Children on the Beach by Isaac Israels

Children on the Beach by Isaac Israels (photo: Peter Cox)

Recommendation regarding the painting Children on the Beach by Isaac Israels

Recommendation number: 
RC 1.149
Type: 
State collection
Publishing date: 
20 July 2016
Period loss of possession: 
1940-1945
Private owner/art dealer: 
Private individual
Location of loss: 
The Netherlands

On 27 March 2014 Mr AA of BB requested the Minister of Education, Culture and Science (hereinafter referred to as the Minister), also on behalf of his cousin CC of DD, to restitute the painting Children on the Beach by Isaac Israels, which is part of Museum Arnhem’s collection. In a letter of 15 August 2014 the Minister requested the Restitutions Committee (hereinafter referred to as the Committee) to advise on this request as if it were a Dutch National Art Collection case. Museum Arnhem agreed to this.

Assessment framework

Pursuant to article 2, paragraph 1, of the Decree Establishing the Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War, as amended in 2012, there is a Committee that is tasked with advising the Minister at the Minister’s request about decisions to be taken regarding applications for the restitution of items of cultural value whose original owner involuntarily lost possession due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime and which are part of:
a. the NK collection or
b. the other part of the Dutch National Art Collection.
Pursuant to paragraph 5, the Committee advises with regard to applications as referred to in paragraph 1, under b, on the basis of the yardsticks of reasonableness and fairness.

The procedure

The restitution application was prompted by the listing of the claimed painting on the website Museum Acquisitions since 1933, an online database concerning items held by museums with provenances that – as explained on the website – indicate theft, confiscation, forced sale or other suspicious circumstances that occurred during the Nazi regime.

The Committee conducted an investigation into the facts in response to the Minister’s request for advice. Meanwhile, in a letter of 7 October 2014, the Applicant submitted a preliminary report containing the results of his own investigation. On 3 November 2014 this was supplemented by further research results he had obtained. He also requested a discussion with the Committee. In the context of organizing the investigation, a discussion took place on 19 February 2015 between the Applicant, the Chairman and two of the Committee’s researchers. This was followed on 12 March 2015 by a discussion between the Applicant and two researchers.

The results of the Committee’s investigation of the facts are recorded in an overview of the facts dated 9 November 2015, which was sent to the Applicant and the Minister. The Minister responded to it in a letter of 24 March 2016. The Applicant responded in an e-mail of 28 March 2016. In the meantime the Committee conducted research into one supplementary point. The results of this supplementary research were sent to the parties in a letter of 21 April 2016.

The case was heard on 23 May 2016. The Applicant was there assisted by EE, curator of the Camp Westerbork Memorial Centre. On behalf of the Minister the hearing was attended by FF, policy assistant, and GG, Dutch National Art Collection consultant. HH and II appeared on behalf of the Museum. Minutes were sent to the parties on 2 June 2016.         

During the hearing the Applicant argued that the Committee could have conducted more research in files about Hausraterfassung (domestic property registration) and members of the SD (Sicherheitsdienst [Security Service]) and SS, and in the archives of the military authorities.
The Committee disagrees. Both the Committee and the Applicant carried out very extensive research. The Committee reported the results in the overview of the facts and the supplementary letter, in so far as it produced relevant information. The Applicant has furthermore not stated which information, according to him, should be sought and in what respect it could be relevant. Additional investigation as advocated by the Applicant would have been very laborious with a negligible chance of finding relevant data. In view of the circumstances the Committee believes that it cannot reasonably be required to do this.

Considerations

  1. The Applicant is requesting restitution of the painting Children on the Beach by Isaac Israels, which is part of Museum Arnhem’s collection under inventory number GM05019. The Applicant identifies this artwork as a painting that was stolen by the German occupying forces from the home of his grandfather JJ during the Second World War. The Committee has taken note of some inheritance-law-related documents concerning the estate of JJ and his second wife. On the basis of this documentation the Committee sees no reason to doubt the Applicant’s position as one of the rightful claimants to the estate of his grandfather JJ.
  2. The facts relevant to the assessment of the restitution application were established on the basis of research by the Applicant, the overview of the facts of 9 November 2015 prepared by the Committee, the responses to it that were received, the Committee’s supplementary research and the information provided during the hearing. A summary is sufficient in the following considerations.

    JJ

  3. JJ was born in Amsterdam on 21 June 1884. He married KK, who died in 1935. Five children were born to the marriage, including LL, the Applicant’s father. During the occupation JJ and his second wife, with whom he had no children, were deported to Auschwitz and murdered there. A large part of his family fell victim to persecution of the Jews. LL and CC, a grandson of JJ, survived the war.
  4. It emerges from archival documents that the home of JJ at Berkelstraat 19hs in Amsterdam was stripped by the Nazi authorities in February 1943. During this operation all the items in the home were seized. The Applicant sent the Committee an inventory taken from his father’s files relating to the household effects taken from Berkelstraat 19hs. On the inventory, under the heading ‘Drawing Room’, there is an entry ‘4 paintings including 1 Isreal’. There is apparently a typing error in the last word, and here and below the Committee takes this word to be ‘Israels’. There is no further information on the list, such as this Israels’s initial or first name, the scene depicted in the painting concerned, the dimensions and the materials used.

