Jewish family fighting to reclaim £18m painting accuse officials of bias
Kandinsky masterpiece last changed hands soon after the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands
A Jewish family suing a Dutch museum for the return of an £18m painting bought from the Nazis in 1940 have accused officials of showing bias.
The family’s lawyers “told an Amsterdam court there was an ‘appearance of partiality and a conflict of interest’ within the Netherlands’ restitutions committee which advises on the return of art lost by Jewish families”, The Guardian reports.
The committee ruled two years ago that Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum could keep Bild mit Hausern (Painting with Houses), by Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky. The institution bought the artwork from Robert Lewenstein at a knock-down price five months into the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, when he and his wife had already fled to France.
Nevertheless, the committee said that Lewenstein had freely chosen to sell the painting and the museum had bought it in good faith.
“To label the auction of works of art belonging to the Lewenstein family as voluntary is bizarre,” lawyer Simon van der Sluijs, representing Lewenstein’s heirs, told a court in the Netherlands capital. “Immediately after the invasion, the Germans started looting art. Pressure and coercion and the justified fear that lived among the Jews were used.”
According to the family, four of the seven members of the restitutions committee are either members of the Stedelijk Museum’s business club or work at an office that sponsors the institution.
A spokesperson for the museum denied any conflict of interest, insisting that all of the committee members were “competent and able to assess the case”. None had a financial interest in the museum or had ever been employed by it, the representative said.
In March, another family “complained to the Dutch culture minister that the committee in charge is not showing respect to families ‘traumatised’ by the Holocaust”, as The Telegraph reported at the time.
Descendants of Johanna Margarete Stern-Lippmann, who was killed in Auschwitz, are trying to reclaim another Kandinsky painting, also now owned by the Stedelijk Museum.
A ruling is expected in the Lewenstein case on 16 December.