Spring naar content
Binding opinion regarding Albert Stern / Amsterdam City Council (Stedelijk Museum)

Albert Stern

Report number: RC 3.202

Advice type: binding opinion

Advice date: 27 May 2024

Period of loss of ownership: 1940-1945

Original owner: private individual

Location of loss of ownership: In the Netherlands

Odalisque by Henri Matisse (photo: Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam)

  • Schilderij Odalisque door Henri Matrisse (foto: Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam)

Summary binding opinion

The Restitutions Committee has assessed an application for restitution of the painting Odalisque by Henri Matisse, which since 1941 has been in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and is currently in possession of Amsterdam City Council. The Committee has come to the conclusion on the grounds of the investigation conducted by the Commission for Looted Art in Europe and assessed by the Expert Centre Restitution that it is highly likely that the painting came from the collection of the Jewish couple Albert and Marie Stern. It has also become sufficiently plausible that the couple lost possession of the painting as a result of circumstances directly connected with the Nazi regime.

Research has revealed that Albert Stern was the owner of the painting during the occupation. On 19 July 1941 the ownership of the Painting was transferred from Albert Stern and sold and delivered to the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam with the cooperation of Lieuwe Bangma, with whom the Stern family had business and personal ties. As a non-Jewish Dutch national, during the occupation Lieuwe Bangma had free access to his bank balances and was not threatened with financial and material expropriation. The sale by Albert Stern was connected to measures taken by the occupying forces against Jewish members of the population and arose out of necessity.

The Committee has advised Amsterdam City Council to restitute the painting Odalisque by Henri Matisse, which is in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, to the legal successors of Albert and Marie Stern.

Binding opinion regarding Albert Stern / Amsterdam City Council (Stedelijk Museum)

Binding opinion

issued by the Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War in The Hague (the Restitutions Committee, hereinafter also referred to as the Committee) concerning the restitution application by

on the one hand

AA, BB, CC, DD, EE and FF, represented by the Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE) in London. (hereinafter referred to as the Applicants),

and on the other hand

Amsterdam City Council, represented by Mr A. Ahmadali, Amsterdam City Council’s Director of Art and Culture (hereinafter referred to as the City Council).

1. The Application

The request for a binding opinion concerns the oil-on-canvas artwork Odalisque (1921/1922) by Henri Matisse (hereinafter also referred to as the Painting), which since 1941 has been in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (hereinafter referred to as the Museum) under inventory number A795 and is currently in the possession of the City Council.

The Applicants contend that the Painting belonged to the collection of the Jewish husband and wife Albert Abraham Stern (1861-1945) and Marie Stern née-Ebstein (1878-1952). Albert Stern, a textiles manufacturer, was co-owner of the garment business Graumann & Stern in Berlin. The couple fled to the Netherlands in 1937 as a result of persecution under the Nazi regime. According to the rightful claimants, the Painting was supposedly sold on 19 July 1941 under duress to the Museum as a result of circumstances during the occupation.

The Applicants and the City Council (hereinafter referred to as the parties) asked the Committee by letter on 5 April 2023 for an investigation and a binding opinion concerning the Painting. By signing the letter, the parties declared that they accepted the Committee’s regulations (approved on 12 July 2021; most recently amended on 6 October 2023; hereinafter referred to as the Regulations) applicable for dealing with the request and considered the opinion to be issued by the Committee as binding.

2. The Procedure and the Applicable Assessment Framework

In a letter of 22 June 2023, the Committee told the Applicants and the Museum that it would take the application under consideration and informed them about the procedure specified in the applicable Regulations.

The Committee took note of all the documents submitted by the parties. It forwarded to the other party copies of all documents. On 19 June 2023 the Committee received an e-mail with a 78-page report from the Commission for Looted Art in Europe (hereinafter referred to as the CLAE) dated June 2023 as part of the explanatory information supplied by the Applicants. The report contains the results of extensive research. Supporting documentation was also added.

The Committee asked the Expert Centre Restitution of Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War of the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (hereinafter referred to as the ECR) to assess, on the basis of the documentation provided by the parties, whether there were leads for conducting further research. The ECR communicated its findings to the Committee in a letter of 22 Augustus 2023.

