Wassily Kandinsky’s masterpiece “Murnau Mit Kirche II”, recently recovered by the descendants of its owner, a German Jew killed by the Nazis, sold for $45 million on Wednesday, a record for the artist according to auctioneers Sotheby’s.
The 1910 painting, a colourful vision of the German village of Murnau with its church spire stretched like the peaks of the Bavarian Alps, heralded the Russian master’s move towards abstraction.
The oil work once adorned the dining room of the Jewish couple Johanna Margarethe Stern and Siegbert Stern, founders of a textile company.
At the heart of Berlin’s cultural life in the 1920s, counting Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein in their circle, they built up a collection of around 100 paintings and drawings.
Siegbert Stern died of natural causes in 1935. His wife fled to the Netherlands but died in Auschwitz in May 1944 after being captured by the Nazis.
“Murnau Mit Kirche II” was identified only a decade ago in a museum in the Dutch city of Eindhoven, where it had been since 1951.
It was returned last year to the heirs of the Sterns, whose 13 survivors will share the proceeds. They include one member of the family who was in hiding during the war.
“Nothing can undo the wrongs of the past,” said a statement from the family.
But the painting’s restitution was “immensely significant to us, because it is an acknowledgement and partially closes a wound that has remained open over the generations”.
Also up for auction was Edward Munch’s 1906 “Dance on the Beach”, which was sheltered from the Nazis in a barn in a Norwegian forest and which has been the subject of a restitution agreement.
The painting fetched £16.9 million ($20 million, 19 million euros).
A Frantisek Kupka painting, “Complexe” (1912), which once belonged to the actor Sean Connery, sold for £4.6 million. Proceeds will go to the Connery Foundation, which operates in Scotland and the Bahamas.
The sale is part of a series of auctions in London devoted to modern and contemporary art.