    The claimed painting

  5. The Applicant contends that he identifies the Israels stolen from his grandfather’s home as the painting Children on the Beach by Isaac Israels, which is now part of Museum Arnhem’s collection under inventory number GM05019. This work is an oil painting on cardboard that is glued to a panel. The dimensions are 41 x 57.5 cm. The painting shows three children riding donkeys on a beach.
  6. It emerges from records consulted during the investigation that the claimed work was found after the Second World War in Velp, near Arnhem, in a dwelling that had been lived in ‘by an SD man from Amsterdam’. At the time the artwork was handed over to the head of the local Political Criminal Investigation Service, Superintendent M.O.F. van der Heul. It is stated in post-war reports that Superintendent Van der Heul made various attempts to unearth who the artwork’s owner was. A few months after the liberation, for instance, he had a notice placed in an Amsterdam newspaper, but this attempt produced no result. Finally Van der Heul contacted F.W. van der Haagen, head of the State Art Protection (Movable Property) Inspectorate in Arnhem, to whom he handed over the painting in mid-January 1946. Van der Haagen, who received the painting for safekeeping on behalf of the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (hereinafter referred to as the SNK), handed over the artwork at some point to Arnhem Municipal Museum, the forerunner of the current Museum Arnhem.

    The restitution application

  7. The provenance information quoted under consideration 6 was published in October 2013 on the website Museum Acquisitions since 1933. This publication prompted AA’s restitution application.
  8. The Applicant asserts that the painting presently in Arnhem is the same work as the Israels missing from his grandfather’s possessions. In this regard the Applicant refers to the inventory referred to in consideration 4, together with the following factors:
    a) the fact that his father LL often told the Applicant that there was a painting by Isaac Israels in his parents’ home.
    ‘For as long as I can remember, my father LL (born in 1910) told me that in his home (his parents’ dwelling) there was an Izaak Israëls. … The velvet curtains would be closed and then he would look at the painting in the soft weak light and let his thoughts drift.’

    JJ, who was a tailor, supposedly acquired the painting directly from Isaac Israels in return for making a suit for the artist.
    The applicant states that his father, when recalling these memories, sometimes referred to family trips to the seaside resort of Zandvoort.
    'Dad told me that perhaps once a year they would take the Blue Tram to Zandvoort, which had made an indelible impression on a boy who was 5 or 6 years old. These excursions to Zandvoort ... were the family get-togethers.’

    b) the fact that in the nineteen-eighties LL bought a reproduction of an Isaac Israels painting depicting children riding donkeys on a beach.
    ‘It was abundantly clear that the painting of children on the beach was important to him. Without giving a reason, during the nineteen-eighties a reproduction depicting 3 donkeys and girls and a person appeared above the desk in his study’.
    This reproduction is of a well-known painting by Isaac Israels in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (inv. no. SK-A-3597). The scene it depicts has many similarities with that of the currently claimed work. The reproduction is still owned by the […] family and was shown during the hearing. The Applicant argues that his father hung this reproduction on the wall because the scene depicted in it reminded him of the stolen Israels he knew as a child. The Applicant therefore considers the similarity between the scene in the reproduction that his father owned and that in the claimed work in Arnhem to be proof of his contention that he identifies the painting in Arnhem as the artwork stolen from his grandfather’s possessions.
  9. The Applicant conducted extensive historical and art historical research in various archives to support his claim. The results of the Applicant’s research, in so far as relevant to the advice, will be discussed below.

