Kandinsky painting returned to the Jewish family as the Netherlands changed their approach to looted art – 71Bait

(JTA) – A Dutch committee tasked with evaluating and handling allegations of artwork stolen from Jews before and during the Holocaust has decided that a painting by Wassily Kandinsky should be returned to the family of the Jewish woman who probably owned it before the Holocaust.

The family of Johanna Margarethe Stern-Lippmann, who was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944, was to regain their possession of “Blick auf Murnau mit Kirche”, an abstract work that has been in the possession of the Dutch city of Eindhoven since 1951 and, according to the Dutch Restitution Committee, was in its Art Museum exhibited.

The decision reverses an earlier decision in 2018 in which the committee found that there was insufficient evidence that Stern-Lippmann had owned the painting after the Nazis seized power to prove they had the gave up possession under duress.

Earlier this month, the committee ruled that new evidence had surfaced to support the family’s claim to the painting. Since Stern-Lippmann, a prominent pre-Holocaust art collector and dealer, was Jewish and had no proof that she had voluntarily sold the painting before the Nazis invaded, it was reasonable to assume that “View of Murnau with Church” had been expropriated Meanwhile, the committee closed.

“We are thrilled that the Kandinsky has been returned to us,” Stern-Lippmann descendants in Belgium, the Netherlands and the United States said in a statement. The family, who previously had works restored by France, had protested the committee’s 2018 decision.

The stumbling blocks for Johanna Margarethe Stern-Lippmann are in front of her home in Potsdam, where she fled in 1938. The art collector was murdered in the Holocaust. (Courtesy of PantherStix/Wikipedia)

“The painting used to hang prominently in our (great) grandparents’ house and represents a large part of our family history,” the family members said. “Your return to us now marks an important moment. It will not bring back the nine immediate family members who were so tragically murdered, but it is an acknowledgment of the injustice we and so many like us have suffered.”

The painting’s return is the latest in a series of decisions in the Netherlands in favor of the descendants of Jews who lost valuable art during the Nazi regime. A famous marine painting was removed from the halls of the Dutch parliament in May pending a title claim, while earlier this year the Stedelijk Museum returned possession of one of its Kandinsky paintings to the family of the Jewish woman, who said they had previously dem possessed holocaust.

The issue of how to deal with artworks owned by families of Jews who were persecuted and in many cases murdered by the Nazis has long occupied the art world and judicial authorities. At the time, the organizer of the conference, US Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstadt, said France owned 2,000 looted works and had only returned three.

The Netherlands — where the invading Germans and their collaborators in 1940 found many Jews fleeing Nazi Germany years earlier — had formed its first restitution committee as early as 1997, but it adopted the principles set out during the Washington Conference when it formed the Advisory Committee convened to assess restitution applications in 2001.

The committee made around 170 recommendations, most of them binding decisions, on around 1,500 points. Of the binding decisions, 84 were in full or in part in favor of the applicant and 56 rejected the application entirely.

Over time, the Netherlands’ once strong reputation for returning looted art has suffered from the Dutch judiciary’s unique approach of balancing the interests of heirs with those of museums, who are interested in exhibiting important works of art that happen to be from stolen from the Nazis.

The “weighted interests” approach has drawn criticism in a country where widespread cooperation was a major reason for the highest Nazi death toll in occupied Western Europe. Several prominent collections, which were widely believed to have been looted by Jews, remained in the possession of Dutch museums as a result of the crackdown.

In December 2020, the committee announced a “recalibration and intensification” of its efforts to bring justice to looted art, including systematic research into the wartime history of works of art, particularly works of art owned by museums and public institutions.

The four verdicts pronounced since then have all been in favor of Jewish families wishing to reclaim the property.

“View of Murnau with Church” is the youngest and most important of them. Painted by the famous Russian-French abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, it was a centerpiece of the Eindhoven Museum’s collection, beginning with the museum’s acquisition in 1951 from a dealer known to deal in looted art. The image is no longer visible on the museum’s website, although descriptions of several exhibits that showed it still exist.

Exactly how many works of art were looted in the Netherlands and beyond remains unclear. More fortunate Jewish families sold valuable art for a pittance to generate funds to flee the Nazis, or abandoned their works while fleeing. Other families lost their art when Jewish families were stripped of their belongings and then murdered. About 80% of Dutch Jews, including many wealthy Germans who had fled there from the Nazis, were killed during the Holocaust.

The Restitution Committee is not the only effort being made in the Netherlands to determine the provenance of potentially looted art. A task force investigating the origins of the 3,500 artworks owned by the Dutch government has flagged some works as requiring investigation.

In one notable case, the Task Force drew attention to “Fishing Boat Near the Shore” by Hendrik Willem Mesdag, a well-known marine painter, which has long hung in the Dutch Parliament as a reminder of the Netherlands’ complex relationship with water.

The painting ‘Fishing Boats near the Shore’ in the Dutch Parliament in The Hague, Netherlands. (Courtesy of the First Chamber)

But the 1891 painting of ships braving high winds was removed from the walls of the Eerste Kamer, the upper house of the Dutch parliament, last spring pending an investigation into its origins, broadcaster Omroep West reported in May.

House Speaker Vera Bergkamp said the inquiry was a “moral duty” and after receiving information suggesting it had been stolen from a Jewish family, she decided to keep the painting pending the outcome to have the probe stored during the investigation.

The voluntary removal is a powerful symbol of the changing tides surrounding the repatriation of public value art. In March, the Stedelijk Museum, a municipal body of the City of Amsterdam, finally returned a painting that had been looted but which a judge said could remain in the museum’s possession under the weighted approach.

The work Painting with Houses, also by Kandinsky, had become a symbol of the perceived injustice of the weighted approach, which acknowledged theft but denied the rightful owners possession of what their family had lost.

Tourists view a controversial work by Wassily Kandinsky, Painting with Houses, at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, July 10, 2019. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

The Stedelijk, acting on orders from the mayor’s office, returned it to the descendants of the late Holocaust survivor Irma Klein after a protracted legal battle. Her family had been forced to sell the painting directly to the Stedelijk during the Nazi era for the equivalent of $1,600. It is now said to be worth an eight-figure sum.

While it was by far the best-known case of publicly looted art in the Netherlands, it was by no means the only one. According to RTL, provenance checks are ongoing for other works in parliament and museums in the Netherlands.

The repatriation of looted works to other European countries where large quantities of artworks may have been stolen from Jewish collectors before and during the Holocaust continues. In Germany, three museums in July returned five paintings to the heirs of Carl Heumann, a Jewish banker and art collector from Cologne who died in World War II, independently of the investigation in the Netherlands, news site Br23 reported.

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