heirs in order to arrive at a settlement agreement that would lead to the painting's return. Bild mit Häusern has now been handed over to the heirs.
"As a city, we bear a great responsibility for dealing with the indescribable suffering and injustice inflicted on the Jewish population in the Second World War," Amsterdam Deputy Mayor Touria Meliani said in a statement. "To the extent that anything can be restored, we as a society have a moral duty to act accordingly. This certainly applies to the many works of art that were in the possession of Jewish citizens and were looted by Nazis or were otherwise lost to the owners."
The expressionist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was an important pioneer of abstraction in the visual arts. His painting Bild mit Häusern, made in 1909, shows a figure in a colorful, abstracted landscape. Acquired in 1940, the work was a popular part of the permanent collection on view at the Stedelijk Museum.
"The municipality and the heirs agree that the restitution does justice to the principle of returning works of art that were involuntarily removed from possession during the Second World War due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime to heirs of the then owners where possible," reads a museum statement.
"Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in the journey of the Lewenstein family to achieve the justice, dignity and respect that they have been rightfully seeking for so many years," said James Palmer of the Mondex Corporation, which assisted with the resitution, adding, "The Netherlands can be proud that the new restitution guidelines of its Kohnstamm Committee has established a viable and exemplary framework to find just and fair solutions for claimants and may serve as an example to which other countries can aspire to achieve."