After 26 Years, Munich Settles Case Over a Klee Looted by the Nazis

“Through the story of this painting over the last 26 years,” he said in an interview, “we can trace the change of mentality not just in the museums, but also in the legal approach, the way we think about law and justice. Law and justice are not always the same thing. This settlement is a very important achievement for our museum. This is not just an important painting by Paul Klee, it contains the whole history of the 20th century.”

Photo

Paul Klee’s “Swamp Legend,” from 1919.

Credit
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau München

Some experts have viewed the lengthy dispute over “Swamp Legend” as indicative of a certain obstinacy on the part of Bavarian institutions toward redressing Nazi-era looting. Another painting in the Lenbachhaus, Wassily Kandinsky’s “Colorful Life,” is the subject of a lawsuit filed in March, and the heirs of Alfred Flechtheim, a Jewish art dealer, are suing the Bavarian regional government for the return of eight paintings they say were looted.

“A lot of Nazi-looted art ended up in Bavaria, and there is still a great deal to do there in terms of transparency, provenance research and restitution,” said Anne Webber, co-chairwoman of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe.

Officials in Bavaria have suggested that the criticism is unfair.

“The Bavarian Ministry of Culture and state collections and institutions are committed to vigorous provenance research with the goal of rectifying injustices of the Nazi era,” Bavaria’s minister of art, Ludwig Spaenle, said last week after another settlement with Jewish heirs was reached.

Klee painted “Swamp Legend” in 1919, while living in Munich, and it is believed that Ms. Lissitzky-Küppers’s husband, Paul Küppers, acquired it there directly from the artist. In 1922, though, Mr. Küppers died of tuberculosis, and his widow met and fell in love with the…

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