Recovered from Holocaust victims’ heirs, the Kandinsky painting sets an auction record of nearly $45 million

Written by Hafsa Khalil, CNNLondon

A painting by Russian modernist Wassily Kandinsky that once belonged to victims of the Nazi Holocaust has sold for £37.2 million ($44.55 million) at Sotheby’s in London.
At the auction house’s Modern & Contemporary Evening Auction on Wednesday, “Murnau mit Kirche II” (1910) was the most expensive auction of the evening and a new auction record for the artist.
A previous world record for a work by Kandinsky was set in 2016 with the sale of his Rigide et Courbé for $23.3 million at Christie’s in New York.

“Kandinsky’s Murnau period defined abstract art for future generations,” Helena Newman, chair of Sotheby’s Europe and global head of Impressionist & Modern Art, said in a statement.

“The release of such an important painting – one of the last of its time and size to be privately owned – is an important moment for the market and for collectors,” she said.

Kandinsky was living with his lover Gabriele Münter and artist friends in Murnau, Bavaria, when he painted “Murnau mit Kirche II” —

inspired by the local landscape during a bike ride. Münter himself wrote an inscription on the stretcher frame of the painting.

The painting was inspired by a bike ride in Bavaria. Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

The painting has a long history. It was auctioned off as a property from the collection of prominent Berlin collectors, married couple Johanna Margarete and Siegbert Stern, following its final restoration to the family’s surviving heirs last year by the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

Stern family photos show the Kandinsky hanging in the dining room of their parents’ home, the Villa Stern in Potsdam. But after the rise of the Nazis in 1933 and the death of her husband two years later, Johanna Margarete fled to the Netherlands and was declared stateless.

According to family papers, the Kandinsky – among other works – was taken to the Netherlands and presumably passed on to a dealer who had looted Jewish property in the occupied country before Johanna Margarete’s deportation and death in Auschwitz in 1944, according to the Sotheby’s catalogue. It was later sold to the Van Abbemuseum in 1951 by another dealer.

Referring to his story, Newman said the painting’s return finally allowed people to “rediscover the place of the Sterns and their collection in the glittering cultural milieu of 1920s Berlin.”

Proceeds from the sale will be shared among Stern’s 13 surviving descendants and will also fund further research to track down her family’s extensive art collection, the statement added.

Another big sale that night was Edvard Munch’s “Dans på stranden (Reinhardt-frisen)” or “Dance on the Beach (The Reinhardt Frieze)”, which sells for £16.94 million ($20.3 million). became.

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