Recommendation regarding Glaser
(case number RC 1.99)
In a letter dated 17 October 2008, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (hereafter referred to as: ‘OCW’) requested the Restitutions Committee (hereafter referred to as: ‘the Committee’) to issue a recommendation regarding the application for the restitution of the painting Winter Landscape by Jan van de Velde II, submitted on 29 August 2007 by G.M., E.A.P., R.B., C.S., P.L. and B.L. (hereafter referred to as: ‘the applicants’). The claimed work has been part of the Dutch national art collection since it was donated in 1935 and is currently housed in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
The reason for the application for restitution is a letter sent by the applicants to the Netherlands Institute for Art History (hereafter referred to as: ‘the RKD’) on 22 May 2007 concerning the painting Winter Landscape by Jan van de Velde II, which was sold by Curt Glaser in 1933, and the whereabouts of which the applicants were trying to establish. In response to this, the Rijksmuseum informed the applicants that it had recently been discovered that ‘in the State-owned collection of the Rijksmuseum there is a painting by Jan van de Velde II, which originally formed part of the Glaser collection’. As a result of the application for restitution, the Committee instigated a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were included in a draft investigatory report dated 26 November 2009. The draft investigatory report was sent to the Minister with a request for more factual information on 10 December 2009 and to the applicants for comment in a letter dated 11 December 2009. The applicants responded in a letter with enclosures dated 4 February 2010. In response to the draft investigatory report, the Ministry of OCW sent the Committee a letter by Mr W. Pijbes, general manager of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, dated 22 March 2010. This letter was sent to the applicants for comment on 6 April 2010. The applicants responded on 11 June 2010, providing additional information. The response by the Rijksmuseum and both responses by the applicants are included as appendices to the investigatory report, which was adopted by the Committee in its present form on 4 October 2010. Given that the painting was donated to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 1935, this work is now part of the Dutch national art collection (inventory number SK-A-3241). Although the painting is not part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection, which is made up primarily of works of art that were returned to the Netherlands after the war, the Committee will issue its recommendation under article 2, paragraph 1 in conjunction with paragraph 4 of the Decree establishing the Restitutions Committee, which stipulates that, with regard to items of cultural value that are in the custody of the Dutch State, the Committee has to issue a recommendation with due regard for the more relaxed restitutions policy. During the procedure, the applicants were represented by Rowland & Associates, a law firm based in New York, United States.
The applicants, who claim to be the heirs of Curt Glaser (1879-1943), are requesting the restitution of the painting Winter Landscape by Jan van de Velde II. In this context, the Committee has taken cognisance of a number of legal inheritance documents, which have given the Committee no reason to question the applicants’ status. The applicants claim that Curt Glaser lost possession of the painting in question involuntarily as a result of the Nazi regime in Germany.
The relevant facts are described in the investigatory report of 4 October 2010. The following is a summary. Curt Glaser was a German art historian of Jewish descent, who, from 1924, was director of the Staatliche Kunstbibliothek [State Art Library] in Berlin. At the time of the Weimar Republic, he was a prominent figure in the Berlin art world, which would later become despised by the Nazis, and his residence on the Prinz Albrechtstrasse was a meeting place for artists and intellectuals. Together with his first wife Elsa Kolker, Glaser built up an extensive art collection. After Kolker’s death in 1932, Glaser married his second wife, Marie Milch (1901-1981), on 30 May 1933. Milch was also of Jewish descent.
Soon after the Nazis assumed power in Germany, Glaser was subject to anti-Jewish measures. On 4 April 1933, the authorities ordered Glaser to empty and vacate his home, after which the Gestapo established its headquarters there. In addition, the Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums [The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service] was passed on 7 April 1933, which provided for the removal of Jews and political opponents from the civil service. This act meant that, from May 1933, Glaser was no longer allowed to fulfil his position as director of the Staatliche Kunstbibliothek.
After being evicted from his home by the Nazi authorities, Glaser sold his extensive art and book collection in two separate auctions, on 9 May 1933 at the Internationales Kunst- und Auktions- Haus GmbH and on 18-19 May 1933 at Max Perl auction house, both in Berlin. The applicants claim that Glaser ‘knew that as a Nazi opponent and being of Jewish heritage, and given the flurry of new laws that empowered the ability of the Nazis to arrest him and place him into a concentration camp without formal charge, he had no choice other than sell almost all of his belongings and immediately leave Germany’. In July 1933, Glaser fled Nazi Germany with his wife Marie Milch. The couple travelled to Switzerland, Italy and Cuba before eventually reaching the United States, where Curt Glaser died in 1943.
