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Binding opinion regarding the dispute about restitution of the painting Mountainous Landscape by Jacob van Geel, currently in the possession of Rotterdam City Council

Painting Mountainous Landscape by Jacob van Geel

Report number: RC 3.170

Advice type: Binding expert opinion

Advice date: 11 November 2019

Period of loss of ownership: unknown

Original owner: Private individual

Location of loss of ownership: The Netherlands

Mountainous Landscape by Jacob van Geel (photo: Museum Boijmans van Beuningen)

  • Mountainous Landscape by Jacob van Geel (photo: Museum Boijmans van Beuningen)

Binding Opinion

regarding the dispute between

AA, of XX, also on behalf of;
BB, of XX;
CC, of XX;
DD, of XX;
(hereinafter referred to as the Applicants)


Rotterdam City Council (hereinafter referred to as the City Council),
represented by Executive & Administration Support – Legal Services (BCO-JD),

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 referred to as the Committee.

1. The Dispute

Since 1975 the City Council has been the owner of the painting Mountainous Landscape by Jacob van Geel (hereinafter referred to as the painting). The painting in the collection of Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (hereinafter referred to as the Museum). The Applicants contend that the painting was in any event the property of Joseph Henri Gosschalk (1875-1952, hereinafter also referred to as Gosschalk) between September 1943 and September 1944. During this period Gosschalk was interned in Westerbork transit camp and lost possession of the painting involuntarily as a result of circumstances directly connected with the Nazi regime. The Applicants state that they are the only rightful claimants to Gosschalk’s estate and claim restitution of the painting. The City Council and the Applicants (hereinafter referred to jointly as the parties) submitted the dispute to the Restitutions Committee for investigation and a binding opinion.

2. The Procedure

The parties asked the Committee in separate letters, dated 16 May 2017 from the City Council and dated 12 July 2017 from the Applicants, to issue a binding opinion under the terms of article 2 paragraph 2 of the Decree Establishing the Restitutions Committee. The Minister of Education, Culture and Science informed the Committee of her agreement to this case being handled by the Committee. Pragmatic reasons prompted the intervention of the Minister. The State of the Netherlands has not become a party in the procedure at any time.

The parties declared in writing that they would submit to the Regulations for the Binding Opinion Procedure in accordance with article 2, second paragraph, and article 4, second paragraph, of the Decree Establishing the Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War (approved by the Committee on 3 December 2007, as most recently amended on 27 January 2014, hereinafter referred to as the Regulations) and would accept the Committee’s opinion as binding. The Committee satisfied itself of the identity of the parties.

The Committee took note of all the documents submitted by the parties. It forwarded to the other party copies of all documents. The Committee also had additional independent research conducted. As part of its investigation, the Committee put questions in writing to the parties and requested information. The findings of the investigation are recorded in an overview of the facts dated 4 March 2019. The Applicants responded to it in a letter of 8 April 2019 and an email of 17 June 2019, and the City Council in a letter of 24 April 2019.
In a letter of 1 July 2019 the Committee gave the parties the opportunity to respond to an explanation of the overview of the facts. In a letter of 7 October 2019 the Committee gave the parties the opportunity to respond to written questions that the Committee asked Dr R.E.O. Ekkart and his answers to these questions, and to newly found information.

In this case Dr J.F. Cohen assisted the Committee as an advisor.

3. The Facts

The Committee based its considerations on the following facts.


3.1       Joseph Henri Gosschalk (hereinafter referred to as Gosschalk) was born in Zwolle on 12 May 1875 to the merchant Henri J. Gosschalk and Seline (Sellie) Polak. He had four younger sisters: Elise Josephine (1876-1961), Margaretha Christina (1877-1953), Betsie Martha (1878-1932) and Martha (1880-1960). The family was of Jewish descent. Gosschalk was registered as living at Obrechtstraat 227 in The Hague from 1913. From 7 August 1945 he was registered as living at Wassenaarse Slag 1B in Wassenaar. Gosschalk did not marry and had no children. He had two foster daughters: Jeanne Marcelle Courboulay and Gerardina Clasina Hijst.