Identities of the parties

The Applicants have stated that they are heirs of Albert Stern. To that end, the CLAE submitted the document ‘Legal Successors and Powers of Attorney March 2023’. In addition, the Committee received, at its request, a legal opinion from GG from the law firm Stephenson Harwood LLP in London of 13 June 2023 in which it is stated that AA, BB, CC, DD, EE and FF are the entitled parties to Albert Stern’s estate. In the Committee’s opinion it has thus been shown sufficiently that the Applicants represent all those entitled to the assets of Albert Stern.

The Applicants had themselves represented during the procedure by the CLAE of London. The Committee furthermore took note of a decision by the Mayor of Amsterdam of 21 March 2023 to the effect that the Director of Art and Culture, Mr A. Ahmadali, is authorized to represent the City Council during the Committee’s procedure. Then, in a decision of 22 March 2023, the Director of Art and Culture authorized the Director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Mr R. Wolfs, to act as focal point for, and to provide information concerning the Painting to, the Restitutions Committee on behalf of the City Council.

Chronological overview of the committee’s actions and the responses to them

  • The parties asked the Committee in a joint letter on 5 April 2023 for an investigation and a binding opinion concerning the Painting. In the same letter, the parties declared that they consent to application of the Committee’s regulations and consider the opinion to be issued by the Committee as binding.
  • On 19 June 2023 the Applicants provided further information about the request for an opinion with a report and appendices from the CLAE. The Museum sent additional details about the request in as letter of 18 July 2023.
  • On 4 Augustus 2023 the Committee asked the ECR to assess, on the basis of the documentation provided by the parties, any leads for further research.
  • The ECR communicated its findings in a letter of 22 Augustus 2023. This letter was sent to the parties on 6 October 2023 for additional information and/or comments. The Museum responded on behalf of the City Council on 16 October 2023 and the Applicants on 12 October 2023 and 17 October 2023.
  • On 22 August 2023 the Committee asked whether the parties needed a hearing and both parties stated that they had no need for a hearing
  • On 10 November 2023 the Committee informed the parties about the subsequent procedure and stated that it would proceed with preparation of its draft advice.
  • In a letter of 23 November 2023, the City Council notified the Committee that it waived the right to invoke good faith.
  • On 15 March 2024 the Committee sent its draft binding opinion to the parties. The Applicants responded on 9 April 2024 with a few factual and editorial comments. On 25 April 2024 the City Council stated that it had no comments.

3. Establishing the Facts

The Committee establishes the following facts on the grounds of the report prepared by the CLAE, the documentation and information provided by the parties, and the findings of the ECR.

Albert and Marie Stern and their family

Albert Abraham Stern (hereinafter also referred to as Albert) was born on 6 January 1861 in Grätz, Posen (currently Grodzisk Wielkopolski in Poland). In June 1895 he married Rosa Landeker, born on 10 February 1873 in Thorn, West Prussia, with whom he had three children – Erich Heinrich Stern (1896-1944), Wilhelm Werner Stern (1897-1983) and Käthe Stern (1898-1898).

Albert and Rosa Stern divorced and in 1907 Albert Stern married Marie Ebstein, born on 27 September 1878 in Breslau, the German name for Wroclaw. They had two children, both born in Berlin, Eva Luise (1908-1992) and Rudolf Bernhard (1911-1945). In 1913 Albert Stern and his family started living in the Berlin suburb of Nikolassee in ‘Haus Stern’ at Kirchweg 27.

The Sterns’ art collection

Marie Stern was the driving force behind the couple’s activities as collectors of modern and contemporary art. In 1976 her daughter Eva stated the following: ‘My mother studied Art in Munich before her marriage, and, after her marriage, started to collect paintings which hung on the walls of our home in Berlin-Nikolassee.’

The Sterns’ art collection included paintings by Munch, Corinth and Van Gogh. The family acquired the Painting in 1930.

