German auction house suspends sale of Kandinsky work stolen from Poland’s national museum

The Grisebach auction house in Berlin suspended the transaction following protest from Polish officials

editor: Grzegorz Adamczyk
Source: Facebook/Mateusz Morawiecki

A Berlin auction house has revealed it will order an additional judicial review to explain the legality of the auctioning of a Kandinsky painting that was a part of a collection at the Warsaw National Museum and was stolen from there in 1984.

A spokesperson for the Grisebach auction house confirmed it had recently learned about the theft of the painting from the Polish Ministry of Culture, and despite overseeing a sale of the piece for €310,000, has now suspended the transaction pending investigation.

Poland’s Culture Minister Piotr Gliński criticized the German auctioneers on Twitter “for behaving like receivers of stolen goods.”

Gliński accused Grisebach of consciously going ahead with the sale of the painting, calling the move “a violation of standards that should apply on the international art market.” The Polish culture ministry has said that it will take all possible legal steps to recover the painting. 

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has also commented on the issue, calling the attempted sale “shocking” and praising the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Poland for a “speedy reaction.” It is the speed of the response which, in Morawiecki’s judgment, prevented the ultimate sale of the stolen painting. He went on to add in a Facebook post that Poland will pursue those who have stolen art from the country during World War II or in any other period.

The Kandinsky painting was stolen from Warsaw’s National Museum on June 14, 1984. There is a stamp of the National Museum on the back of the painting and the German auction house admits that it knew of the fact that it was once a part of the National Museum’s collection.

The painting was reported to Interpol’s database of stolen art, but this did not stop the Berlin auction house from initially selling the painting for €310,000.

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