3.2       Gosschalk worked in the art world in various capacities. For example he was an artist, and from around 1912 he worked as a professional painter and draughtsman. His work was regularly on view in solo and group exhibitions in the Netherlands. A number of Dutch museums have work by Gosschalk in their collections. Gosschalk was an ardent collector of old and modern art. There is no catalogue or other comprehensive overview of Gosschalk’s collection, but it can be deduced from scattered sources that he owned many dozens of paintings, drawings and objets d’art. Gosschalk was not just a collector. He also dealt in art. On 24 February 1933 Gosschalk registered the establishment of the ‘Bureau voor Grafische Kunst’ [‘Graphic Art Bureau’] with effect from 1 March 1933 at Chamber of Commerce and Industry in The Hague. The business was located at Obrechtstraat 227 in The Hague, which was also Gosschalk’s home address, and it concentrated on ‘Bemiddeling bij opdrachten, uitgave, koop en verkoop van werken van beeldende, speciaal grafische, kunst, en hetzelfde voor eigen rekening. / (Commissiehandel en handel voor zijn rekening)’ [‘Mediation with regard to commissions for, publications about, purchase and sale of works of fine art, especially graphic art, also for the proprietor’s own account. / (Commission trading and trading on his own behalf)’]. Gosschalk was the sole owner of the business. On 29 November 1940 he notified the Chamber of Commerce and Industry that the business had been wound up with effect from March 1940.

The German Invasion

3.3       Little is known about Gosschalk’s life during the early years of the occupation. In the autumn of 1942 Gosschalk tried to get an exemption from deportation on the grounds of his foster parenthood of ‘twee personen van zuiver niet-joodschen bloede, beide katholiek gedoopt’ [‘two people of pure non-Jewish blood, both baptized Catholics’]. Between December 1942 and February 1943 a number of people who Gosschalk knew made statements stressing the importance of his work as conservator and restorer for the purposes of obtaining permission for him to remain in the Netherlands. Later on Gosschalk and his sister Elise were part of the group of Jews who were interned from the end of 1942 in Barneveld, which was referred to as the Barneveld group. This group comprised people with an important position in society and influential contacts, who were exempted from transportation to camps. Gosschalk and his sister arrived in Barneveld in February 1943. It can be concluded from Gosschalk’s post-war correspondence in the files of the Netherlands Art Property Foundation [Stichting Nederlands Kunstbezit, SNK] that he had goods, including paintings, sent to Barneveld.

On 29 September 1943 the German Ordnungspolizei took the Barneveld group to Westerbork transit camp. This was accompanied by looting and confiscations and, for instance, the furniture store was stripped. The possessions of the Barneveld group were not safe in Westerbork either. After the war Gosschalk wrote to the SNK that the Germans stole old paintings and valuable antique furniture from him in Barneveld or later in Westerbork.

In due course the Barneveld group was taken to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where most group members survived the war. On 3 May 1945 the Nazis handed over control of the camp to the Red Cross and on 8 May Red Army troops arrived. Gosschalk survived the war and returned to the Netherlands.
After the war Gosschalk settled in Wassenaar. He died at the age of 77 on 6 October 1952 in The Hague.

Fate of the Art Collection

3.4       There is no known comprehensive overview of the contents of Gosschalk’s collection at the start of the occupation or of the changes to this collection during the occupation. It can be deduced from the documents consulted that during the war Gosschalk bought and sold various artworks. According to post-war communications from Gosschalk to the SNK, he lost the lion’s share of his art collection during the occupation. He described four ways in which this happened in a letter to the SNK dated 1 November 1945.

