Published  14/01/2002

Loot to boot


Today, there is a generation of war victims, descendants of 20th century pioneers, now made modern masters, who rightfully seek to reclaim works that had been held during the war, until divested by the families of the artists. Into this category falls Jen Lissitsky, son of El Lissitsky; he would like to recover works which his mother, Sophie Kuppers-Lissitsky had collected pre-war. These include works by George Grosz, Mondrian, Klee and Kandinsky. A current item in question is Kandinsky’s early ‘Improvisation No 10’ acquired by the Basle-based Beyeler Foundation gallery in Basle, soon after the Second World War, and a key element in the museum’s public display. Jens Lissitsky was to have been offered a realistic settlement by Beyeler, allowing them to retain the work for display, but following judicial recommendation negotiations broke down over valuations. The tug-of-art continues, to the detriment of the museum’s public image. A similar controversy relates to a group of Malevich paintings, entrusted by the artist to his friend, famous Berlin architect Hugo Haring. Eventually in l956, under much pressure, Haring agreed with the director of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, to loan them 79 works, and there was an option for them too, but after two years (which was 30 years after Haring had first taken responsibility to safeguard the works on Malevich’s behalf). Now the Malevich estate is minded to sue the Stedelijk for their return.

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