The business Graumann & Stern

Albert Stern was a founder of Textilhaus Graumann & Stern in 1888 together with his business partner Julius Graumann and his brother Siegbert Stern. By the end of the nineteenth century, the enterprise was one biggest manufacturers of women’s clothes in Germany.

In 1900 Albert and Siegbert Stern commissioned the Berlin architect Otto Rieth to build the company’s new head office at a prominent location, Mohrenstrasse 36-37, in the centre of Berlin. The building is currently the headquarters of the German Federal Ministry of Justice.

After the First World War, in addition to the Berlin headquarters, Graumann & Stern also had branches in New York, London, Copenhagen and Amsterdam. The branch in Amsterdam was N.V. Damesconfectiefabriek v.h. L. Bangma, a very profitable subsidiary with exclusive selling rights for Graumann & Stern in the Netherlands. ‘L. Bangma’ was Lieuwe Bangma, a Dutch national who started his career around 1910 as a trainee at Graumann & Stern in Berlin. After his return to the Netherlands, he became a Graumann & Stern representative, and he headed the aforementioned subsidiary. In 1919, Albert’s second son, Wilhelm Stern, went to work for Bangma in Amsterdam and remained there until 1925. During and also after the war, Bangma was to play an important role in the life of the Stern family.

In 1931, at the age of seventy, Albert Stern retired from Graumann & Stern. Together with his brother Siegbert, he remained owner of the building in Mohrenstrasse. Albert’s second son, Wilhelm, took over the business until the Nazis came to power.

Persecution of the family and flight from Germany to the Netherlands in the 1937-1941 period

After the Nazis had come to power in January 1933, the Sterns were subjected to unrelenting persecution because of their Jewish descent and were gradually stripped of their means of livelihood and extensive possessions. Albert Stern therefore made plans to emigrate. In 1935 he considered various emigration options for himself and Marie, including to Palestine. In 1936 the Sterns were forced to move from Kirchweg 27 to a rented dwelling at Beskidenstraße 30, also in Berlin-Nikolassee. A few months later Marie Stern emigrated to the Netherlands. She was followed shortly afterwards by Rudolf, Albert and Marie’s son, his wife Elfriede, and Erich, Albert’s son from his first marriage. Albert Stern arrived in the Netherlands in 1937 and joined Marie in the Pension Oliva boarding house at Prins Hendriklaan 36 in Amsterdam. This is the address at which they were registered with the Amsterdam Aliens Police. In August 1937 they moved to a rented flat at Apollolaan 193 II. They lived there until August 1941, when their financial situation forced them to move to a boarding house at Oranje Nassaulaan 32 in Amsterdam.

The expropriation of the Sterns’ German possessions by the German authorities continued after their emigration to the Netherlands. Their Berlin house at Kirchweg 27, Berlin-Nikolassee was sold for well below its value and all proceeds were seized. The firm of Graumann & Stern was also subjected to Nazi persecution. It was liquidated in 1938. The proceeds of selling the Graumann & Stern business premises and a number of pieces of land in Berlin were expropriated in the same way. Albert’s German bank accounts were frozen, and the balances were seized. The Nazis also targeted Albert’s possessions in the Netherlands. He was forced, for example, to transfer his shares in Royal Dutch Shell.

The Sterns also owned shares in Admintrust. This management company, which was founded in the nineteen-twenties, was charged with the financial management of the shares in foreign subsidiaries and other Graumann & Stern assets, including a weaving mill. The shares in Admintrust were held by the Graumann & Stern shareholders and the Stern family. In the spring of 1939 José Vigeveno, director of Admintrust, travelled to London, where Admintrust had a safe deposit box. The safe deposit box contained a sum of $2,830 in gold American Eagle coins that belonged to the Sterns. Vigeveno took these coins with him back to Amsterdam.

On 3 May 1940 Albert and Marie Stern acquired Haitian citizenship. In so doing they were hoping to leave the Netherlands for a safe destination. The costs associated with citizenship were more or less equal to the value of the gold American Eagle coins referred to above.