In Febr 1943 werd ik als Jood naar Barneveld en later n. de kampen Westerbork en Theresienstadt gebracht. Ik woonde toen in Den Haag Obrechtstraat 227. Vooraf had ik o.m. uit mijn collectie, 1e. een aantal oude schilderijen aan Lippmann Rosenthal’s Bank moeten inzenden, 2e. Een aantal in kisten verpakt op advies van het Dept. V. B.Z. met ander waardevol antiek meubilair naar Barneveld laten volgen, dat mij te Barneveld, of later te Westerbork door de Duitsers ontroofd is, 3e. door tijdgebrek een aantal in mijn woning Obrechtstraat 227 achtergelaten, waar het na eenige maanden weggehaald is. / 4e. werd ik te Parijs voor een waardevol schilderij: “Kruisiging” op paneel uit de school van D. Bouts opgelicht, welk paneel, naar ik vernam, door uw relaties in Duitsland opgedoken werd.’
[‘Being Jewish I was taken to Barneveld in February 1943 and later to the camps of Westerbork and Theresienstadt. At that time I was living in The Hague at Obrechtstraat 227. Beforehand I had, firstly, been obliged to send a number of old paintings to Lippmann Rosenthal’s Bank and secondly I had packed other valuable antique furniture in a number of crates, as recommended by the Dept. V. B.Z, which were to follow me to Barneveld, which was stolen from me in Barneveld, or later in Westerbork, by the Germans, thirdly, because of a lack of time, I left a number behind in my home at Obrechtstraat 227, from where there were taken away after a few months, and fourthly in Paris a valuable painting – “Crucifixion” on a panel by the school of D. Bouts – was stolen from me, which I assume was unearthed by your contacts in Germany.’]

Gosschalk stated in his letter that it was difficult to give particulars about the missing works.

Daar de Duitsers mijn koffers met papieren ook achtergehouden hebben bezit ik geen aantekeningen meer om een lijst te kunnen geven met nauwkeurige omschrijving. Herkennen kan ik de stukken wel’.
[‘The Germans kept hold of my cases containing papers so I no longer have any notes for making a list of accurate descriptions. I am able to recognize the objects, however.’]

3.5       In a letter to the SNK dated 5 July 1946 Gosschalk once again stated that it was difficult for him to report detailed information.

‘Zooals ik u al vroeger mededeelde ben ik het grootste deel van mijn kunstbezit kwijt geworden in de bezettingstijd en heb ik de moeilijkheid dat ook alle gegevens verdwenen zijn en mijn geheugen mij deerlijk in den steek laat. Waar u in Uw formulieren allerlei gegevens vraagt was het mij niet mogelijk die in te vullen. Hoogstens kan ik van enkele stukken die mij invallen een vage beschrijving geven. […]

            Mijn vertrek uit Den Haag liet mij al te weinig tijd om aanteekeningen te maken, zelfs niet om te onthouden of schilderijen enz. naar “Bewaarders”, naar Barneveld (waar ze ook verdwenen), naar Lippmann gingen of in mijn huis achterbleven en daar later weggehaald werden.’
[‘As I notified you previously, I lost the lion’s share of my art holdings during the occupation and I have difficulties because all my information has disappeared and my memory lets me down badly. It was not possible for me to answer questions in your forms requesting all sorts of data. The most I can do is give vague descriptions of a few objects that come to mind.

            My departure from The Hague gave me too little time to make notes, and not even to remember whether paintings etc. went to “Custodians”, to Barneveld (where they also disappeared), to Lippmann or whether they remained in my home, from where they were later taken away.’]

No indications were found during the Committee’s investigation that Gosschalk contacted the post-war recovery and restoration of rights authorities about the currently claimed painting and/or made efforts after the war to regain possession of the painting.

3.6       In the end one painting, by an artist from the school of Rogier van der Weijden, was restituted by the SNK to Gosschalk in 1948. In 2002 and 2017 a further four paintings from the Netherlands Art Property Collection were restituted to Gosschalk’s heirs after the Restitutions Committee had issued recommendations to that effect.

