Restitutions committee advises on two claims to looted art (RC 1.115-B/RC 3.129)

The Hague, 18 September 2011

RESTITUTIONS COMMITTEE ADVISES ON TWO CLAIMS TO LOOTED ART

THE HAGUE – The Restitutions Committee is announcing two new recommendations on claims to looted art. Both claims concern objects from the former property of the Gutmann family. In a dispute about a grisaille by Jacob de Wit in the Drents Museum, the Committee has deemed that the museum does not have to return this work of art to the family. In addition, the Committee also recommends that the Minister for Education, Culture and Science rejects the claim to a sixteenth-century dish.

The grisaille entitled Allegory of Autumn was made by artist Jacob de Wit in the middle of the eighteenth century as an decoration for the drawing room of Huize Bosbeek in Heemstede. During the Second World War, this overdoor was a constituent part of this country estate, the property of Jewish banker and art collector Fritz Gutmann. At the core of the dispute between the heirs and the Drents Museum, is the question whether the Gutmann family lost possession of the grisaille involuntarily because of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. The Restitutions Committee believes that this was not the case.

In 1944, Fritz Gutmann and his wife Louise Erika von Landau fell victim to Jewish persecution. Their two children survived the war. The Committee’s investigation showed that Huize Bosbeek had been sold by the occupying authorities to a Nazi institution during the war. After the war, in 1950, the restitution of rights authorities restored the ownership rights to the Gutmann heirs, as a result of which the family also regained possession of the grisaille. This had been taken from its place above the drawing room door after the Gutmann couple left Huize Bosbeek in 1943, but had remained in the house. Later on in 1950, the Gutmann heirs sold Huize Bosbeek to the Saint Hieronymus Aemilius foundation. In 1954, the overdoor was found badly damaged in the cellar of Huize Bosbeek and was then transferred by this foundation to the State of the Netherlands, which sold the grisaille to the province of Drenthe in 1964. 

The applicants state that when the Gutmann family sold Huize Bosbeek to the Saint Hieronymus Aemilius foundation in 1950 they had assumed that the overdoor had been lost. However, the investigation conducted by the Committee has shown that a former colleague of Fritz Gutmann, who was aware of the situation at Huize Bosbeek, wrote to the family in October 1945 saying that at that point, the grisaille was still in the house. The Committee concludes from this that the Gutmann family lost possession of the grisaille together with the sale of Huize Bosbeek in 1950, and is of the opinion that this cannot be regarded as involuntary loss of possession as a direct consequence of the Nazi regime. In view of this, the Committee rules that the Museum does not have to return the grisaille to the applicants.

Gubbio dish
The second recommendation concerns a ‘Gubbio dish’ from the sixteenth century (NK 615) which was claimed by the heirs of Fritz Gutmann and of one of his brothers, Jewish banker and art collector Herbert Gutmann, respectively. In 1912, the dish was part of the collection of Eugen Gutmann, the father of Fritz and Herbert Gutmann, and it was subsequently held on consignment by art dealership Bachstitz in The Hague since the early 1920s. This art dealership sold the dish to a German buyer in 1942. The applicants state that when it was sold in 1942 Bachstitz did not own it, but still held it on consignment. However, during its investigation the Committee found evidence to suggest that Bachstitz had purchased the dish from the Gutmann family. In its recommendation, the Committee deems that it is not highly probable that the dish was still the property of the Gutmann family at the time of the sale in 1942 and therefore advised the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to reject the claim. The Minister has accepted this advice.

The Restitutions Committee
Since January 2002, the Restitutions Committee has provided advice to the Minister for Education, Culture and Science regarding claims to items of cultural value in the possession of the national government. In addition, the Committee can also issue binding opinions concerning disputes between two parties over an item of cultural value not in the possession of the national government. Such opinions are given on the basis of what is ‘reasonable and fair’. Since 2002, the Committee has provided recommendations on 113 claims, five of which were binding opinions. The Committee is currently handling a further 6 binding opinion cases In the coming years it is expected that the Committee will be called upon more often for alternative dispute settlements. This is partly due to the fact that as part of the national project Museale Verwervingen vanaf 1933 (Museum Acquisitions since 1933), Dutch museums are currently investigating whether their collections contain any looted art. This research project was initiated by the Netherlands Museum Association in 2009 and is expected to have been completed by 2013. 

See http://www.restitutiecommissie.nl/en/binding_opinion.html for further information about submitting requests for binding opinions to the Committee and the procedure that is followed to arrive at such opinions.

See http://www.restitutiecommissie.nl/en/recommendations_opinions.html to access the complete version of the recommendations in these cases (RC 3.129 and RC 1.115-B).

More information:

For more information, please contact Evelien Campfens, director of the offices of the Restitutions Committee on +31(0)70 376 59 92.