Dutch Nazi art probe rejects Kandinsky claim

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The heirs of a Jewish art collector have lost their bid to reclaim a prized Kandinsky painting sold to Amsterdam's famous Stedelijk Museum during World War II, the museum said Friday.

Wassily Kandinsky's 1909 painting "Bild mit Hausern" (Painting with Houses) was claimed by three descendants of Amsterdam businessman and modern art aficionado Emmanuel Lewenstein.

They said the painting was sold at auction to the museum under duress by Lewenstein's son Robert and his wife Irma Klein in October 1940, five months after Germany invaded the Netherlands.

But the Dutch Restitutions Committee -- which rules in cases of ownership of artifacts looted during the Nazi occupation -- rejected the claim, which was first lodged in 2013.

"The Restitutions Committee has issued a binding opinion in which they concluded that the... museum is not obliged to restitute the painting to the applicants," said Stedelijk Museum spokeswoman Margriet Schavemaker told AFP.

"The committee did conclude that the sale cannot be seen in isolation from the Nazi regime," she added.

"But it was also partly related to the deteriorating financial circumstances in which Robert Lewenstein and Irma Klein found themselves prior to the German invasion."

After the war there are no indications that Irma Klein ever approached the museum to ask them to give it back "even though it can be reasonably assumed that she knew the work was there," Schavemaker added.

The Stedelijk said at the time of the original claim by the heirs that the sale was voluntary and that the museum bought the canvas in good faith at the auction.

"We realise that this is painful for the applicants and that this painting will forever be associated with a painful history," the museum's interim director Jan Willem Sieburgh said.

But "the work may remain in the collection of the Stedelijk," he said.

One of the pioneers of modern abstract art, Moscow-born Kandinsky's paintings are highly sought after and fetch millions of euros (dollars) at auction.

A double record for Kandinsky canvasses was set at Sotheby's in London in June last year when two paintings from before World War I went for $26.8 million and $42.3 million respectively.


© 2018 AFP

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