A Holocaust Survivor’s Heirs are Closer to Getting a Kandinsky Painting Back

This week, Amsterdam's mayor Femke Halsem announced that discussions regarding the return of the painting had officially commenced.

‘Painting with Houses’ (oil on canvas) by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944). Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

On Thursday, Femke Halsem, the mayor of Amsterdam, announced that discussions regarding the return of a Wassily Kandinsky painting to its rightful Jewish heirs had officially commenced. In February, Halsem had previously urged an official advisory committee to reconsider their decision to allow the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam to retain the painting; the family of Holocaust survivor Irma Klein had already been fighting to get the painting back for approximately a decade. “Returning this artwork will mean a lot to the victims and is important for acknowledging the injustice perpetrated,” Halsema wrote in a statement at the time.

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Given that the family’s sale of the painting took place directly following the Nazi invasion, it stands to reason that the transaction could have been what’s called an involuntary sale. Therefore, Halsem is arguing, the return of the painting could be instrumental in easing just one of countless examples of Holocaust-related suffering. “In view of the long time period and the importance of redressing injustice, we will return the work without a new intervention by the Restitutions Committee,’ Halsema wrote in the letter.

“We are very happy about this decision,” Simon van der Sluijs, a representative from the family’s law firm, told DutchNews.nl. “We see this as a form of historical injustice that is now corrected, and it’s not so often that you have a chance to do that. Unfortunately, in February, one of the heirs died, and the litigation has been going on since 2013, so it’s a shame she didn’t live to see this.”

“Property rights of the claimants are fundamental in a democracy regardless of a museum’s interest in retaining such property,” James Palmer, the founder of the Mondex Corporation who helps heirs reclaim looted art, said. Amsterdam’s decision, Palmer added, “clearly disposes with the flawed approach of the balance of interest test which effectively placed the rights of the museum to display stolen property ahead of the rights of the property owners to enjoy their property and if they choose to sell, lend or display such art in the museums of their choice.”

A Holocaust Survivor’s Heirs are Closer to Getting a Kandinsky Painting Back