Descendants of Dutch painter and theoretician Piet Mondrian claim that four works currently in the collection of the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum in Krefeld, Germany, belong to the artist’s family. The geometric paintings from Mondrian’s “neo-plastic” period have been in the institution’s possession since at least 1950.
Mondrian’s heirs believe that the artist lent eight works to the museum before he left Europe to escape World War II. However, the city of Krefeld, which runs the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, is arguing that the paintings were gifts. A city spokesperson told the New York Times that Mondrian “regularly gave away paintings for which he no longer had any use.”
According to the descendants, no evidence has been provided to support the city’s claim. Since four of the works have since been sold by former director Paul Wember, they have hired the restitution lawyer Gunnar Schnabel and provenance expert Monika Tatzkow to help recover them.
The heirs also sought out former German culture minister Michael Naumann to weigh in on the matter. In a letter he wrote to the mayor of Krefeld last fall, he called the museum’s lack of transparency over the provenance of the works “an unspeakable piece of knavery by the museum’s management since the end of the war in 1945.”
In response to the ownership stake, the city said that the family’s claim falls outside of the statue of limitations. The museum has also pledged to hire its own experts to research the works.