Between 4 May 1940 and December 1941, when the United States became involved with the war, Albert and Marie Stern corresponded regularly with Albert’s older brother Isidor and his son Fritz Stern, both of whom were living in the USA. This correspondence reveals how much worse the Sterns’ domestic circumstances had become. Isidor and Fritz Stern tried to help Albert and his family. They tried to get entry visas for the family for a number of countries, including the USA, Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay, Brazil, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, through third countries such as Spain and Portugal.

Fritz did succeed, however, in obtaining tickets for Albert and Marie to get to Port-au-Prince (Haiti), but Albert Stern was unable to get all the necessary transit visas. On 22 November 1940 Fritz cancelled the tickets to Port-au-Prince.

Albert Stern’s will

On 5 October 1940, three months before his eightieth birthday, Albert Stern wrote his will against the backdrop of consistently unsuccessful attempts to emigrate, financial persecution and failing health. It was recorded in Amsterdam in a notarial instrument the same day. The will reveals that Albert had lost almost all his wealth. Albert stated that he had been maintaining all his adult children as a result of expropriations, discrimination, loss of income, loss of work and of occupation or profession, and because of the way they had been persecuted by the Nazi regime. He added that his top priority was to secure a future for his wife Marie. Furniture, household items and artworks were left to Marie.

Further attempts were made to flee in 1941. Albert wrote in a letter to Isidor Stern that was received on 18 July 1941 that the circumstances had deteriorated. There was little food, Albert and Marie had had to give notice to leave their rented flat in Apollolaan and they were busy selling furniture. In his letter to Isidor, Albert also wrote that Marie and he were still hoping to emigrate.

Albert and Marie Stern’s last attempts to flee followed by their deportation

In 1942 the Haitian government announced that it would revoke the citizenship of all Jews who had not yet reached Haiti that summer. In July 1942, in a last attempt to get the Sterns to Haiti, Isidor transferred 1,200 US dollars to Bern, Switzerland. This was to enable the Sterns to reach Haiti via Lisbon on the SS Drottningholm, a neutral ship of the Swedish America line. However, Germany refused to guarantee safe passage for that vessel any longer, and so the attempt to flee failed. In November 1942 Fritz wrote to Wilhelm Stern in Palestine that his parents had not been able to leave the Netherlands.

In March1943 the Sterns moved from the boarding house at Oranje Nassaulaan 32 in Amsterdam to a small two-bedroom flat on the third floor of Johannes Verhulststraat 20 in Amsterdam. They shared this flat with a number of others, including Albert’s twin sister Jenny Fränkel. Their furniture and belongings had meanwhile been valued at 400 guilders. In October 1943 Fritz Stern wrote to a Haitian lawyer to ask whether he could get Albert’s and Marie’s Haitian nationality restored.

In January 1944 Fritz Stern obtained entry permits to Sweden for the Sterns, under his personal guarantee and promise to cover the costs of their living expenses. The US Department of the Treasury issued the foreign exchange permit required for this, which was extended in September 1944 and again in January 1945.

The fates of Albert and Marie Stern starting with their deportation

At the beginning of 1944 the Sterns were deported to Westerbork transit camp. In March1944 Albert Stern was subsequently deported to Laufen Castle internment camp in Bavaria and Marie Stern to Liebenau internment camp in Baden-Württemberg.

It emerges from letters to Wilhelm Stern and Eva Friedländer in August 1944 that Fritz Stern investigated the possibility of getting Albert and Marie Stern to Palestine after their deportation.

Albert Stern died in Laufen Castle internment camp on 18 January 1945 at the age of 83 from a lung infection.

In February 1945, in other words three weeks after Albert Stern’s death, Fritz Stern made a further attempt to bring Albert and Marie Stern to a place of safety. He wrote to the US Treasury War Refugee Board requesting their temporary admittance to the United States on the grounds of German exit permits that had meanwhile been obtained.

In the summer of 1944 Marie Stern was transferred to Biberach internment camp, which was liberated by the French April 1945. She was stateless because the Nazis had revoked her German nationality in 1940 and her Haitian nationality had expired,

In August 1945 Marie obtained a visa from the British government to join her daughter Eva in Manchester ‘in view of the special circumstances in the case’. As a result, the French military authorities gave Marie permission to leave the camp.