    Assessment of the claim

  10. On the grounds of the Decree Establishing the Restitutions Committee, the Restitutions Committee advises in Dutch National Art Collection cases, in so far as they do not concern NK works, on the basis of the yardsticks of reasonableness and fairness, in the course of which the Committee is charged with ‘giving great weight to the circumstances of the acquisition by the owner and the possibility that there was knowledge about the suspect provenance at the time of the acquisition of the item of cultural value concerned’. (Decree Establishing the Restitutions Committee, article 2, paragraph 6). In this connection the Committee points out that the painting being claimed in the present case has a noteworthy provenance. Immediately after the liberation the artwork was seized after it had been found in the home of an ‘SD man’ in Velp. Thereafter it was received for safekeeping by the SNK, which handed it over to Arnhem Municipal Museum, later to become Museum Arnhem, where it still is. The investigation unearthed minutes of meetings of the Municipal Museum’s Supervisory Board from which it emerges that this handover took place at the time ‘subject to the condition that it will be returned to the owner if the owner comes forward’. The Committee takes the view that this provenance is very similar to the provenances of artworks in the NK collection that were recovered from enemy possession and handed over to the SNK for the purposes of restituting them to the rightful owner. In the present case the Committee therefore considers there to be good reason to be guided, in conformity with the assessment of NK cases, by the recommendations made by the Ekkart Committee in 2001, in so far as correspondingly applicable.
  11. In the first place the Committee needs to address the question of whether the claimed work in Arnhem can be identified as the Israels stolen from JJ. On the grounds of the eighth recommendation of the Ekkart Committee in 2001, there may be restitution if the right of ownership has been established as being very plausible and there are no indications to the contrary.
  12. The Committee observes that on the grounds of the inventory referred to in consideration 4, it can only be concluded that JJ had a painting by Israels in his possession. The inventory furthermore does not indicate whether this entry concerns a work by Jozef Israëls or Isaac Israels. The inventory similarly does not state what was depicted in the stolen painting, which materials were used, and what the dimensions were.
  13. Both the Applicant and the Committee conducted research in the files of the SNK in order to retrieve further written information about the painting missing from JJ’s possessions. No documents were found during these investigations concerning artworks stolen from JJ. The Committee then searched through the declaration forms in the SNK files that were used after the war to report missing artworks. Two forms were found during this search concerning oil paintings by Isaac Israels on the theme of ‘donkey rides on the beach’. Both cases, which have no connection with the […] family, concern a painting that was stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War from the home of a Jewish resident of Amsterdam and not recovered after the war. The painting on the first form is described as a ‘Beach view with two donkeys and figures, there is no sky or cloud painted on it. A summer day. I would describe it as having pinkish grey and beige tints’. The work concerns a ‘painting with gilt frame’ measuring ‘approximately 42-60 cm’. On the second form the missing work is described as a ‘Painting with gold frame’, depicting ‘Donkey riding on the beach. One of the ladies is, I believe, Freule van Schimmelpenninck - lady-in-waiting to Her Majesty’. According to the declaration the dimensions of this work are 55 cm by 45 cm. The Committee conducted additional research as a result of these declarations but no new information was unearthed.
  14. On the grounds of the above the Committee concludes that no written sources were found during the investigation from which more information can be extracted about the scene depicted in, the dimensions of and the materials used for the painting that had been in the possession of JJ. It does emerge from research in the SNK files, however, that during the war in any event two oil paintings by Isaac Israels depicting ‘donkey rides on the beach’ were stolen from the household effects of two other Jewish residents of Amsterdam. These paintings were not recovered after the war and are probably still missing. Yet one cannot automatically rule out the possibility that the painting presently in Arnhem is one of these two works.
  15. The Committee furthermore conducted research into indications in the provenance of the work currently being claimed that could refer to former possession by JJ. In the process the Committee was also able to make use of the extensive research conducted by the Applicant. The Committee finds, on the grounds of the available documentation, that no direct connection can be established between the claimed artwork in Arnhem and JJ as former owner. Although the Committee believes on the basis of the claimed painting’s wartime history – as described in consideration 6 – that the work probably came from Amsterdam and has a provenance that indicates theft or confiscation, no references were found in the available archival information to JJ or to any other household effects or collection from which the painting could have come.
  16. In the process of searching for more information, the Applicant tried to find out the name of the ‘SD man from Amsterdam’ in whose home in Velp the painting was found after the war. The Applicant is convinced on the grounds of extensive archival research that he has established the identity of this SD man. The Committee has carefully considered the arguments put forward by the Applicant but it cannot go along with his assertions with regard to them. It does not emerge from the documentation that the person being put forward by the Applicant, who supposedly came from Amsterdam, was actually the individual who took the work to Velp. In addition the Committee is bearing in mind that many other scenarios are conceivable. The SD’s Arnhem Einsatzkommando (Task Force) was based in Velp. After the allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the German occupying forces moved their offices from The Hague to Gelderland. The Gestapo’s Referat (Section) IV B 4 – the ‘Jewish Section’ – was established in Velperstraat in Velp, where it continued to operate until February 1945. It appears from this that various SD men lived in the Velp region during the occupation, among whom there would also have been some who had come from Amsterdam. The Committee furthermore finds that even if the identity of the SD man were to be established incontrovertibly, it would not automatically be conclusive evidence that the currently claimed artwork is the painting lost by JJ.
