Polish officials have condemned the decision of a German auction house in Germany to sell a painting from Wassily Kandinsky.
The untitled abstract watercolour 1928 was stolen in 1984 from Warsaw’s National Museum.
According to auctioneers, they investigated evidence from Poland’s cultural ministry about the theft of the painting and determined that there were no legal objections to the sale. It was sold at EUR 310,000.
Berlin’s Grisebach auctionhouse has decided that the finalisation will be halted following anger in Poland.
Officials from Warsaw claim that the Kandinsky painting bears a stamp from the museum it was originally from.
Marcin Krol (Polish consul to Berlin), attended the Berlin auction but could not stop the sale. It was claimed that it had been added to an Interpol database of stolen art works.
Piotr Gilski (Polish deputy prime minister and cultural minister) wrote that the German auction house “acted as a fence for stolen items.” It sold Kandinsky, despite the fact that it had been stolen from a Polish museum.
According to the ministry, it will take legal action to recover the painting. It described the auction as being “highly unethical” and against international standards.
The auction house stated in a statement that it took “the greatest care” to verify the Kandinsky watercolour’s ownership and came to the conclusion there was no legal objection to the sale.
It had however decided to request a court review. The company was suspending any further sale handling until the firm received binding clarification.
Because Poland still tries to retrieve thousands of artifacts taken by Nazis during World War Two, the Kandinsky sale is very sensitive.
Arkadiusz, Deputy Foreign Minister Mularczyk stated that the sale was indicative of a wider unwillingness by Germany to return stolen property from Poland.
“They don’t want cultural assets that were stolen from Poland to be returned. This theft is protected by German law, which we find problematic. He said that it doesn’t look well for German law.”
German law allows such sales, as a work is no longer considered stolen after thirty years.
This situation is more concerning because of the problems Germany has with stolen property, compensations and cultural assets seized from Poland. He said that many of these are now located on German soil.”
A parliamentary committee led by Mr Mularczyk calculated the Polish loss to Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1945 at 6.22 trillion Zloty (PS1.1tn, $1.4tn). The Polish government wrote a note in October to Berlin asking for compensation.
Because of the 1953 USSR-East Germany agreement, under which Poland’s communist authority resigned, the German government regards the question of war reparations as closed.
Poland claims that the agreement is invalid due to Soviet influence.