The Lewenstein Family failed in its bid for the restitution of a painting owned by their father. Valued at $22 million and looted by Nazis during World War II, the painting is by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky called Bild mit Häusern or Painting with Houses.
But now Robert Lewenstein’s heirs have taken their case to a court in Belgium.
The Restitution Committee of the Netherlands denied the family’s claim. The 1909 Kadinsky work was owned by Robert Lewenstein and stolen from his family when they were forced to flee Amsterdam after the German invasion of Holland in 1940.
Bild mit Häusern was then sold at the Frederik Muller auction house and purchased for Amsterdam City Council. It was then placed in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam which still owns it today.
The claimants, Robert Lewenstein, Francesca Davis and Elsa Guidotti are now claiming bias on the part of the Restitution Committee because of its close ties to the museum, England’s The Guardian reports.
In its ruling, which was issued in the Hague in 2018, the committee stated that the Painting ‘Painting with Houses’ by Wassily Kandinsky was jointly owned by Robert Lewenstein and his wife Irma Klein. After World War II when they separated the painting became her property alone, according to the agreement made by the couple.
As a result, the committee says that only the heirs of Irma Klein may seek restitution.
Its report states, “The Committee took the interests of Irma Klein’s heir and the city council into account in its final conclusion. A key point for the Committee in this case was that art had not been stolen or confiscated. After the war Irma Klein made no attempt to get the painting back. Furthermore, her heir has no special bond with it. The Committee also considered it important that the city council bought the painting in good faith and that the work has a significant place in the Stedelijk Museum’s collection. The Committee concluded on the grounds of these interests that the city council is not obliged to restitute the painting.”
Now the case is in court as the plaintiffs claim that the committee had a conflict of interest because four of the seven members of the Restitutions Committee have a relationship with the Stedelijk Museum. These four are said to either be members of the museum’s business club or employees of an office that sponsors the institution.
Paul Loeb, representing the Stedelijk Museum and the City of Amsterdam rejected this claim saying “The restitutions committee has performed its task properly. There is no reason to revisit or redo the work. They are competent and able to assess the case. There are also no indications that the painting was stolen.”