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Bill restituting artefacts to Benin and Senegal passes into French law

Plus: Dutch court rules Kandinsky painting can stay at the Stedelijk | Brian P. Kennedy resigns as director of the Peabody Essex Museum | and Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh staff vote to unionise

18 December 2020

The French parliament has finalised the restitution of 26 artefacts to the Republic of Benin and one to Senegal. Speaking in the National Assembly on Thursday, the French culture minister Roselyne Bachelot described the move as ‘the culmination of a long process’ but stressed that the law allowing for the return of these artefacts sets no precedent for the return of others. The Senate had voted unanimously in favour of the bill’s first reading, but its amendment to set up a national council on restitution and to change the final wording was rejected by the National Assembly, which was able to pass its preferred version into law.

A Dutch court has ruled that the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam can keep a painting by Kandinsky that it acquired during the Second World War from a Jewish owner. The decision upholds the finding of the Dutch Restitutions Committee, which has recently been the subject of a government report that has recommended it reform its practices. The heirs of Robert Lewenstein and Irma Klein, the original owners of the painting, are expected to file an appeal against the judgement. A spokesman for the claimants has described the ruling as ‘a second despoliation of the painting’. In a statement, the City of Amsterdam said that the painting ‘will forever be linked to a painful history’.

Brian P. Kennedy, the director and chief executive of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, has resigned. Kennedy, who was appointed in July 2019 and was previously director of the Toledo Museum of Art, will leave the museum at the end of this year. He has not given a specific reason for his departure. Meanwhile, Guillaume Kientz has been named the new director of the Hispanic Society Museum and Library in New York. Kientz, an expert on Velázquez and El Greco, is currently curator of European Art at the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas and was before that a curator of Spanish and Latin American art at the Louvre. He will take up his post in early 2021. The Hispanic Society has been closed for renovations since 2017 and has experienced financial difficulties in recent years. It is unclear exactly when the museum will reopen.

The staff of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh have voted by 278–75 to join the United Steelworkers Union, after a unionisation drive that began in June. The museum workers are the latest to form a union after staff at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the MFA Boston did so earlier this year.

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