The Kunstmuseum Basel and Malevich Heirs Settle

In a joint press release dated January 20, 2012, the heirs of the famous Russian artist Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935), the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Government of the Canton of Basel-Stadt announced terms of a settlement agreement resolving the Heirs’ claim to works by Malevich (two gouaches “Landscape with Red Houses” and “The Washing Woman” and a series of approximately 60 drawings made by Malevich and his assistants) that have been in the possession of the Kunstmuseum Basel since the 1960s.

According to the settlement terms, one of the gouaches was transferred to the Heirs, the other will remain in the Museum’s collection. The settlement apparently resolves all questions as to title to the Malevich works in question.

Below are some experts from the press release:

“In 1964, the Kunstmuseum Basel purchased the gouache “Landscape with Red Houses” from Marlborough Fine Art Ltd Gallery in London. In 1969, Mrs. Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach donated the drawings, which are the original illustrations of Malevich’s 1927 book “Die gegenstandslose Welt”, to the Kunstmuseum Basel. Finally, Dr. Franz Meyer, the former director of the Kunstmuseum Basel, donated the gouache, “The Washing Woman”, which he had bought at auction in 1964, to the Kunstmuseum Basel in 1995. The Museum’s position is that it acquired the Malevich works honourably and acquired good title to them pursuant to Swiss law. The Heirs contest this and believe that the works are the rightful property of the Heirs…
Under the ICOM Code of Professional Ethics, which the Kunstmuseum Basel is committed to follow, a museum is obliged to establish accountability on the origin of all works of art in its possession and to speak with claimants about surrendering works of art whose provenance has not been resolved completely. The Kunstmuseum Basel has had an open dialogue with Malevich’s heirs, and both parties have provided information on the works of art concerned, openly and without reservation. Ultimately, the Kunstmuseum and Malevich’s heirs reached the understanding that any and all of the Kunstmuseum’s right, title and interest in and to the gouache “Landscape with Red Houses” would be transferred to the Heirs…
In reaching this historic settlement, the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Heirs strived for a resolution that keeps works by Malevich on public display, acknowledges the historical developments and circumstances that prevented Malevich from returning to Germany and to his artworks after he was called back to the Soviet Union in 1927, and respects the legacy of the Heirs. The Kunstmuseum Basel and the Heirs agree that the amicable settlement achieves these objectives and settles all questions as to title to the Malevich works at the Museum.The Heirs, commenting on the settlement through their counsel, Lawrence M. Kaye, said: “The Malevich family is gratified that this matter has been resolved in a way that acknowledges Malevich’s legacy and his contributions to the history of 20th century art, keeps his work on public display in Basel for all to see and cherish, and provides us with a historic work by our noted ancestor.”

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