Binding Opinion About the Painting ‘Painting with Houses’ by Wassily Kandinsky

The Hague, 1 November 2018 – The Restitutions Committee has issued a binding opinion about the application for restitution of the work Painting with Houses by Wassily Kandinsky, currently in the possession of Amsterdam City Council. The Committee takes the view that the city council is not obliged to restitute the work.

Before the Second World War the painting was in the art collection belonging to Emanuel Lewenstein and his wife Hedwig Weijermann. They had two children; Robert and Wilhelmine Lewenstein. On 9 October 1940 the work was sold at the Frederik Muller auction house and purchased for Amsterdam City Council. Since then it has been in the Stedelijk Museum’s collection. The applicants who requested restitution are heirs of Wilhelmine Lewenstein, Robert Lewenstein and his former wife Irma Klein. They contended that the family involuntarily lost possession of the painting as a result of circumstances directly connected with the Nazi regime. The applicants and the city council laid the claim before the Restitutions Committee for investigation and a binding opinion.

According to the Committee it has to be assumed on the grounds of the available documents that at the time of the sale at Frederik Muller the work belonged to the dissolved but not yet divided community property of Robert Lewenstein and Irma Klein. On the basis of a division agreement they made after the war, the painting was assigned to Irma Klein so only her heir is entitled to claim it. The Committee took the view with regard to her claim that the sale of the painting cannot, on the one hand, be considered in isolation from the Nazi regime, but on the other hand has to have been caused to an extent by the deteriorating financial circumstances in which Robert Lewenstein and Irma Klein found themselves well before the German invasion.

The Committee took the interests of Irma Klein’s heir and the city council into account in its final conclusion. A key point for the Committee in this case was that art had not been stolen or confiscated. After the war Irma Klein made no attempt to get the painting back. Furthermore, her heir has no special bond with it. The Committee also considered it important that the city council bought the painting in good faith and that the work has a significant place in the Stedelijk Museum’s collection. The Committee concluded on the grounds of these interests that the city council is not obliged to restitute the painting.

About the Restitutions Committee

The Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War advises about claims to items of cultural value lost during the Nazi period, also referred to as looted art. Since the Restitutions Committee was established in 2002 it has issued 156 recommendations and opinions and has had 176 claims submitted to it. For more information about the Committee see its annual reports on this website.

For more information about the binding opinion please contact Eric Idema, the Committee’s Secretary, on +31 (0)70 376 59 92, info@restitutiecommissie.nl.

Image: 
Painting with Houses by Wassily Kandinsky, photo: Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam