The German auction house Grisebach has sold a painting stolen from the National Museum in Warsaw. Despite the intervention of the Polish authorities, Kandinsky’s composition went to a new buyer for a price of 310,000 euros.
Wassily Kandinsky’s watercolour ‘Ohne Titel – Lot 31’ was stolen from Warsaw’s National Museum from the exhibition ‘Concepts of Space in Contemporary Art’ in 1984. The stamp of the museum is still preserved on the back of the watercolour. The Grisebach auction house itself, in describing the painting’s history, indicated that it was in a Polish public collection.
Despite this, and despite strong protests from the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Polish embassy in Berlin, Grisebach decided to put the stolen artwork up for auction. On Thursday evening, he announced that the watercolour had been sold for 310,000 euros. The painting came to the German gallery from the collection of Maren Otto. “Forbes” estimates her fortune at $2.5 billion, the Handelsblatt newspaper reported in November.
This information sparked outrage from the Polish authorities and the public. Piotr Gliński, Minister of Culture and National Heritage, stated that the German auction house “behaved like a common fence”. Piotr Mueller, a spokesman for the Polish government, meanwhile, stated that “the situation is scandalous”. “Despite the fact that Polish diplomacy informed both the German authorities and the authorities of the auction house that this was a stolen work, the sale took place. I am at a loss for words, frankly speaking, because this also shows what the attitude of the German authorities is to this type of situation” – he declared.
The Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage has assured that it will take all possible legal steps to retrieve the painting. Following intervention, the auction house announced that it would suspend the auction until the matter was clarified. However, it had previously ignored similar requests and protests.