U.S. News

Painter Malevich's heirs can sue Amsterdam for art

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. court has ruled that the heirs of Kazimir Malevich, a noted Russian painter of geometric abstract art, can sue the city of Amsterdam to recover 14 artworks worth tens of million of dollars, a lawyer for the family said on Friday.

Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum acquired the pictures and almost 100 other works from an acquaintance of Malevich in Germany in the 1950s, said the lawyer, Howard Spiegler.

The painter had taken the artworks to Berlin during the 1920s but left them behind when he returned to the Soviet Union, fearing hostile officials might destroy them. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, his German contacts entrusted some of the art to Hugo Haring, an acquaintance of the painter.

Malevich died in 1935. After the end of World War Two, most of his family was trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

“After they learned of the works’ existence decades later, the family attempted to resolve this matter with the City of Amsterdam but all their efforts were rebuffed,” Spiegler and colleague Lawrence Kaye said in an e-mail.

In 2003, the Amsterdam museum lent the 14 paintings to New York’s Guggenheim Museum and Houston’s Menil Collection, which prompted the heirs to file suit in the United States.

The Washington, D.C.-based U.S. District Court in 2005 denied Amsterdam’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which seeks monetary compensation and the return of the paintings.

The court said it needed more information to decide whether Amsterdam could be sued under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer denied Amsterdam’s renewed motion to dismiss the lawsuit, ruling that the city’s acquisition of the Malevich paintings “was not the type of sovereign act that receives protection.”