The Currently Claimed Painting

3.7       The claimed painting was among the works of the art historian Cornelis Hofstede de Groot (1863-1930) that were put up for auction in a sale in June 1931 at the Venduhuis der Notarissen in The Hague. It can be concluded from notes in different copies of the accompanying sale catalogue that Gosschalk purchased the painting at that sale for NLG 90.

3.8       After that, the painting became the property of Vitale Bloch (1900-1975). Bloch was an art historian, art dealer and art collector of Russian-Jewish descent. During the occupation Bloch provided support to the activities of Erhard Göpel, an art buyer for the planned Führer Museum in Linz, who offered him protection in exchange. Bloch became a naturalized Dutch citizen after the war. In his naturalization file there are various post-war letters with comments that are favourable to Bloch from people from cultural circles, including Karel Gerard Boon (1909-1996) referred to below. These letters state, among other things, that Bloch was anti-German, that he had acted to save his own lives during the war, that he had helped or even saved various other people, and that works that he advised Göpel about or sold to him were not by major artists from the Dutch School.
Bloch and Gosschalk knew each other. They belonged to the network of art lovers in The Hague with interest in the works of Dutch Old Masters. Bloch lodged with Hendrik Schuuring, who knew Gosschalk well, and who wrote a favourable statement about him during the war with regard to attempts to protect Gosschalk from anti-Jewish measures. After the liberation of Theresienstadt concentration camp, Gosschalk wrote a postcard to his foster daughter Gerardina Hijst in which he referred to Bloch.

‘In Westerbork was ik nog goed en heb daar mijn beste teekeningen achtergelaten en in handen gesteld van de badmeester (op zijn naam kan ik juist niet komen) die ze in veiligheid zou brengen, ook aan Hans van de Waal verzocht er voor te zorgen, deze zal dus inlichtingen kunnen geven, zijn adres Dientje, kun je wel van Dr. Knuttel of van Dr. Bloch krijgen. De badmeester was bevriend met Dr. Friedländer, waar men zijn adres ook kan krijgen, aan Dr. Fr. kan dit gevraagd worden door Bloch.’
[‘In Westerbork I was still alright and I left my best drawings behind and gave them to the shower block supervisor (I can’t recall his name at the moment) who was going to put them in a safe place. I also asked Hans van de Waal to watch out for them. So he’ll be able to give you information. You can get his address, Dientje, from Dr Knuttel or Dr Bloch. The shower block supervisor was friends with Dr Friedländer, who can also be asked for his address. Bloch can ask Dr Fr. for it.’]

3.9       The following is known about Bloch’s acquisition of the currently claimed painting. In the RKD – Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis [Netherlands Institute for Art History] there are a number of photograph cards of the currently claimed painting. Under the illustration on one photograph card there is a typewritten note ‘Verz. C. Hofstede de Groot’ [‘C. Hofstede de Groot collection’] and below that there is a handwritten note added by an RKD employee ‘Vitale Bloch, Den Haag [The Hague]1940’. On the back of second photograph card of the painting there is an RKD label bearing a handwritten note ‘Coll. H.d.G. / Vitale Bloch, den Haag [The Hague], 1940.’ On a third photograph card there is a reference to the year 1945 in regard to Bloch. None of the photograph cards mentions Gosschalk as owner.

3.10     The Committee asked Dr R.E.O. Ekkart, former RKD director, about the significance of these photograph cards. According to Ekkart the first one dates from the nineteen-thirties, so before the name Vitale Bloch and the year 1940 were added. Ekkart thinks that the note ‘Vitale Bloch, den Haag [The Hague] 1940’ has to be considered, in accordance with RKD working practices, as an indication of the painting’s whereabouts in 1940. The year 1940 may be when it was acquired by Bloch, but it may also be the case that he acquired it before 1940. In Ekkart’s view the year 1945 on the third photograph card is not inconsistent with the 1940 mentioned on the first two. Ekkart believes that the three photograph cards give powerful indications that are not negligible that Bloch was the owner of the currently claimed painting in both 1940 and 1945. Ekkart concludes, given the direct contact between Bloch and the RKD and the RKD’s standard working practices, that it is improbable that Bloch would have been recorded as owner if he only had the painting for safekeeping or on consignment.

