Kandinsky work among masterpieces at London auction

A newly restored masterpiece by Wassily Kandinsky, “Murnau Mit Kirche II”, will be auctioned in London on March 1, alongside a Munch and a Kupka once owned by Sean Connery. Valued at $45 million (42 million euros), the 1910 Kandinsky painting heralded the Russian master’s move towards abstraction. Measuring around one meter (three feet) by one meter, it offers a colorful vision of the German village of Murnau, with its pointed roofs and church spire stretched like the peaks of the Bavarian Alps. The oil work once adorned the dining room of 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 only identified a decade ago in a museum in Eindhoven, where it had been since 1951. It was returned last year to the Stern heirs, 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”.

A hidden Munch

The sale at Sotheby’s will also see a painting by Edvard Munch, “Dance on the Beach” (1906-7), go under the hammer. The work, which was kept safe from the Nazis in a barn in a Norwegian forest, is expected to fetch $15-25 million. Also on sale will be Frantisek Kupka’s 1912 work “Complexe”, which belonged to the late James Bond actor Sean Connery. It is expected to sell for $2.6-3.4 million, which would be a record for the Czech artist at auction.

The proceeds will go to the Sean Connery Foundation, created by his estate to deliver grants to institutions and organizations in Scotland and The Bahamas. The sale is part of a series of auctions next week in London, as Christie’s auction house handles works by Cezanne, Magritte and Picasso. — AFP

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