Dutch Museum Returns Looted Kandinsky Painting From WWII to Heirs of Former Jewish Owner

Dutch Museum Returns Looted Kandinsky Painting From WWII to Heirs of Former Jewish Owner

Shiryn Ghermezian

“Blick auf Murnau mit Kirche” by Wassily Kandinsky. Photo: Van Abbemuseum.

A museum in the Netherlands is returning a painting by Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky to the heirs of a Jewish art collector who owned the work before it was stolen during World War II.

The 1910 painting “Blick auf Murnau mit Kirche” (“View of Murnau with Church”), which has been stored at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven since 1951, will be handed over to the relatives of the late Berlin-based collector Johanna Margarethe Stern-Lippmann, the museum announced on Sept. 15.

Stern-Lippman’s descendants first contacted the Dutch museum in 2015 in an attempt to reclaim the painting. The family and the Eindhoven municipality then turned to the Dutch government’s Restitution Committee to make a ruling in the matter. In January 2018, the Committee ruled to not return the artwork to the family because it could not establish sufficient information about the time period when Stern-Lippman lost possession of the painting.

Stern-Lippman’s family filed a second request with the Restitution Committee for possession of the artwork in 2019. The Restitution Committee said in a statement that following an additional investigation, which was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision to return the painting to the family was recently reached, as new facts have surfaced about Stern-Lippman’s ownership of the painting.

The Committee “has concluded it is highly likely that the work originated from the family’s collection and there is sufficient evidence that the family lost possession of it against their will through circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime,” the museum said.

The committee also explained in its ruling that because Stern-Lippmann was persecuted during World War II for being Jewish, the loss of her artwork during that time is considered “involuntary” based on the Dutch government’s restitution policy.

“It is fitting that this lengthy process has now come to an end,” said Anastasia van Gennip, business director of the Van Abbemuseum. “The Restitutions Committee’s opinion is clear and binding. We will arrange the transfer in consultation with the family as soon as possible. Both the municipality and the museum have always taken the view that justice must be done in cases like these. We have participated in all investigations with an open mind and cooperated in them along with the family.”

Another painting by Kandinsky was returned to its Jewish heirs from Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum in August 2021.

Kandinsky was known for making antisemitic remarks, specifically in a 1923 letter to Jewish composer Arnold Schoenberg in which he blatantly wrote, “I reject you as a Jew,” when Schoenberg asked the artist to explain reports that Kandinsky “sees only evil in the action of Jews and in their evil actions only the Jewishness.” In 1923, Kandinsky sent Schoenberg another letter inviting him to join the faculty at the Bauhaus school of design, architecture, and applied arts in Germany. Kandinsky wrote in his letter that Jews were not welcome at Bauhaus, but an exception would be made for Schoenberg.

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