She visited the Netherlands for a short while and reached Amsterdam in January 1946. Lieuwe Bangma arranged everything for her visit to the Netherlands. He obtained an entry travel pass for her and drove to the border with an inspector from the Ministry of the Interior to collect her and made preparations for her stay. As soon as she was in the Netherlands, Bangma saw to it that all her possessions that he had in safekeeping for the Sterns were returned to her. Marie Stern then returned to Manchester, where she lived until her death on 20 April 1952.

Fates of Albert and Marie’s children and grandchildren during the occupation

Albert Stern’s oldest son, Erich Stern, was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in April 1943 and then to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he was murdered in October 1944.

Wilhelm Stern remained in Berlin until March 1935, after which he emigrated to Palestine, where his wife and two children had fled to in 1933.

Eva Stern married Rudolf Friedländer, a Jewish doctor from Berlin, in 1936. The Friedländer-Stern family succeeded in fleeing to England, where Rudolf got a job at the Jewish Hospital in Manchester.

Rudolf Stern, Albert and Marie Stern’s youngest son, married Elfriede Letz in 1938. Their first child, EE, was born that same year. Rudolf Stern went into hiding in first half of 1942, and Elfriede gave birth to a daughter, Erika Manuela, in November 1942, Elfriede died two weeks after the birth. Erika Manuela was taken in and kept hidden by Lieuwe and Maria Bangma in Santpoort. A safe house was found for Erika’s older brother EE with Johannes and Cathrien Rademaker, friends of Rudolf and Elfriede in Amsterdam. Rudolf Stern’s hiding place was betrayed in January 1944. He was transported via Westerbork transit camp to Auschwitz concentration camp, and subsequently murdered in Buchenwald concentration camp in March 1945.

EE and Erika were arrested by the Gestapo in April 1944. In July 1944 they were transported from Westerbork transit camp to Theresienstadt concentration camp. After their release they lived with the Bangma family among others. In 1951 they went to live in Manchester with the family of their aunt Eva Friedländer, where their grandmother Marie Stern also lived.

Provenance of the Painting

The Painting is an oil on canvas work by Henri Matisse measuring 61.5 x 74.5 cm, entitled Odalisque and dated 1920-1921. The Painting is currently in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

As described above, Marie Stern studied art in Munich, and it was there that she developed her taste for contemporary art. Together with Albert she bought paintings by such artists as Van Gogh, Corinth, Munch, Liebermann and Matisse.

Odalisque was among the paintings they purchased. There is a photograph of the Painting in the 1921 Christmas edition of the art magazine Der Querschnitt, which was published by the German art dealer Alfred Flechtheim, one of the most important dealers in modern art in Germany. The magazine received permission for reproduction of the Matisse painting from Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris, which suggests that Odalisque was held by this gallery at that time.

Although Flechtheim’s records have not survived, it is plausible that the Sterns bought the Painting directly from Alfred Flechtheim. There are two Galerie Alfred Flechtheim labels on the back of the painting. One of them is a partially visible label bearing the number ‘1215’. The second of the labels on the back of the Painting bears a handwritten number ‘14112’. The Sterns’s Munch painting, which was also stored at the Museum at the beginning of 1940, similarly has a Flechtheim label on the back with the number ‘14115’.

It has emerged from documentation that the Painting was part of the 1930 autumn exhibition Matisse Braque Picasso at Galerie Alfred Flechtheim and was listed as ‘9. Die Odaliske, 1923’. Albert Stern is referred to in the exhibition catalogue as one of the lenders, to whom Alfred Flechtheim extended his gratitude.

The Painting during the Occupation

After he fled to the Netherlands in 1936, Rudolf Stern got to know Willem Sandberg, who was appointed curator of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in 1938. A Museum document entitled Supplementary Master List of Works of Art in the Basement, dated 15 May 1940, reveals that Albert Stern gave the Museum a total of three works, including the Painting, for safekeeping on the day that the Netherlands capitulated to Germany or possibly earlier. The document lists:

1012 Matisse ‘Bajadère’ (alternative name for ‘Odalisque’) owner Stern
 1013 Edv.Munch, ‘Norwegian Landscape’ owner Stern
[unnumbered] Vincent van Gogh ‘Orchard in Blossom’ owner Stern.

