Nazi Loot Dispute Settled, Christie’s to Sell Kandindsky

Bloomberg 2 November 2012
By Catherine Hickley

The 1923 abstract painting “Zwei Schwarze Flecke” (“Two Black Marks”) is scheduled to be auctioned in New York on Nov. 7 at the Christie’s International Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale. It is estimated to fetch between $1.8 million and $2.4 million, according to the catalog.

                       'Zwei schwarze Flecken'

Monika Tatzkow via Bloomberg

The watercolor "Zwei schwarze Flecken" (Two Black Marks), (1923) by Kandinsky. The heirs of Sophie Lissitzky-Kueppers, who owned the painting before World War II, say it was stolen by the Nazis.



Monika Tatzkow via Bloomberg

"Sumpflegende" (Swamp Legend) by Paul Klee. The work was seized by the Nazis in 1937. The picture, which now hangs in Munich's Lenbachhaus, is claimed by the heirs of its prewar owner, a German art historian who emigrated to the Soviet Union.

                  Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler and other Nazi officials visit the ``Degenerate Art" exhibition in Berlin, Germany, on July 16, 1937. Berlin's Free University has compiled a new Internet database of the fate of more than 21,000 artworks seized by the Nazis from German museums. Source: Free University via Bloomberg

The Kandinsky work once belonged to Sophie Lissitzky- Kueppers, a German art historian who emigrated to Moscow in 1927 to join the Russian artist El Lissitzky, her future husband. Her grandchildren say the watercolor was one of 16 works that Lissitzky-Kueppers loaned to Hanover’s Provinzialmuseum before she left. Those works were later seized by the Nazis and termed “degenerate.”

“Legal security and legal peace have been achieved for an additional artwork from the Lissitzky-Kueppers collection,” her grandchildren said in an e-mailed statement sent to Bloomberg News by their legal representatives, Gunnar Schnabel and Christoph von Berg.

Wassily Kandinsky, like Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, was among artists condemned by the Nazis. Under Joseph Goebbels’s orders, more than 20,000 works by such artists were seized from German museums in 1937. Some were shown in the infamous 1937 “Degenerate Art” show in Munich, which drew more than 2 million visitors.

Lempertz Auction

The Cologne auction house Kunsthaus Lempertz offered the Kandinsky for sale on Dec. 2 last year -- before a settlement with the heirs had been reached -- with a top estimate of 1 million euros ($1.3 million).

Lempertz argued that the claim by Lissitzky-Kueppers’ heirs was unfounded and said she had given “Zwei Schwarze Flecke” away. The painting failed to sell.

Von Berg and Schnabel said they can prove that Lempertz’s version of events is incorrect, although the exact path the painting took after Lissitzky-Kueppers’ departure is not completely clear.

The consignor, Erika Bendix, opened negotiations with the grandchildren after the unsuccessful auction with the aim of reaching a fair settlement. Bendix is the widow of the collector who bought the painting at a Lempertz auction in 1989. The agreement involves sharing the revenue from the sale, von Berg said by phone from Leipzig. He declined to give further details.

Loaned Klee

Among the paintings Lissitzky-Kueppers is known to have loaned to the Hanover museum was Paul Klee’s “Sumpflegende” (Swamp Legend). The artwork, shown in the “Degenerate Art” exhibition, is now in the collection of Munich’s Lenbachhaus museum. Munich’s regional court is scheduled to rule on whether the city must restitute it to the grandchildren on Dec. 19.

The grandchildren are also seeking a painting by Piet Mondrian called “Schilderij No. 2,” which they believe may be in a private U.S. collection, and works by George Grosz and Fernand Leger, according to the heirs’ representatives.

Kandinsky gave “Zwei Schwarze Flecke” to Lissitzky- Kueppers to thank her for her engagement in supporting a 1924 Vienna exhibition he took part in, according to the heirs’ representatives. On the back of the painting are the words “Property of Sophie Kueppers/Not for sale.”

During World War II, Lissitzky-Kueppers was banished to Siberia by Stalin as a German living in the Soviet Union. She failed to recover her paintings and died in penury in 1978 in Novosibirsk. Before her death, she gave her son a list of the missing paintings and asked him to try to track them down.
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