Dutch court refuses to return $22m Kandinsky painting to Jewish heirs

The Hague, Netherlands – A Dutch court on Wednesday rejected a refund case filed by heirs to a Jewish family who originally owned a Wassily Kandinsky painting that was bought at auction by the city of Amsterdam in 1940.

The Amsterdam District Court upheld a 2018 decision by the Dutch Restitution Committee that the work of art entitled “Painting with Houses”, which is in the collection of the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, does not have to be returned to the family.

James Palmer, who represents the heirs, said the decision was unacceptable. Lawyers for the heirs said they would appeal.

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“If this court ruling goes unchallenged, the Dutch return policy will practically not exist and important looted art in the Netherlands will likely never be returned,” he said.

“After many years of fighting, the Lewenstein family is very disappointed that the Amsterdam District Court has not recognized the Lewenstein family’s rights to the return of their property misused during the Holocaust,” defense lawyers said in a statement.

Tourists stand near a controversial painting by Wassily Kandinsky in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam on July 10, 2019. (Cnaan Liphshiz / JTA)

The ruling from 2018 stated that the painting was not stolen or confiscated before it was auctioned, but that the sale “on the one hand cannot be viewed in isolation from the Nazi regime, but on the other hand must have been caused to a certain extent by the deteriorating financial situation” the original owners before Nazi Germany invaded and occupied the Netherlands during World War II.

The heirs’ lawyers argued that the Reparation Committee included members “who appear to have a strong bias in favor of the Stedelijk Museum” and ignored other legal issues related to the return of art sold by Jewish families before and during the war .

The court rejected the arguments.

In a written response, the City of Amsterdam, which owns the Stedelijk, stated that the court had ruled that the 2018 Refunds Committee’s decision “is not unacceptable by standards or in fairness and should therefore not be overturned”.

“We understand that this is disappointing for applicants,” added the community. “This painting will forever be tied to a painful story. The relationship of our collection to World War II will always be important, we will continue to show the public information about it, both online and in the gallery. ”

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