A sculpture in Fritz Gutmann's collection (Gutmann III-B)

NK688 (Photo: Museum Catharijneconvent Utrecht/Ruben de Heer)

Recommendation regarding a sculpture in Fritz Gutmann’s collection

Recommendation number: 
1.114-B
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
11 April 2011
Period loss of possession: 
1940-1945
Private owner/art dealer: 
Private individual
Location of loss: 
Outside of The Netherlands

In a letter dated 18 April 2007, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (hereafter referred to as: ‘the Minister’) requested the Restitutions Committee (hereafter referred to as: ‘the Committee’) to issue a recommendation regarding the application by S.G., N.G. and L.V.C.-G. (hereafter referred to as: ‘the applicants’) for restitution of objects that may have been in the possession of F.B.E. Gutmann (1886-1944). This application for restitution concerns, among other things, a sculpture which is part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereafter referred to as: ‘NK collection’) and is administered by the Dutch government under inventory number NK 688. The sculpture, which is currently on loan to Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, is described as: NK 688, Unknown, Pietà, Southern Germany, 15th century, limewood, 97.0 x 69.0 x 33.0 cm.

This recommendation contains the Committee’s judgement with regard to the claim of F.B.E. Gutmann’s heirs to NK 688.

THE PROCEDURE

In a letter dated 15 June 2009, the Minister requested the Restitutions Committee to issue a recommendation regarding the application by N.P., F.F., M.M., C.E.G. and N.M.G. as heirs of Herbert M. Gutmann, the brother of F.B.E. Gutmann, for the restitution of NK 688, among other things. This second claim to NK 688 informed the Committee’s decision to reclassify the various Gutmann files (RC 1.74, RC 1.94, RC 1.113, RC 1.114 and RC 1.115). For the procedural particulars of this case, the Committee refers to its recommendations of 19 June 2010 (RC 1.113) and 6 December 2010 (RC 1.114-A), and to RC 1.115 which the Committee is still dealing with. Because the heirs of H.M. Gutmann withdrew this contradictory claim to NK 688 in a letter dated 31 March 2011, it can be left aside in this recommendation.
The request for advice of 18 April 2007 concerning the claim of the heirs of Fritz Gutmann to which this recommendation relates also concerns several other works of art. For the recommendation concerning works other than NK 688, the Committee refers to its recommendation of 19 June 2010 (RC 1.113) and 6 December 2010 (RC 1.114-A). The Committee’s investigatory report concerning NK 688 (RC 1.114-B) was adopted on 11 April 2011. The Committee refers to this investigatory report for the facts underlying the current recommendation.

CONSIDERATIONS

    1. The applicants are the heirs of Friedrich Bernhard Eugen Gutmann (hereafter referred to as: ‘Fritz Gutmann’), as evidenced by a certificate of inheritance drawn up on 18 March 2005 by Amsterdam-based public notary M.R. Meijer. The applicants stated that the current sculpture was the property of Fritz Gutmann and that he involuntarily lost possession of it as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi Regime.

    2. Fritz Gutmann, the applicants’ father and grandfather, was born on 15 November 1886 as a son of banker Eugen Gutmann. He married Baroness Louise von Landau, with whom he had two children, B. Gutmann (later: B. Goodman) (1914-1994) and L. Gutmann (born 1919). In 1918, Fritz Gutmann moved to the Netherlands, where he was granted Dutch nationality in 1924. Fritz Gutmann lived with his family in ‘Bosbeek’ country house near Heemstede, where he amassed a sizeable art collection.

    3. From 1939, the increasingly ominous international situation forced the Gutmann-Von Landau couple to sell or transfer abroad as many of the works of art as possible. They sent several objects to Paris in mid-April 1939. After the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940, the couple made plans to flee the country. During the occupation, Fritz Gutmann sold a large number of works to German art dealers Böhler and Haberstock in three transactions. The Gutmann-Von Landau’s plan to escape abroad failed and in 1943 they were arrested and sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where Fritz Gutmann was killed in 1944. His wife, Louise von Landau, was killed in Auschwitz in the same year. The couple’s two children survived the war.

    4. The works that the Gutmann couple transferred to Paris in April 1939 were stored at art dealership Paul Graupe & Co. (hereafter referred to as: ‘art dealership Graupe’), established at Place Vendôme 16 in Paris. Paul Graupe was a Jewish art dealer who had fled the Nazi regime in Germany in 1936 to settle in Paris. He ran the art dealership with his business partner Arthur Goldschmidt. After the war, Goldschmidt stated in a letter dated 20 November 1945 that he had already had several of Fritz Gutmann’s art objects in his safekeeping before war broke out.

