29 January 2001
Jen Lissitzky announced, through his New York attorneys, Lawrence M. Kaye and Howard N. Spiegler of Herrick, Feinstein LLP, that the Kiyomizu Sannenzka Museum in Kyoto, Japan has returned to him a watercolor entitled "Deserted Square of an Exotic Town", 1921, by Paul Klee that had been stolen from his mother, Sophie Küppers-Lissitzky, by the Nazis. Masayuki Murata, Director of the Museum, stated that he was delighted to return the work and right a past wrong. Murata also said that he had received a "symbolic payment" of an undisclosed amount in recognition of the museum's courageous decision to return the painting. This is the first time a Japanese museum has recognized the rights of a true owner of a work of art that had been confiscated by the Nazis and consequently misplaced during World War II.
The painting was part of Sophie Küppers- Lissitzky's collection of some 13 works which she loaned to the Provinzial Museum in Hanover in 1926, before she left Germany for Russia to marry the Russian avant-garde artist, El Lissitzky. In 1937, the Nazis seized the Küppers-Lissitzky collection, including the Klee painting, from the museum as part of the Nazi "degenerate art" campaign. The Nazis sold the "degenerate" works abroad for foreign currency and it is in this way that the Küppers-Lissitzky collection was dispersed throughout the world.
Jen Lissitzky, the heir of Sophie Küppers- Lissitzky and rightful owner of the collection, has, with the assistance of the art historian Clemens Toussaint, been attempting to recover his mother's collection for several years and had, until recently, believed the Klee painting was lost. In a historic turn of events, Mr. Murata learned that Jen Lissitzky was looking for the painting and decided to return it to him.
This is the second painting from the Küppers- Lissitzky collection to be returned to Jen Lissitzky. In January 2000, a museum in Cologne, Germany returned a painting by Louis Marcoussis. Other claims remain unresolved. Discussions are ongoing with a municipal museum of the City of Munich to resolve a claim for one of the other Klee paintings from the Küppers- Lissitzky collection. And Lissitzky also seeks the return of a major Kandinsky painting from the collection of the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, Switzerland.