  17. The Applicant maintains that JJ acquired the presently claimed artwork directly from the painter Isaac Israels himself in return for providing an article of clothing produced by JJ. The Applicant argues to that end that both his grandfather and Isaac Israels worked during the same period in the building of the fashion house Hirsch & Cie in Amsterdam. Indications were found during the Committee’s investigation that make this assertion uncertain. The Committee refers to a catalogue published on the occasion of a sale at Frederik Muller & Co. in Amsterdam on 19 March 1907. A painting by Isaac Israels is listed in this catalogue. It concerns an oil painting on cardboard on panel with dimensions 41 x 57.5 cm. There is also the following description.
    Excursion sur la plage / Par une superbe journée d’été, trois jeunes filles sont sorties pour se promener sur des ânes le long de la plage; leurs feutres écarlates et leurs costumes clairs égaient, par leur éclat, le fond blue formé par la mer.
    The Committee observes that the materials used, the dimensions and the description of the scene depicted in this painting correspond exactly with the specifications of the artwork currently being claimed. The Committee therefore takes the view that serious consideration should be given to the possibility that the listing in the 1907 catalogue refers to the currently claimed artwork. Notes in the catalogue indicate that the painting went under the hammer at the sale for 200 guilders and was sold to the Amsterdam gallery Frans Buffa & Zn., which is incompatible with the scenario outlined by the Applicant. The Committee also notes that additional research conducted by an employee of the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD) in the files of Frans Buffa & Zn. did not unearth any further information about the auctioned work.
  18. Since no direct or indirect information has been found in the available archival material that refers to JJ as the former owner of the currently claimed work, the Committee is brought to the question of how much weight, in conjunction with the other known facts, should be given to the recollections of the Applicant’s father quoted in consideration 8 and the fact that he purchased a reproduction of a painting in the Rijksmuseum that has similarities with the currently claimed work. In order to answer this question properly, the Committee researched the number of paintings in Isaac Israels’s oeuvre that depict ‘donkey rides on the beach’. It emerges from this investigation that Isaac Israels produced thousands of paintings, a substantial number of which depict a beach scene and the theme ‘riding donkeys’. One of the sources on which the Committee bases this conclusion is the 2007 publication by art historian Antoon Erftemeijer about the Dutch and Italian beach scenes by Isaac Israels. It is stated in this publication that there are approximately 100 known works in oils on this theme and about 35 are specifically about children riding donkeys along the beach. The Committee points out that the numbers quoted are nothing more than an indication and in reality they are probably larger in view of the fact that in addition to the documented, known artworks by Isaac Israels – which usually have an unclear provenance or location – unknown works are still being discovered on a regular basis. The Applicant asserts that the composition of eight of these works, including the currently claimed painting, are – virtually – identical in regard to such details as the directions of donkeys’ head, the number of children and the background to what is depicted in the reproduction that his father purchased. The Applicant concludes from this that the subset of paintings to which the artwork lost by his grandfather should belong is relatively small. The Committee does not endorse this contention. The reproduction made the father recall the painting in his parents’ home. It may not be concluded from this that the details of the reproduction also correspond with the painting in the parental home. This is all the more persuasive given that the reproduction is one of the painting in the Rijksmuseum that is the easiest for the public to obtain and that – based on information from the Applicant – his father brought home in the nineteen-eighties on the occasion of the major Isaac Israels exhibition in the Berlage Stock Exchange in Amsterdam.
  19. It cannot be excluded that the description of the painting with only the surname of the painter Israels on the inventory of the confiscated household effects of JJ, bearing in mind the Applicant’s description of his father’s recollection and the latter’s purchase of a reproduction resembling the claimed work, applies to the currently claimed work in Museum Arnhem’s collection. The Committee takes the view, however, that these circumstances, unsupported by further information, are insufficient to be able to identify it with sufficient plausibility as being the painting stolen from the possessions of JJ. One of the factors that plays a role here is that the scene depicted on the claimed work is a subject that frequently occurs in Isaac Israels’s oeuvre. The Committee can furthermore not disregard the fact described in consideration 13 that in the Second World War the Nazis stole in any event two paintings by Isaac Israels on the theme of ‘donkeys rides on the beach’ from other Jewish residents of Amsterdam.
  20. Taking all the facts and circumstances together, the Committee is of the opinion that it has not been established with a high degree of plausibility that the painting Children on the Beach by Isaac Israels in Museum Arnhem’s collection was stolen from the possessions of JJ. The Committee will therefore advise the Minister to reject the Applicant’s restitution application.

Conclusion

The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister of Education, Culture and Science to reject AA’s restitution application.

Adopted on 20 July 2016 by W.J.M. Davids (Chairman), J.T.M. Bank, R. Herrmann, P.J.N. van Os, E.J. van Straaten and H.M. Verrijn Stuart (Members), and I.C. van der Vlies (Vice-Chair), and signed by the Chairman and the Secretary.

(W.J.M. Davids, Chairman)                          (R.A.M. Nachbahr, Secretary)