    5. At the beginning of the war, all goods found at the premises of art dealership Graupe at Place Vendôme 16 were seized. The Germans Josef Angerer, one of Göring’s chief art buyers, and Fritz Schmidt played a key role in removing the goods from the premises. In addition, the looting organisation Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) seized objects that art dealership Graupe had stored at the premises at Boulevard Raspail 236 in Paris. These premises were owned by Mrs Wacker-Bondy (hereafter referred to as: ‘Wacker-Bondy premises’). Among the goods were the objects that art dealership Graupe held in safekeeping for Fritz Gutmann. Various other works from Fritz Gutmann’s collection stored in the Wacker-Bondy premises were purchased in 1941 by art dealer Karl Haberstock. The investigation did not find evidence that the currently claimed Pietà (NK 688) was among the objects purchased by Haberstock.

    6. A letter dated 20 May 1946 from the allied army’s department of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Branch (hereafter referred to as: ‘MFA&A’) in Bünde (Germany) refers to objects that were allegedly removed by the occupying forces from the Wacker-Bondy premises at Boulevard Raspail 236 during the war. Among these was an object described as ‘Pieta, (woodsculpture, Austrian c. 1420)’. Art dealership Graupe was named as owner of the objects.

      After the war, Paul Graupe’s son sent the French restitution authorities various lists of lost art objects. One such list was entitled 'LISTE I B DES TABLEAUX VOLES 16 Place Vendôme' (hereafter referred to as: list I B). The following is stated under the title: ‘Il est possible que certains de ces objets se trouvaient chez Madame WACKER-BONDY 236 Boulevard Raspail (...)’ [It is possible that some of these objects were at the home of Madame WACKER-BONDY 236 Boulevard Raspail]. The object ‘Sculpture / [photo n°] 16 / Piéta’ was listed as number 12. Regarding the objects in the aforementioned list I B that were claimed on behalf of art dealership Graupe, Rose Valland, head of the Service de Protection des Oeuvres d'Art [Commission for the Protection of Works of Art], wrote in a letter dated 5 March 1965 that it was impossible to determine which of the items belonged to Graupe and which were in safekeeping at the dealership on behalf of third parties.

      Assessment of the claim

    7. Pursuant to current restitution policy, it is important to establish for the current claim whether Fritz Gutmann’s title to the current NK 688 can be assumed with a high degree of probability.

    8. The current NK 688 was found by American soldiers in Hermann Göring’s art collection in May 1945 and sent back from Munich to the Netherlands on 3 June 1947. In mid-August 1947, the SNK completed an internal documentation form about the sculpture. The form states that the Pietà was originally owned by ‘Hoogendijk, Amsterdam’. This refers to the art dealership D.A. Hoogendijk & Co. of Amsterdam. However, the Committee’s investigation has shown that this mention would seem to be the result of a mistake. Thirty-four photos were found under the name Gutmann in the archive of the Ministère des Affaires étrangères et européenees in Paris. One of these shows a Pietà. When requested, the Museum Catharijneconvent stated that the Pietà is the current NK 688. One of the annotations on the rear of the photo reads ‘Gutman Friederich’. It can be concluded from the alphanumeric code, which is also on the back of the photo, that together with the other thirty-three photos, this photo was probably originally kept in another file whose paper cover bears the heading: ‘Mr. Gutmann / Correspondant: / Dr J.R.R. Scheller / Cliostraat 5" Amsterdam’. Scheller was the post-war administrator of Fritz Gutmann’s estate and of the Firma F. Gutmann in liquidation. After the war, he corresponded with the SNK and various other bodies at home and abroad about the Gutmann family’s missing works of art. In connection with this, he may have sent the French authorities the said photo of the current NK 688, and that the sculpture may have been among the works Fritz Gutmann sent to France.

    9. The applicants claim that the current NK 688 was part of the Fritz Gutmann collection. According to them, the Pietà was stolen from Fritz Gutmann in France during the Second World War. They have stated that the Pietà ‘was part of Fritz Gutmann’s collection that was looted from the Paul Graupe Gallery, 16 Place Vendome, Paris or their storage at 20 Ave. Rapp and the Wacker-Bondy warehouse 236 Boulevard Raspail (by the E.R.R. or others)’. To substantiate their claims, the applicants submitted various documents, including a handwritten and a typed version of list I B mentioned under consideration 6 above, featuring under number 12 a sculpture ‘Pietà’. The applicants also sent copies of the photo mentioned in consideration 8 with the annotation ‘Gutman Friederich’ on the back.

