Kandinsky Painting Returned to Heirs of Original German Jewish Owners to Sell for Estimated $45 Million
by Shiryn Ghermezian
An abstract painting by Wassily Kandinsky that survived the Holocaust and was recently restituted to the family of its original German Jewish owners will be up for sale in March.
The painting is described by Sotheby’s auction house as one of the most important works by the artist ever to appear in auction.
Murnau mit Kirche II (View of Murnau with church) from 1910 is expected to sell for an estimated $45 million when Sotheby’s in London makes it available for purchase on March 1, the auction house said on Wednesday. Kandinsky’s early works, like Murnau mit Kirche II, are rarely on the market, with majority of them on display in major museums around the world.
Shortly after it was painted by Kandinsky — a Russian-born artist who is considered a pioneer in abstract painting — the artwork was acquired by the German Jewish couple Johanna Margarete and Siegbert Samuel Stern, co-founders of a successful textile business in Berlin and part of a social circle that included Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein. The couple amassed an art collection that consisted of more than 100 paintings and drawings.
Siegbert died of natural causes in 1935 and Johanna Margarete was killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. Their art collection was dispersed in the 1930s and Murnau mit Kirche II was identified by researchers as belonging to the Stern family almost 10 years ago as it hung on the walls of the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands, where it had been since 1951.
Kandinsky’s artwork was recently restituted to the descendants of the Stern family and proceeds from the Sotheby’s auction in March will be shared between the couple’s 13 heirs. The sale of the work will also fund further research into discovering what happened to the rest of the family’s art collection, Sotheby’s said.
“Though nothing can undo the wrongs of the past, nor the impact on our family and those who were in hiding – one of whom is still alive – the restitution of this painting that meant so much to our great-grandparents is immensely significant to us, because it is an acknowledgement and partially closes a wound that has remained open over the generations,” the heirs said in a joint statement.
Before it goes up for auction in London on March 1, Murnau mit Kirche II will be exhibited at Sotheby’s Hong Kong from Feb. 5-7 February, New York from Feb. 11-15 and London from Feb. 22-March 1.
“Kandinsky’s Murnau period came to define abstract art for future generations, and the appearance of such an important painting – one of the last of this period and scale remaining in private hands – is a major moment for the market and for collectors,” said Helena Newman, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe and co-head of impressionist and modern art worldwide. “Its restitution after so many years allows us finally to reconnect this remarkable painting with its history, and rediscover the place of the Sterns and their collection in the glittering cultural milieu of 1920s Berlin.”
If Murnau mit Kirche II reaches its estimate of $45 million when it’s auctioned off next month it will be the most expensive Kandinsky work to ever be sold at auction, according to ARTnews. Currently the record auction price for a Kandinsky piece is $41 million, which was paid for Painting with White Lines (1913) in 2017 at Sotheby’s in London.