Dutch Art Panel’s Decision on Kandinsky Painting Creates International Uproar

Blouin 9 December 2018

A Detail from Painting with Houses (1909) by Wassily Kandinsky.

The decision of the Dutch Art Panel over a 1909 painting of Kandinsky to back the right of the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam has created an outcry from international art lovers, the Guardian reports.

The oil on canvas painting titled “Painting with Houses,” created by the famous Russian-born French painter and art historian Wassily Kandinsky, was originally owned by Emanuel Lewenstein, and sold to the famous Amsterdam museum in 1940, a few months after the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands.

The descendants of Lewenstein claimed their right over the painting arguing that it was sold under duress, in December 2013, and it was sent to the Dutch art committee for decision. The committee has taken five years for research and finally decided not to back the claim of the Jewish family, which has been criticized as “step back” by Stuart Eizenstat, the US diplomat, who has formulated the Washington principles in 1998, an agreement between 44 countries, of which the Netherlands is one, to return 600,000 art pieces stolen by the Nazis.

According to the Guardian, the Dutch Government formed the committee in 2002 — which included lawyers and art historians — to settle disputes over art pieces of historical and aesthetic value. The members confirmed that the sale of the painting took place in October 1940, just five months after the Dutch Invasion of the Nazis at the Frederik Muller auction house in Amsterdam. It also said that there was evidence to suggest that the Lewenstein family had financial constraints even before the invasion, and it did not try to retrieve the painting from the museum even after the war, though they had good relations with the museum authority.

In its deliberations, the committee stressed on assessing the “respective importance of the work to both parties and of the public art stock” and to “take into account the interests of the applicant in restitution of the artwork and the interests of [Amsterdam] city council in retaining the work.”

The President of the Jewish World Congress, Ronald Lauder, said at a conference in Berlin that this incident has proved detrimental to the Dutch moral leadership.
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