The investigation has shown that the currently claimed painting was included as object 233 in the catalogue for the auction of Glaser’s collection at the Internationales Kunst- und Auktions- Haus GmbH on 9 May 1933. While it is likely that the painting was sold at this auction, the investigation has failed to provide any concrete evidence of this. Research carried out in the RKD and investigations conducted in German libraries by a German research agency on behalf of the Committee have both failed to find an annotated auction catalogue or other documentation that contains more information concerning the possible sale and selling price of the painting in question. However, documents in the Rijksmuseum show that, after 9 May 1933, the painting was in the possession of Abels art dealership in Cologne. It is also known that, in 1934, the painting was sold by Amsterdam-based art dealership P. de Boer to Estella Boas-Kogel, who donated it to the Rijksmuseum in 1935. Since then, it has been part of the Dutch national art collection.
Pursuant to current national policy in respect of the restitution of items of cultural value from the national collection, the Committee can only recommend restitution if ownership has been proved with a high degree of probability and if the original owner relinquished possession involuntarily as a consequence of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. The third recommendation of the Ekkart Committee of 26 April 2001, which states that sales by Jewish private owners in Germany from 1933 onwards are considered to be involuntary, unless expressly proven otherwise, also applies.
The Committee is of the opinion that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the painting Winter Landscape by Jan van de Velde II was owned by Curt Glaser and was part of the first auction of Glaser’s collection in 1933. In terms of the nature of the loss of possession, the Committee has considered the following. As explained in considerations 3 and 4 above, the painting in question was in all probability sold in Germany on 9 May 1933 by Curt Glaser, an art collector of Jewish origin who was subject to persecution by the Nazis at an early stage of their regime. The Committee is, therefore, of the opinion that this sale can be considered involuntary.
After the war, Glaser’s widow and sister-in-law stated as part of an application for damages from the German authorities that Glaser’s losses due to the auction of his collection easily exceeded 100,000 RM. In connection with this, Glaser’s widow agreed by way of settlement with the Entschädigungsamt Berlin [Berlin Compensation Office] on 6 December 1963 that she would be awarded compensation to the total amount of DM 7,100. Of this, 5,000 DM was compensation for the losses that Glaser incurred due to the auctioning of his collection. This settlement saw to it that ‘alle Ansprüche auf Entschädigung endgültig erledigt, die der Antragsteller angemeldet hat und die ihm auf grund des Bundesgesetzes zur Entschädigung für Opfer der nationalsozialistischen Verfolgung [….] zustehen aus Schaden an Eigentum und Vermögen’ [all claims to damages presented by the applicant and to which the applicant is entitled on the basis of the German law on the compensation for victims of Nazi persecution had been fully settled]. The Committee is of the opinion that this settlement does not constitute an impediment in terms of the admissibility of the applicants regarding a claim to a work of art in the Dutch national art collection, given that the settlement did not entail a waiver of the rights to the lost work of art and the State of the Netherlands was not a party to it. Nor did the investigation reveal that Glaser’s widow had had any contact with the Rijksmuseum or the Dutch restitutions authorities after the war about the currently claimed work. With reference to the first recommendation of the Ekkart Committee regarding private art property and its explanation, the Committee therefore concludes that this case cannot be considered to have been settled in the past.
Based on the above, the Committee deems the application for restitution of the claimed painting admissible. The Committee is of the opinion that no condition for repayment of the purchase price received at the time can be attached thereto. In this context, the Committee refers to the fourth and fifth recommendations of the Ekkart Committee of April 2001, which stipulates that an obligation for repayment applies only if the then seller obtained the free disposal of the proceeds. In case of doubt as to whether the proceeds were actually obtained, the benefit of doubt must be given to the claimants. The explanation of these recommendations also states that there are no grounds for repayment in cases where payment was received and, in all probability, used exclusively in an attempt, successful or not, to leave the country or go into hiding. The Committee deems it likely that Glaser was not able to freely dispose of the proceeds from the auctions, but that, as a result of the circumstances of war, he probably had to use them to fund his escape to the United States and to pay the exit taxes imposed by the Nazis. With regard to the compensation received by Glaser’s widow after the war for losses connected with the auctioning of several hundred works of art, the Committee considers the following. In so far as it could be determined what proportion of the 5,000 DM relates to the currently claimed painting, any possible repayment of this sum is a matter between Glaser’s heirs and the German State. Considering the above, the Committee is of the opinion that returning the painting without repayment does not constitute unjustified enrichment.
The Restitutions Committee advises the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science to grant the application for the restitution of the painting Winter Landscape by Jan van de Velde II to Curt Glaser’s heirs.
Adopted at the meeting of 4 October 2010 by W.J.M. Davids (chairman), J.Th.M. Bank, P.J.N. van Os, D.H.M. Peeperkorn, H.M. Verrijn Stuart, I.C. van der Vlies (vice-chairman), and signed by the chair and the secretary.
(W.J.M. Davids, chairman) (E. Campfens, secretary)