Netherlands funds more Nazi loot research

The Netherlands Museums Association announced on 5 January that it is beginning a new round of provenance research on Nazi-looted art, with a budget allocated by the Dutch state of €1.3m until 2013. The association will be working with between 100 and 150 Dutch museums, with a particular focus on works acquired from 1933 onwards. Similar research into art that may have been confiscated from Jews by the Nazis was conducted ten years ago, which concentrated on works that had been acquired by museums between 1940 and 1948.

“It’s a case of finishing off what we began ten years ago,” Siebe Weide, director of the association, told The Art Newspaper. “We coordinate the research, pass on our knowledge and give instructions to the museums on how to conduct research.” The museums will then carry out the work over the next four years, and an inventory of works with questionable provenance will be drawn up and publicised. The association is only involved with the enquiries into provenance, not with any subsequent claims that may arise. “It’s not our work to return them, we prefer this to be dealt with by the [autonomous] national committee on restitutions,” said Mr Weide. “We need one procedure to deal with this—we prefer there to be a national standard rather than diversity.”

The Restitutions Committee was set up by the Dutch Ministry of Culture in 2002 to advise on the return of cultural property related to state collections. “I’m not sure exactly how it’s going to be arranged,” said Evelien Campfens, secretary to the committee, with regard to the imminent research project by the Museums Association. “For the moment we are mandated until the end of 2010 [The Art Newspaper, February 2008, p6]. So it depends when any claims are presented.” Ms Campfens said that once research starts, claims may start to surface next year, or even sooner.
She added that she was aware of two claims to the committee resulting directly from the Museums Association’s work ten years ago. One of these was for a 19th-century painting, Female Figure at a Well, by French artist Jean- Baptiste-Camille Corot (date unknown), which was returned from the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo to the heirs of George Eduard Behrens in July 2008. “But I know that many claims were settled before we came into existence in 2002,” Ms Campfens told The Art Newspaper. “Before this, the museums themselves were dealing with the claims or the law courts. But you didn’t stand much chance with restitution claims under Dutch civil law, so that was why we came into existence.”

The Restitutions Committee currently has 36 outstanding claims of the 106 made to it so far. Most of these result from research begun in 1998 by the government organisation Origins Unknown into the thousands of works in the Nederlands Kunstbezit-collectie (NK collection) that had been recovered from Germany and placed in Dutch museums. The most famous case is that of Jacques Goudstikker, in which 202 works were returned by the Dutch government to the Jewish dealer’s heir, Marei von Saher, in 2006 (The Art Newspaper, May 2007, p66).

Pauline Kruseman, former director of the Amsterdam Historisch Museum, was involved with the Netherlands Museums Association’s research ten years ago. “We have been very positive about the results of the report by the first committee, and I hope that the second committee can continue our work,” she said. “It’s better to do it now than never,” she added.

This article was published in The Art Newspaper February 2009, p15. To see it in context, click the PDF link below.

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