3.11     In a letter dated 21 February 1955 Bloch wrote about ‘een lijstje met photo’s van schilderijen tekeningen uit mijn particuliere collectie (werken, die ik reeds sinds 15 tot 20 jaren bezit)‘ [‘a list of photographs of paintings and drawings from my private collection (works that I have already owned for 15 to 20 years)‘]. The first painting on this list is:

‘Jacob Geel (getekend en gedateerd)
Landschap, vroeger in de verzameling Hofstede de Groot;’
[‘Jacob Geel (signed and dated)
Landscape, previously in the Hofstede de Groot Collection;’.]

3.12     Bloch’s acquisition of the currently claimed painting is also referred to in two letters dating from the nineteen-seventies, after Bloch’s death and the bequeathal of the currently claimed painting by Bloch to Rotterdam City Council. The first letter was written by Boon, who was referred to in 3.8. Boon was an art historian and was an SNK employee after the war. Boon was friends with both Gosschalk and Bloch. In 1975, for instance, Boon together with other friends, including the then director of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Johan Conrad Ebbinge Wubben (1915-2014), had a death notice about Bloch published in the daily newspaper the NRC. Boon wrote to Ebbinge Wubben on 30 January 1978. Prompted by the catalogue accompanying an exhibition of the Bloch bequest in the Museum, Boon wrote the following about Gosschalk, Bloch and the currently claimed painting.
‘…. Je inleiding is een goed en mooi geschreven stuk, zoals we dat van je gewoon zijn. Je hebt ook zeer terecht op de nauwe band met Sturla gewezen. Ik heb een ding gemist n.l. Vitale’s verbondenheid met het Maandblad van Beeldende Kunst dat zoveel voor hem betekend heeft in de naoorlogse jaren. Ze ontstond door de nauwe band die hij met Cornelis Veth had en in die tijd heeft hij zich “bijna” een Hollander gevoeld. Hij leefde toen ook veel meer mee met wat er in Holland gebeurde dan in de jaren na ’60. Zo kon hij ook aankopen doen als het schilderijtje van Van Geel dat Jos Gosschalk, de tekenaar en Haagse bohemien, uit de veiling Hofstede de Groot verworven had. “Gos” wou er nooit afstand van doen maar Vitale lukte het om dit juweeltje los te peuteren. Aan veel van Vitale’s aankopen zitten trouwens dergelijke geschiedenissen vast.’
[‘…. Your introduction is a good and well-written piece, as we have become accustomed to from you. You very rightly pointed out the close ties with Sturla. I did miss one thing, however, namely Vitale’s connection with the monthly magazine “Maandblad van Beeldende Kunst” which meant so much to him in the years after the war. This developed through the good relationship he had with Cornelis Veth and at that time he felt “almost” a Dutchman. He was also much more in tune with what was happening in Holland then than during the period after 1960. For example, he could also make purchases such as the little painting by Van Geel that Jos Gosschalk, the draughtsman and The Hague Bohemian, had acquired at the Hofstede de Groot auction. “Gos” would never have parted with it, but Vitale nevertheless managed to prise this little gem from him. Indeed, many of Vitale’s purchases had histories like this.’]

The second letter that describes Bloch’s acquisition of the claimed painting was written on 29 November 1979 by Carlos van Hasselt (1929-2009), the then director of the Fondation Custodia, to EE of Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. In it, Van Hasselt referred to an exhibition of the Bloch bequest in the Institut Néerlandais in Paris in the autumn of 1979. He stated the following about the claimed painting, which was on show in that exhibition.
‘….De Boon’s waren juist hier en vertelden mij dat het schilderijtje van Van Geel gekocht werd op de veiling Hofstede de Groot in 1931 door de Haagse kunstschilder Jozef Gosschalk van wie Vitale Bloch het c. 1942-1943 lospeuterde toen Gosschalk naar ik meen al in Westerbork zat. Hij is kort na de oorlog overleden.’
[‘….The Boons were here recently and told me that the little painting by Van Geel was bought at the Hofstede de Groot auction in 1931 by the painter Jozef Gosschalk of The Hague, from whom Vitale Bloch managed to prise it in about 1942-43 when Gosschalk, as I recall, was already in Westerbork. He died shortly after the war.’]

