The Kunstmuseum Basel and the Heirs of Kazimir Malevich reach an amicable settlement regarding Malevich Works in Basel

Kunstmuseum Basel and Herrick Feinstein 20 January 2012


A dispute between the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Heirs of Malevich concerning Malevich works that have been in the Kunstmuseum Basel for decades has been resolved.

New York, NY (January 20, 2012) -- The heirs of the famous Russian artist Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) (the “Heirs”), the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Government of the Canton of Basel-Stadt announced today that they have agreed to resolve the Heirs’ claim to works by Malevich (two gouaches “Landscape with Red Houses” and “The Washing Woman” and a series of approximately 60 drawings made by Malevich and his assistants) that have been in the possession of the Kunstmuseum Basel. Pursuant to the settlement, the Kunstmuseum Basel has transferred one of the gouaches, “Landscape with Red Houses”, to the Malevich Heirs. The other works will remain in the Museum’s collection. The settlement honours the Heirs’ claim and Malevich’s legacy; allows the Kunstmuseum Basel to comply with the ICOM (International Council of Museums) Code of Ethics; and settles all questions as to title to the Malevich works in question.

In 1964, the Kunstmuseum Basel purchased the gouache “Landscape with Red Houses” from Marlborough Fine Art Ltd Gallery in London. In 1969, Mrs. Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach donated the drawings, which are the original illustrations of Malevich’s 1927 book “Die gegenstandslose Welt”, to the Kunstmuseum Basel. Finally, Dr. Franz Meyer, the former director of the Kunstmuseum Basel, donated the gouache, “The Washing Woman”, which he had bought at auction in 1964, to the Kunstmuseum Basel in 1995. The Museum’s position is that it acquired the Malevich works honourably and acquired good title to them pursuant to Swiss law. The Heirs contest this and believe that the works are the rightful property of the Heirs.

Under the ICOM Code of Professional Ethics, which the Kunstmuseum Basel is committed to follow, a museum is obliged to establish accountability on the origin of all works of art in its possession and to speak with claimants about surrendering works of art whose provenance has not been resolved completely. The Kunstmuseum Basel has had an open dialogue with Malevich’s heirs, and both parties have provided information on the works of art concerned, openly and without reservation. Ultimately, the Kunstmuseum and Malevich’s heirs reached the understanding that any and all of the Kunstmuseum’s right, title and interest in and to the gouache “Landscape with Red Houses” would be transferred to the Heirs.

The Kunstmuseum Basel maintains active international contacts, exchanges and inter-museum loans with the world’s most important art museums. This settlement with Malevich’s heirs provides the Museum with the indispensable legal certainty to allow inter-museum loans, which are vital for the Kunstmuseum Basel, to continue smoothly and without complications. Although the Museum maintains that under Swiss law, it is the rightful owner of all of the Malevich’s works in its possession - it cannot be ruled out that relevant foreign jurisdictions may come to a different conclusion. For all of these reasons, the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Government of the Canton of Basel-Stadt are firmly convinced that the settlement reached with Malevich’s heirs is in the best interests of the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Canton of Basel-Stadt.

In reaching this historic settlement, the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Heirs strived for a resolution that keeps works by Malevich on public display, acknowledges the historical developments and circumstances that prevented Malevich from returning to Germany and to his artworks after he was called back to the Soviet Union in 1927, and respects the legacy of the Heirs. The Kunstmuseum Basel and the Heirs agree that the amicable settlement achieves these objectives and settles all questions as to title to the Malevich works at the Museum.

The Heirs, commenting on the settlement through their counsel, Lawrence M. Kaye, said: “The Malevich family is gratified that this matter has been resolved in a way that acknowledges Malevich’s legacy and his contributions to the history of 20th century art, keeps his work on public display in Basel for all to see and cherish, and provides us with a historic work by our noted ancestor.”

For further information, contact:

For the City:

Mr. Bernhard Mendes Bürgi
Director, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung
+41 61 206 62 16

For the Heirs, their Attorneys:

Lawrence M. Kaye, Herrick, Feinstein LLP

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