A Dutch court has ruled that the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam can keep Wassily Kandinsky’s 1909 painting Painting with Houses, marking an end to one of the most prominent pending restitution suits. The work belonged to Robert Lewenstein, who fled the Nazi-occupied Netherlands in 1940, and in the lawsuit the Lewenstein’s heirs alleged that the country’s official Restitutions Commission exhibited an “appearance of partiality and a conflict of interest” in the matter.
Painting with Houses was sold to the museum by the Fredrik Muller auction house in 1940 at a reduced price, compared to what Lewenstein’s father had paid for it in 1923, a few months after Lewenstein left the Netherlands for France. The ruling states, “How exactly the work was put up for auction, on whose behalf and under what circumstances, has remained unclear despite extensive research,” but the Restitutions Commission’s 2018 rejection of the heirs’ claim “cannot be annulled” since it found no “serious defects” in its judgement.
The court also ruled that “the heirs have not demonstrated that there would be partiality and a conflict of interest among the members of the restitution committee.” Axel Hagedorn, a lawyer representing the heirs, told the New York Times that the ruling is “unbelievable,” adding, “I never expected this, and also on the legal merits we had in this case.”
According to the Times, the Stedelijk Museum intends to update the wall text accompanying the painting so as to convey its complete history. It will reportedly read, “The Stedelijk Museum deems it important that the history of this work now has been investigated as thoroughly as possible, and that after years of independent research, the Restitution Committee has been able to arrive at a binding advice.”
The ruling follows the release of a report recommending that the Dutch Restitutions Commission be “more empathic” in its handling of claims and that it abolish its practice of weighing the interests of museums in the cases it manages.