3.13     After the War Bloch loaned the currently claimed painting to the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague for a few years. Bloch died on 21 September 1975. In his will he bequeathed nineteen paintings, including the currently claimed one, and sixteen drawings to Rotterdam City Council, to be placed in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. The City Council decided to accept the bequest in March 1978. Since then the painting has been in the Museum.

4. The Positions of the Parties

4.1 The Applicants are heirs of Gosschalk, who was their great uncle. They contend that through their inquiries and restitution applications, including the present one, they are trying to continue with their great uncle’s earlier unsuccessful restitution applications. According to the Applicants, the currently claimed painting was in any event Gosschalk’s property between September 1943 and September 1944, which was when Gosschalk was interned in Westerbork transit camp. They furthermore assert that during this period the painting came into the hands of Vitale Bloch. In the Applicant’s view, the comment in Boon’s letter of 30 January 1978 that Gosschalk ‘er geen afstand van wilde doen’ [‘did not want to part with it’], taken in conjunction with his vulnerable position as a Jew interned in Westerbork, makes it highly probable that Gosschalk lost possession of the painting involuntarily. The Applicants assert that Boon’s letter suggests that Gosschalk was particularly attached to this painting, which means that the case is also of great emotional importance to the Applicants as Gosschalk’s heirs.

4.2 The City Council contends that it acquired the painting in good faith as part of the 1975 Bloch bequest. This bequest comprised three works that Bloch considered to be the most important pieces in his collection. The painting’s provenance was not investigated before the bequest was accepted. The currently claimed painting plays a major role in the seventeenth-century Dutch landscape section of the Museum’s collection. The City Council describes Van Geel as ‘een zeldzame meester’ [‘a precious painter’] by whom only around thirty paintings are known. The Museum is very attached to the painting, which is an integral part of the Bloch bequest. The Museum decided not to place the painting on the website www.musealeverwervingen.nl but to contact Gosschalk’s heirs directly, which resulted in this joint request for a binding opinion from the Committee.

5. The Committee’s Task

5.1 On the grounds of article 2 paragraph 2 of the Decree Establishing the Restitutions Committee, the Committee is tasked at the request of the parties with issuing an opinion about disputes relating to the return of items of cultural value between the original owner who involuntarily lost possession as a result of circumstances directly linked to the Nazi regime, or his or her heirs, and the current owner, not being the State of the Netherlands. This opinion is a binding opinion within the meaning of article 7:900 of the Dutch Civil Code

5.2 The committee advises on the basis of the yardsticks of reasonableness and fairness. This means that first of all an assessment is made of whether the requirements have been met for establishing that it is highly likely that the original owner was indeed the owner and that it is sufficiently plausible that he or she lost possession of the artwork involuntarily as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. Advising on the basis of the yardsticks of reasonableness and fairness furthermore provides scope to take into account how the current owner acquired the object and other circumstances and to weigh up the interests of the different parties involved.

5.3 In its advisory role pursuant to article 2, second paragraph of the Decree Establishing the Restitutions Committee, the Committee—in accordance with article 3 of the Regulations—may in any event take account in its opinion of the circumstances in which possession of the work was lost, the degree to which the parties requesting restitution have made efforts to recover the work, as well as the timing and the circumstances of the acquisition of possession by the current owner and the investigation conducted by the current owner before the acquisition. It may in addition take account in its opinion of the respective importance of the work to both parties and of the public art stock. Internationally and nationally accepted principles such as the Washington Principles and the government’s policy guidelines concerning the restitution of looted art are incorporated in the assessment.

