Poland’s Ministry of Culture and Natural Heritage has said it will take legal action and seek restitution after a Wassily Kandinsky painting believed to be stolen from the National Museum in Warsaw was sold at a German auction. Photo courtesy of Grisebach
Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Poland's Ministry of Culture and Natural Heritage has said it will take legal action and seek restitution after a Wassily Kandinsky painting believed to be stolen from the National Museum in Warsaw was sold at a German auction.
"In connection with the sale of Wassily Kandinsky's watercolor "Composition", stolen in 1984 from the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw, at the German auction house Grisebach, we will take all possible legal steps to recover the work," the Ministry of Culture said in a statement on Thursday.
"At the same time, we emphasize that we consider the transaction carried out knowingly by the Grisebach auction house to be highly unethical and contrary to the standards that should apply on the international art market."
Kandinsky, the Blue Rider and Bauhaus painter, was born in Moscow but raised in the Ukrainian city of Odesa and graduated from the Grekov Odesa Art School. He made the painting "Untitled (1928)" with watercolor and pen with black ink on cardboard.
The painting was sold by Grisebach at an auction on Thursday for $408,328, according to a listing by the auction house.
In a description for the provenance of the painting, which is the term used in the art world to describe the tracking of such artifacts as they change hands over time, the auction house said the work had been consigned for sale by the Hamburg-based German philanthropist Maren Otto, who bought it in 1988 from Galerie Thomas in Munich.
The painting was acquired by Warsaw's National Museum from a private collection in 1982 but was stolen from the museum in June 1984 when it was presented in an exhibition titled Concepts of Space in Contemporary Art, according to a 1985 report from the International Foundation for Art Research.
"To this day, the seal of the National Museum in Warsaw has been preserved on the back of the watercolor, which clearly indicates its origin. The auction house itself, indicating the history of watercolors, admits that it was in Polish public collections," Poland's Ministry of Culture said in a statement ahead of the auction.
"Despite the request to withdraw the work by W. Kandinsky, the auction house Grisebach intends to sell it."
A Grisebach spokesperson told The Art Newspaper on Saturday that the auction house does not doubt that the purchase of the watercolor in 1998 was made in good faith.
"Grisebach first became aware of a possible theft from a Polish museum shortly before the auction through a communication from the Polish Ministry of Culture," the spokesperson said.
"This notification was immediately taken as an opportunity to enter into a further legal investigation. This led to the clear conclusion that there were no legal objections to the auction of the watercolor."
The spokesperson told The Art Newspaper that the auction house has contacted Otto and the purchaser and will "endeavor to bring about a supplementary judicial legal review by a court in order to obtain a binding clarification."