A Dutch museum is returning a painting by Wassily Kandinsky to the heirs of a Jewish family from which it had been stolen during World War II, bringing an end to a twisting six-year-long legal battle and marking the first major restitution since the Dutch announced a new restitution policy of “humanity and goodwill” two years ago. View of Murnau with Church, 1910, which has resided in the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven since 1951, will be transferred to the relatives of Johanna Margarethe Stern-Lippmann, a modern art collector based in Berlin who was killed at Auschwitz in 1944.
Although a Dutch restitution committee had in 2018 ruled that that museum could keep the painting, citing “insufficient facts” about its provenance, its seven members reversed that decision this week, pointing to new details that have come to light through correspondence and inventory lists.
The museum bought the work from The Hague art dealer Karl Alexander Legat, a known dealer of art looted during the war. Stern-Lippmann’s descendants officially asked for the work to be returned in 2016, making a follow-up claim in 2019 after the committee’s initial rejection. The committee now concedes that the painting’s disappearance during the war is considered involuntary under Dutch guidelines on Nazi-era restitutions. Although no price was given for the painting, similar Kandinskys have been estimated to be worth around $22 million, such as Painting with Houses, 1909, a work restituted from the Stedelijk Museum last August.
In a joint statement, the family members said they felt that justice had been restored. “The painting used to have a prominent position hanging in our (great) grand-parents’ house and represents much of our family’s story,” they said. “Its 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.”
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