The nineteen-seventies: discussion about the ownership
Between 1959 and 1981 members of the Hamburger family initiated various cases against the German State personally and on behalf of the N.V. tot Uitoefening van den Kunsthandel in liquidation. Documentation relating to these cases reveals that the ‘Granaat-Hamburger collection’, including the artwork by Moeyaert, was the subject of research and discussion for a few years.
In connection with one of these cases, the Hamburger family’s lawyer, Werner Diamand, sent a list of works of art on 21 August 1970 to the Berlin Restitution Agency. On a list, the title of which has been cut off, there is the entry ‘C. Mooyaart, Biblical scene’. A letter of 20 August 1970 from Hambo employee Hubert Bok to Diamand explains why this modification had been made. Bok had asked the lawyer to remove the title ‘Property of Mr Herman Hamburger, Bordeaux’ from the list concerned ‘in order to avoid later unnecessary explanations’. Because, he pointed out to Diamand, ‘as you already know, these objects served as security for Granaat’s obligations in respect of our Bank and Mr Herman Hamburger was only acting for us as a trustee.’
It can be deduced from notes in the file that afterwards the German authorities waited for a few years for an expert’s certificate from the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (RIOD; predecessor of the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies). RIOD researcher Hans van der Leeuw pointed out in a letter to Diamand of 14 November 1973 that various issues still needed to be clarified, in particular the ownership situation of the ‘Granaat-Hamburger collection’: ‘Apart from the said questions about the looting of artworks during the occupation and the partial return after the war, there are still additional issues that need to be resolved. In the first place concerning the ownership of the looted objects. There are no problems in so far as G. Hamburger or the N.V. tot uitoefening van de kunsthandel were the victims. Difficulties do arise, however, particularly with regard to the Granaat-Hamburger collection. In my opinion you should be briefed as well as possible about the status of this collection.’
On 1 April 1974 Hubert Bok – who was the liquidator of the art gallery in the nineteen-seventies – stated in writing to Werner Diamand: ‘The original art collection given to the Bank by Mr S. Granaat as security later, in 1936 (deeds available) in consultation with him, became the property of Mr Alex Hamburger (because Mr Granaat sold it to Mr Alex Hamburger). … Mr Herman Hamburger (director of the art gallery), acted in this transaction as a trustee and he therefore, upon the outbreak of the war, was known to Granaat as owner of the art collection.’
On 1 November 1978 Werner Diamand notified the District Court in Berlin that settlement negotiations had taken place in which the parties – the Hamburger family and the German State – had agreed to have the RIOD conduct an investigation into a number of unresolved issues and that this investigation was still ongoing at the time of writing. On 1 December 1978 a German civil servant wrote in a letter to Diamand that, with regard to the Granaat-Hamburger collection, it was not clear ‘who owned the items’.
In Hans van der Leeuw’s archive, which is in the NIOD, there are different draft versions of an expert opinion by Van der Leeuw dated 22 December 1978. In one of these versions Van der Leeuw writes with regard to the Granaat-Hamburger collection that it ‘was assigned by a Mr. S. Granaat, Heerengracht 512 in Amsterdam to Hamburger & Co’s Bankierskantoor as security in 1930/31 and later became the unrestricted property of the Hamburger Group.’
In a second draft version, Van der Leeuw writes that the Granaat-Hamburger collection ‘was assigned by a Mr S. Granaat, Heerengracht 512 in Amsterdam to Hamburger & Co’s Bankierskantoor as security in 1930/31 and in 1936 became the property of Mr Alexander Hamburger, the father of Mr Albert and Mr Gustaaf Hamburger. The relevant contracts are still in place, I was able to see them.’
In Van der Leeuw’s archive there is also a copy or draft of an expert opinion of 17 May 1979 to the German authorities in which Van der Leeuw once again writes that the Granaat-Hamburger collection became the property of Alexander Hamburger in 1936.
At the end of the nineteen-seventies the German government made a settlement proposal with regard to two cases brought by Gustaaf Hamburger and the N.V. tot Uitoefening van den Kunsthandel: compensation of DM 41,000 in respect of Gustaaf Hamburger / German State and DM 53,000 in respect of N.V. tot Uitoefening van den Kunsthandel i.l. / German State. It can be deduced from the contents of the file that payment on the basis of these sums in all probability took place.