Klement Toussaint, the self-styled “art-detective” representing the heirs of Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, has told Russia’s leading daily, Kommersant, that he has set his sights on Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum.
The museum has one of the world’s largest collections of Malevich, owning about thirty paintings, fifteen drawings, and eighteen theoretical drawings explaining his theory of Suprematism, which expounds the supremacy of feeling and emotion.
Mr Toussaint successfully represented the heirs in a legal battle which brought some $5 million in compensation from the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA), as well as the return of one painting from that museum, “Suprematist composition”, which recently sold at a Phillips auction in New York for over $17 million.
Mr Toussaint told the Russian daily that he is currently in contact with the Stedelijk, but would not provide details as to what, if anything, he hoped to get. Any legal action by the heirs against the Stedelijk will be more difficult than with MoMA because the Stedelijk purchased its Malevich works, while MoMA had received its Malevich for safe-keeping.
The origins of the museum’s collection dates from 1927 when Malevich brought some 100 works to an exhibition in Berlin, only to leave them there upon his sudden return to the Soviet Union; he died in poverty and despair in 1935, in Leningrad, just as the Stalinist terror was in full swing and art subjected to the dogmas of Socialist Realism.
Malevich works were hidden in the cellar of the Landesmuseum in Hanover only to be rediscovered after World War II. Some works were sent to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, while others were sold to the Stedelijk in the 1950s.
The identity of the Malevich heirs remains a closely guarded secret and Mr Toussaint told the Russian daily that he advised them not to speak publicly about the matter. It is believed that many of the heirs are Russian citizens, most of whom have long lived in poverty.