German Bank Agrees to Return a Kandinsky to Heirs of a Jewish Family

Bavaria’s state-owned bank announced Monday that it will return Wassily Kandinsky’s masterpiece, which has been on display in German museums since 1972, to descendants of Jewish families persecuted during the Nazi occupation of Holland.

In a brief statement, the bank Bayern LB said it had decided to follow the advice issued last month by the German government’s advisory committee on art looted by the Nazis. The committee recommended that the bank return the 1907 tempera painting A Life in Color to the heirs of Emanuel Albert Lewenstein, the master of a sewing machine factory, and his wife Hedwig Lewenstein-Waremann.

Heirs’ attorney James Palmer said: “Any reparations are important because they provide healing, justice and a sense of dignity to the families of persecuted victims.”

The Levenstein family owns a large art collection, most of which was sold at an Amsterdam auction on October 9, 1940, just months after Germany invaded the Netherlands. Bayern LB obtained the ‘Colorful Life’ from the widow of the collector who bought it at that auction.

The bank has loaned the painting, which depicts a vibrant dreamlike scene of brightly dressed Russian figures in a fantasy landscape, to Munich’s Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus for the past 50 years. Kandinsky spent most of his early career in Munich and this museum houses him in one of the most important collections of his art in the world.

Years of research into the provenance of “The Colorful Life” failed to reveal how it was sold in 1940, or even who put it up for auction. By then Mr and Mrs Lewenstein had died and their two children had fled Europe.

A German government commission concluded that “there are numerous indications that this was a case seized as a result of Nazi persecution.” The report said that the loss of art objects experienced by Jewish collectors after the invasion of Germany on May 10, 1940, should be presumed to be involuntary, in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary.

“This fundamental reversal of the burden of proof in favor of former owners reflects the pressure exerted by the Nazi regime on the persecuted population,” it said, adding that “the systematic exclusion, disenfranchisement and disenfranchisement of Dutch Jews began shortly after the invasion.”

In recent years, Rubenstein’s heirs have recovered another lost Kandinsky painting under similar uncertain circumstances and sold it at the same 1940 auction. The return of the painting “Painting With Houses” ended a long and bitter dispute between the heirs and the city of Amsterdam.

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