BERLIN — After 26 years in court, the longest-running German legal wrangle over Nazi-looted art ended on Wednesday with a settlement that will reimburse a family for the seizure of a masterpiece by Paul Klee that was once scorned as the work of a degenerate.
For decades, officials for the city of Munich, citing a variety of arguments, had resisted returning Klee’s “Swamp Legend,” a dreamlike abstract painting punctuated by childlike imaginings of windows, trees and crosses.
But after years of political pressure, the city agreed to a settlement under which the work would remain in Munich’s Lenbachhaus museum, but the heirs of the German art historian from whom it was taken would be paid a sum equal to its market value.
“It’s a scandal that it has taken so long, and a disgrace that we had no alternative to going to court,” said Gunnar Schnabel, a lawyer for the heirs, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers, the art historian.
Matthias Mühling, the director of the Lenbachhaus, presented the settlement as evidence of progress.
“Through the story of this painting over the last 26 years,” he said in an interview, “we can trace the change of mentality not just in the museums, but also in the legal approach, the way we think about law and justice. Law and justice are not always the same thing. This settlement is a very important achievement for our museum. This is not just an important painting by Paul Klee, it contains the whole history of the 20th century.”