Willem Sandberg stated in a document dated 18 October 1940 that the Museum had received the same three paintings in good order from L. Bangma for safekeeping. At the end of this document there is a note stating ‘returned to owner 10 March 1941’ signed by Sandberg. On the back of this document is the signature of Albert Stern, with that of Lieuwe Bangma below it.

The return of these three paintings was also recorded in a separate document dated 10 March1941 in which Willem Sandberg wrote the following:

Returned from the Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam:

E. Munch, Landscape
van Gogh, Landscape
Matisse, Odaliske
in good order.

This note was signed by Albert Stern, with the signature of Lieuwe Bangma below it.

A handwritten invoice dated 19 July 1941 shows that the Museum then purchased the Painting for 5,000 guilders from Mr L. Bangma. Bangma attached a note to the invoice in which he asked the Museum to pay the money into his bank account. Bangma was not Jewish, so he could maintain Dutch bank accounts without needing to fear seizure.

Two weeks later, on 5 August 1941, the Sterns had to leave their Amsterdam flat in Apollolaan, where the Painting can be seen on family photographs. It is therefore plausible that Albert and Marie Stern had the Painting in their possession until the moment it was sold to the Museum.

On 21 June 1945 Lieuwe Bangma wrote to Eva Friedländer, the Sterns’ daughter living in England, that he wanted to return the belongings of Albert and Marie Stern that he was still holding:

I have still some goods of your parents, and we are longing to settle this with them.

Albert and Marie Stern’s unsold Van Gogh was among those goods. He had been keeping it safe in a bank strong room.

Letter from Marie Stern to Fritz Stern 1951 and 1952

On 11 December 1951 Marie listed Albert and Marie’s possessions at the time of the German invasion in a letter to Fritz Stern in New York. She explained that on 1 May 1940 she and Albert owned, among other things, a Matisse, a Chinese bronze, a Corinth, a Liebermann, a Munch, hundreds of books, including bibliophile publications, carpets and two especially valuable antique chairs. She wrote that everything had to be sold involuntarily at prices that were well below their value and that their Matisse was in the Stedelijk Museum:

3) Owned on 1.5.40. I can remember the following artworks that were in our possession in 1940:

1 Matisse, 1 China Bronze (one of the earliest,)
                        in the Stedelijk Museum,

1 Corinth, 1 Liebermann, 1 Munch. Hundreds of books, some bibliophile editions, carpets that were sold privately. 2 antique chairs that were particularly valuable. These art objects were all sold under duress and therefore at a very low price to support 3 families, parents, Erich and Rudolf’s. Another interesting thing is that we were forced to let our car, a Buick Cabriolet, be picked up for 35 guilders in 1940.

Today, of all these wonderful possessions that were once ours, I have only what I can fit into my little room.’

In the same letter, Marie refers to other forced sales, for example the house in Kirchweg, Berlin-Nikolassee and a large plot of land in Nikolassee on which nine houses were built. She points out the expropriation of all the proceeds of these sales. She refers to the frozen bank account with the Dresdner Bank, to the seizure of 150,000 reichsmarks by the Germans, plus an extra tax of 60,000 guilders for not returning foreign balances to Germany, and extortion by the German authorities.

In a second letter, dated 23 January 1952, Marie gives an estimate of the value of the artworks and carpets that were stolen from them or were sold under duress. She comments that she and Albert achieved less than a third of the value of the things they were forced to sell, including the Matisse.

Statement by Eva Friedländer

In December 1976 Eva Friedländer wrote in an affidavit that her parents had been forced to sell the Painting in order to try to save their family:

When the War came my parents and brother remained in Holland and after the invasion of that country my parents were forced to sell pictures in order to raise money necessary to save my brother from being sent to a Concentration Camp. The paintings were sold to Stedeldk [sic] Museum and included a Matisse, a Corinth and a Munch. Chinese Art objects were also sold to raise money to save my brother from imprisonment.