This broad assessment framework also does justice to the Washington Principles, according to which the restitutions policy must be aimed at achieving ‘a just and fair solution, recognizing this may vary according to the facts and circumstances surrounding a specific case’.

6. Assessment of the Dispute

6.1 The Applicants proved they are jointly entitled to Gosschalk’s estate by submitting a notarial instrument dated 5 June 2018 drawn up by notary M.J. Meijer of Amsterdam.

6.2 It has been established on the grounds of the facts described in 3.7, 3.9 and 3.11 that Gosschalk acquired the currently claimed painting in 1931 at the sale of the Hofstede de Groot estate. It is also clear that at some point afterwards the painting came into the Bloch’s hands. An important aspect of the assessment of the dispute is whether Gosschalk lost possession of the painting involuntarily as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime.

In answering this question, the Committee first of all finds that some of the available information about Bloch’s acquisition of the painting indicates that Bloch got possession of the painting in 1940, or possibly earlier. The committee refers to the three photograph cards of the painting in the RKD as described in 3.9 and to Bloch’s letter as discussed in 3.11. This dating of the acquisition by Bloch is not consistent, however, with that of Van Hasselt, who in his letter to EE of 29 November 1979 wrote that Bloch supposedly ‘losgepeuterd’ [‘prised’] the painting from Gosschalk in ‘c. 1942-1943 .… toen Gosschalk naar ik meen al in Westerbork zat.’ [‘around 1942-1943.… when Gosschalk, as I recall, was already in Westerbork.’]

There is no logical way to reconcile these different datings of the acquisition by Bloch. Basing its considerations on the yardsticks of reasonableness and fairness, the Committee finds as follows. In his letter Van Hasselt describes in his own words what Boon had told him shortly beforehand about events that allegedly took place some 36 to 37 years before that and that also Boon only learned from hearsay. In view of this, the letter in question cannot be considered as a reliable source. Furthermore, the period that Van Hasselt referred in (1942-1943) does not correspond with the period during which Gosschalk was actually interned in Westerbork, which was between September 1943 and September 1944. This also gives rise to doubts about the correctness of what Van Hasselt wrote. Compared with the letter, in the Committee’s view the RKD photograph cards are a much more credible source because they date from the period during which Bloch acquired the painting. Two of the photograph cards link Bloch to the work in 1940. This is also consistent with Bloch’s own dating of the painting’s acquisition in his letter of 21 February 1955. According to former RKD director Ekkart, the three photograph cards give powerful indications that are not negligible that Bloch was the owner of the currently claimed painting in both 1940 and 1945. Ekkart believes it is also possible that Bloch acquired it even before 1940. The Committee gives considerable weight to this expert opinion.

If follows from this that it is most likely that Bloch acquired the painting from Gosschalk in 1940, or possibly earlier. Although this leaves open the possibility that Gosschalk lost possession of the painting after the German invasion on 10 May 1940, this one possibility, in the absence of information that makes it plausible, is not sufficient to conclude that Gosschalk lost possession of the painting involuntarily as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. The term ‘lospeuteren’ [‘prise’] used by both Boon and Van Hasselt is not of itself an indication that the loss of possession was linked to the Nazi regime.

7. In view of the above, the Committee is of the opinion that insufficient facts and circumstances have been established on the grounds of which it can be deduced with the required degree of plausibility that Gosschalk lost possession of the currently claimed painting as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. Basing its considerations on the yardsticks of justice and fairness, the Committee will issue a binding opinion that the City Council is not obliged to restitute the painting.

Binding opinion

Rotterdam City Council is not obliged to hand over the painting Mountainous Landscape by Jacob van Geel to the Applicants.

This binding opinion was issued on 11 November 2019 by A. Hammerstein (Chair), S.G. Cohen-Willner, J.H.W. Koster, J.H. van Kreveld, D. Oostinga, E.H. Swaab (Vice-Chair) and C.C. Wesselink, and signed by the Chair and the Secretary.

(A.  Hammerstein, Chair)    (E.J.A. Idema, Secretary)