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Dutch court reverses stand on looted Jewish art, famous Kandinsky painting is returned to original owners

While no value was placed on the work, similar Kandinskys have been estimated to be worth around $22 million

Wassily Kandinsky, View of Murnau with Church, 1910 (Public domain)

In a reversal of an earlier ruling, a Dutch court allowed the return of a painting by the world-famous Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky to the family of a Jewish art collector who was murdered in the Holocaust. 

The court’s ruling aligned with the conclusions of a Dutch restitutions committee, which is assigned the task of determining the legitimacy of claims of artwork stolen from Jews before and during the Holocaust. 

The Kandinsky work in question was an abstract piece entitled “Blick auf Murnau mit Kirche,” or “View of Murnau with Church,” which had been hanging in the Van Abbemuseum of modern and contemporary art in the Dutch city of Eindhoven since 1951.

The restitutions committee determined that the painting should be returned to the family of German-Jewish art collector Johanna Margarethe Stern-Lippmann, who the Nazis murdered in 1944, 13 months after deporting her to the Auschwitz death camp. 

The restoration of the painting to Stern-Lippmann’s family followed the emergence of new evidence to support the family’s claim to the painting, in the form of correspondences and inventory lists.

In the earlier consideration of the family’s claim, the restitutions committee reported having “insufficient evidence” to support the claim.

Stern-Lippmann was a well-known modern-art collector and trader, based in Berlin prior to the war. Stern-Lippmann fled Germany in 1937 following the death of her husband, the businessman and art collector Siegbert Samuel Stern, founder of Graumann & Stern. Stern-Lippmann settled in Amsterdam, where her brother-in-law Albert Stern was based, and remained there until her arrest and deportation to Auschwitz in April 1943. 

The restitutions committee reasoned that since there was no evidence that Stern-Lippmann had sold the painting, it was reasonable to assume that the artwork had been taken from her. The return of the painting to the collector’s heirs marked the end of a six-year-long battle to decide the painting’s ownership and was the first such case since the Dutch announced a new restitution policy of “humanity and goodwill” two years ago.

The Van Abbemuseum had purchased the Kandinsky painting from the Hague art dealer Karl Alexander Legat, who is known to deal in art looted during World War II. The descendants officially asked for the painting to be returned to them in 2016, and made a follow-up claim in 2019 after the committee initially rejected their request. 

While no value was placed on the work, similar Kandinskys have been estimated to be worth around $22 million, such as “Painting with Houses,” a 1909 work Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam returned to its original owners last August.

The Stern-Lippmann family in Belgium, the Netherlands and the United States released a statement saying they felt that justice had been restored. 

The statement reads in part: “The painting used to have a prominent position hanging in our (great) grandparents’ house and represents much of our family’s story. It's coming back to us now marks an important moment – it won’t bring back the nine immediate family members who were so tragically murdered – but it’s an acknowledgment of the injustice that we, and so many like us, have endured.”

Read more: ART

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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