Statement by EE

In 2013 EE visited Jo Spruit, the Bangma family’s post-war housekeeper. As described earlier, after his return from Theresienstadt concentration camp after the war, he lived for a few years with Lieuwe Bangma and his family. Afterwards he always kept in touch Jo Spruit, with whom he had spent a lot of time during his childhood.

In a conversation with EE about his grandfather Albert, Jo Spruit said that after May 1940 Albert Stern had transferred all his possessions to Lieuwe Bangma in order to avoid seizure. On 15 September 2022, EE stated the following about this conversation in an affidavit:

In 2013, two years before she [Jo Spruit] died, I went to visit her in Zwolle as she had told me she had broken her hip and the operation to repair it had caused further damage. In the course of that visit, she told me that after the Nazi invasion of May 1940, at the beginning of 1941, my grandfather Albert Stern had transferred his assets to Mr Bangma so that they would be protected from seizure by the Nazis. By having my grandfather’s possessions and money in Mr Bangma’s name, they would not be identified as owned by a Jew and would be safe.

It must have put Mr Bangma in danger to look after my grandfather’s assets. But this was entirely in character and reflected the deep affection and trust between him and my grandparents. He put himself and his family in further danger when, in 1942, he unhesitatingly took Erica to live with him and his wife. This was after Arthur Seyss-Inquart had said in a speech in 1941 that anyone who helped Jews would suffer the same fate as them.

The Painting after the liberation

The Painting has been an uninterrupted part of the Museum’s collection since it was purchased on 19 July 1941.

It emerges from the Museum Acquisitions website, which first appeared in 2013, and from the 2015 exhibition catalogue The Stedelijk Museum and the Second World War that there was ambiguity in the Museum about the Painting’s provenance. In these publications the Museum indicated that the Painting might have to be classified as a forced sale by Albert Stern. The exhibition catalogue states the following about this:

In the case of this painting and fifteen other works of art in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum, it was concluded that there may be a link to robbery, forced sale, or other suspicious circumstances. For that reason, the museum and the City of Amsterdam contacted the family of Albert Stern with the intention of submitting the work to the restitution committee.

4. Substantive Assessment of the Application

The Committee has established that the requirements in section 1 a to e of the assessment framework have been met. It can consequently proceed with the substantive handling of the application.

The Museum, on behalf of the City Council, let it be known that it waived the right to invoke good faith, and therefore the substantive assessment of the restitution application remains limited to sections 2 and 3 of the assessment framework.

Pursuant to section 2 of the assessment framework, the Committee must assess whether it is highly plausible that the Painting was in possession of Albert Stern, and on the grounds of section 3 whether it is sufficiently plausible that he lost possession of the Painting involuntarily as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. To this end the Committee finds as follows:

Ownership requirements (section 2 of the assessment framework)

The documentation found during the investigation indicates that Albert Stern was the owner of the Painting before the Nazis came to power in 1933. It has been established that the Painting was included in an exhibition at Galerie Alfred Flechtheim in 1930, and Albert Stern is referred to as one of the lenders to whom Alfred Flechtheim extended his gratitude.

The Committee finds that no indications were discovered to suggest that the Painting ceased being in possession of the Sterns’ after the German invasion until the moment that it was sold. The Committee also takes into consideration that the Painting is on family photographs of Albert and Marie Stern during the period they lived in the flat in Apollolaan in Amsterdam (1937-1941). It has been established that the Painting and two other works belonging to the Sterns, by Van Gogh and Munch, were given to the Museum in 1940 for safekeeping. Internal Museum documentation consistently names ‘Stern’ as owner of these three paintings. Albert Stern and Lieuwe Bangma refer to the documents about the transfer to and the return from safekeeping by the Museum. In the Committee’s opinion, the fact that documents concerning the actual sale of the Painting no longer mention Albert Stern and only Lieuwe Bangma is connected with the fact that Bangma, as a non-Jewish Dutch national, had free access to his bank balances and was not threatened with financial and material expropriation. It is clear for the Committee that there were close business and personal ties between Bangma and the Stern family. His role as a friend, helper and confidant of the Stern family has been comprehensively described and documented by the Applicants. For example, Lieuwe Bangma wrote to Stern’s daughter Eva Friedländer in England that he wanted to return the belongings of Albert and Marie Stern that he was still holding, included the unsold Van Gogh. It can be deduced from this that during the occupation there were transfers of possessions by Albert Stern to Bangma in order to conceal the real ownership situation and to prevent these belongings from being seized. The sale of the Painting is also referred to in various other letters and statements.

