On Wednesday, Sotheby’s unveiled a early abstract painting by Wassily Kandinsky that had recently been restituted to its original German-Jewish owners ahead of its London sales next month. The work, expected to fetch a price around $45 million, will be auctioned during its Impressionist and modern art evening sale taking place March 1.
Kandinsky produced the large-scale abstract canvas, Murnau mit Kirche II (View of Murnau with church), in 1910, during a period considered by experts to be a seminal once for the Russian-born artist, who is known as a pioneering figure in abstraction.
The painting was recently restituted to the heirs of its original owners, Johanna Margarete Stern and Siegbert Samuel Stern; the latter a modern art collector and textile manufacturer based in Berlin who was killed in Auschwitz in 1944. The Stern’s collection was dispersed in the 1930s while the couple fled the Nazi’s rise in the country.
In a statement from Sotheby’s, the Sten’s heirs described the work’s return as an “immensely significant” acknowledgement of the family’s plight.
The work’s location was identified by researchers nearly a decade ago in the Netherland’s Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. Before its legal title was granted to Stern’s descendants by the museum after a contentious six-year legal battle, it had resided in the museum collection since 1951. The Stern’s recovered the work from the European museum in September 2022.
Proceeds from the sale will be divided among the Stern’s thirteen descendants. According to a statement from Sotheby’s, the sale’s funds will be used to back research efforts around the remainder of the family’s collection.
If the work reaches its low estimate, it will be among the most expensive works by the artist sold at auction. The current record auction price for the artist is $41 million, paid for Painting with White Lines (1913) in 2017 at Sotheby’s in London.