    10. The Ekkart Committee’s eighth recommendation (2001) states as a condition for restitution that the title to the claimed objects is proved with a high degree of probability, and that there are no indications to the contrary.

    11. The Committee considers the following facts and circumstances of importance with regard to the question of whether the current NK 688 was the property of Fritz Gutmann:
      - The reference to Fritz Gutmann (‘Gutmann, Friedrich’) on the rear of a photo of a sculpture that the experts at the Museum Catharijneconvent have identified as the current NK 688, which photo was found in the archives of the French recovery and restitution authorities.
      - There is also an alphanumeric code on the back of this photo that refers to Dr Scheller, the post-war administrator of Fritz Gutmann’s estate. After the war, Scheller corresponded with the French restitution authorities about the Gutmann family’s missing works of art.
      - In mid-April 1939, Fritz Gutmann had works of art stored at art dealership Graupe in Paris for safekeeping.
      - On List I B, under number 12, a sculpture of a Pietà is mentioned among other objects seized from art dealership Graupe during the war.
      - Arthur Goldschmidt’s letter of 20 November 1945 states that art dealership Graupe had goods on consignment from Fritz Gutmann.
      - No indications were found during the investigation that Fritz Gutmann had ever sold any works of art to art dealership Graupe.

    12. On the basis of the above, the Committee deems it highly likely that NK 688 was owned by Fritz Gutmann during the war. As mentioned above, the Ekkart Committee’s eighth recommendation requires that there are no indications that contradict this conclusion. The Committee investigated whether the letter from the MFA&A department in Bünde of 20 May 1946, in which art dealership Graupe is named as owner of the objects mentioned in the letter, including a Pietà, could be such an indication. However, the Committee concludes from archive documentation that after the war, Paul Graupe’s son filed claims for all works of art that had been seized from art dealership Graupe. This also concerned objects belonging to third parties, such as Fritz Gutmann, that the art dealership had in safekeeping. On this subject, Paul Graupe’s son was of the opinion that it would be only reasonable to return them to their owners. This is probably the reason why the provenance ‘Graupe’ was linked to the Pietà in the letter from the MFA&A. The Committee therefore believes that the letter from the MFA&A carries insufficient weight to detract from the conclusion that it is highly probable that the current NK 688 was the property of Fritz Gutmann.

    13. Pursuant to current restitution policy, the Committee can only recommend restitution if the original owner involuntarily lost possession of the currently claimed object due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. With regard to the nature of the loss of possession, the Committee considers the following. The complex of facts has made it sufficiently clear that the current NK 688 was among the objects that the Paris art dealership Graupe had in storage during the war and that were seized from the premises at Place Vendôme 16 or the Wacker-Bondy premises at Boulevard Raspail 236. The Committee concludes on the basis of this, that Fritz Gutmann’s loss of possession of the Pietà was involuntary and due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime.

    14. After the war, Fritz Gutmann’s heirs made every effort to recover the works of art their father had lost. In connection with this, the Council for the Restoration of Rights ruled on 1 July 1952 that ownership of the goods that Fritz Gutmann had sold to Böhler and Haberstock during the occupation of the Netherlands and that were in the custody of the State of the Netherlands be restored to the heirs. This ruling did not concern the current NK 688, however, and is therefore not taken into consideration. The Committee also finds that in all other respects it has not been established that this case has been conclusively settled. There is no evidence that the applicants applied for restitution of the Pietà after the war. The applicants’ request for restitution is, therefore, admissible.

    15. In the 1960s, the heirs of Fritz Gutmann endeavoured to obtain compensation from the West German government for several of their father’s works of art that were lost during the war. Investigations have shown that the heirs received a sum of DM 61,625 at the time as compensation for the loss of three paintings. In reply to a request for information, the German authorities told the Committee that this compensation had nothing to do with the currently claimed NK 688. The Committee believes that the said compensation can be disregarded.

      CONCLUSION

      The Restitutions Committee advises the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science to return the sculpture NK 688 to the heirs of Friedrich Bernhard Eugen Gutmann.

      Adopted at the meeting of 11 April 2011 by W.J.M. Davids (chair), J.Th.M. Bank, P.J.N. van Os, D.H.M. Peeperkorn, E.J. van Straaten, H.M. Verrijn Stuart, I.C. van der Vlies (vice-chair), and signed by the chair and the secretary.

      (W.J.M. Davids, chair)    (E. Campfens, secretary)