On the grounds of this information, looked at as a whole, in the Committee’s opinion it is highly likely that the Painting belonged to Albert Stern at the time of the sale and transfer to the Museum in 1941. This means that the ownership requirement of section 2 of the assessment framework has been met.

The consequence of this is that the Committee now has to evaluate whether, with regard to the Painting, there was involuntary loss of possession as a result of circumstances directly associated with the Nazi regime.

Involuntary loss of possession (section 3 of the assessment framework)

On 19 July 1941 the ownership of the Painting was transferred from Albert Stern and sold and delivered to the Museum with the cooperation of Lieuwe Bangma. In the assessment of the nature of the loss of possession, the applicable underlying principle is that a sale by a private Jewish individual in the Netherlands after 10 May 1940 must be considered to be involuntary, unless the facts expressly show otherwise. On the grounds of the established facts, the Committee finds that the latter is not the case.

It is sufficiently plausible that the sale of the Painting was connected to the measures taken by the occupying forces against Jewish members of the population and arose from a desire for self-preservation. As a result of these measures, Albert Stern was robbed of his income and possessions, and he was consequently forced to sell part of his art collection. The Committee notes thereby that the hopeless situation in which the Stern family found themselves clearly emerges from letters exchanged between Albert’s daughter, Eva Friedländer, and Albert’s older brother, the uncle of Eva, Isidor Stern. In one of these letters Isidor referred to a letter from Albert Stern dated 18 July 1941 in which Albert had confided to his brother Isidor that his circumstances had deteriorated, there was little food, and he and Marie had had to give notice to leave their rented flat was in Apollolaan. Albert Stern went on to sell the Painting the following day, on 19 July 1941. The post-war statements by Marie Stern, Eva Friedländer and EE endorse the wretched conditions in which Albert and Marie found themselves during the occupation.

On the basis of the above facts and circumstances, the Committee takes the view that it is sufficiently plausible that the sale of the Painting on 19 July 1941, and therefore, through the delivery as agreed, also the loss of possession, were involuntary, as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. This furthermore means that the requirements relating to involuntary loss of possession in section 3 of the assessment framework have been met.

Conclusion with regard to the restitution application

The Committee concludes that it is highly plausible that the painting Odalisque (1920-1921) by Henri Matisse, which is currently in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam with object number A795, came from the private collection of Albert Stern, and that it has become sufficiently plausible that he lost possession of this painting was lost in 1941 involuntarily as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime.

Since Amsterdam City Council has stated that it waives the right to invoke good faith in regard to the provenance of the Painting when purchasing it, the Committee does not need to conduct research in this regard and has not done so.

In view of sections 2 and 3 of the assessment framework (criterion 3.2 and part 3 at the end of section 3), the upshot of all this is that the Committee will recommend that the Painting should be restituted to the Applicants.

5. Binding opinion

The Restitutions Committee advises Amsterdam City Council to restitute the painting Odalisque by Henri Matisse, which is in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, to the legal successors of Albert and Marie Stern,

This binding opinion was issued on 27 May 2024 by A.I.M. Mierlo (Chair), D. Oostinga (Vice-Chair), J.F. Cohen, S.G. Cohen-Willner and C.J.H. Jansen, and signed by the Chair and Committee Member S.G. Cohen-Willner.

(A.I.M. van Mierlo, Chair)                            (S.G. Cohen-Willner, Committee Member)