Nardus

NK2894 (Photo: RCE)

Recommendation regarding Nardus

Recommendation number: 
1.65
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
6 April 2009
Period loss of possession: 
1940-1945
Private owner/art dealer: 
Private individual
Location of loss: 
The Netherlands

In a letter dated 26 March 2007, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (OCW) requested the Restitutions Committee (hereafter referred to as: ‘the Committee’) to issue a recommendation regarding the application by S.N. of France for the restitution of two paintings that are currently part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection under inventory numbers NK 2894 and 2895. The request concerns two anonymous Florentine paintings from the final quarter of the 15th century entitled Portrait of a Woman and Portrait of a Man. Both paintings are currently on long-term loan to the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht.

THE PROCEDURE

On 3 February 2007, S.N. (hereafter referred to as: ‘the applicant’) submitted an application for restitution to the Minister. The applicant made it known that he would be represented in this matter by Patrick Neslias of France.
On the basis of the application for restitution, the Committee formulated a draft investigatory report (7 April 2008), which was sent to the applicant for comments on 25 April 2008. The applicant responded to the report on 24 June 2008. This response is enclosed in the final investigatory report and constitutes an integral part of the report. On 16 March 2009, the applicant provided additional information concerning the facts of the case. This is also an appendix in the final report. In the context of its investigation, the Committee asked the French lawyer Corinne Hershkovitch of Paris to conduct further investigation into certain aspects of the case. Her response of 16 March 2009 has been incorporated into the report. For the facts underlying the application for restitution, the Committee refers to its investigatory report, which was adopted at the meeting on 6 April 2009. R. Herrmann, former chair of the Committee acted as an advisor in this case.

CONSIDERATIONS

    1. The applicant is the grandson of Leonardus Salomon (1868-1955) and is requesting restitution of the paintings in his capacity as heir. The Committee has taken cognisance of the document submitted by the applicant pertaining to the law of inheritance and sees no reason to doubt the applicant’s status as the rightful heir.

    2. Leo Nardus, born Leonardus Salomon, was born in the Netherlands, the son of an antiques dealer. He married the daughter of an art dealer in 1904 and moved to Paris. The couple had two daughters. According to the applicant, Leo Nardus (hereafter referred to as: ‘Nardus’) was very wealthy and built up a substantial art collection. From 1921, Nardus lived with his daughters in Tunisia, where he remained throughout the Second World War. He entrusted his collection to his good friend, Arnold van Buuren (hereafter referred to as: ‘Van Buuren’), who was of Jewish descent. In July 1928, Nardus and Van Buuren agreed to become joint owners of the collection of paintings and that both were authorised to sell works, the proceeds of which would be divided.

    3. During the war, the art collection was housed in Van Buuren’s residence in Haarlem. It can be concluded from a list of art works that Van Buuren was required to give to the occupying forces in 1940, entitled ‘Kollektion van Buuren/Nardus’ that the two currently claimed paintings were part of the collection at that time. Anti-Jewish measures forced Van Buuren to surrender these works to the German looting bank Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co., Sarphatistraat in Amsterdam. The two claimed works were included on a list of works surrendered to the bank. In 1943, the claimed works were sold to or by Mak van Waay auction house in Amsterdam, for the probable sum of 220 guilders for both pieces.

    4. Van Buuren and his wife died in Sobibor on 23 April 1943. Their children survived the war. In October 1945, one of Van Buuren’s daughters indicated on the SNK declaration form that the two currently claimed paintings were owned by ‘Arnold van Buuren en Leo Nardus’ and that they had been confiscated.

    5. In 1947, Nardus and the legal successors to Van Buuren concluded an agreement to separate and divide the art collection, under which Nardus acquired all rights to the paintings, as well as existing or future right of action towards third parties, such as Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co (henceforth: LVVS), with regard to the collection. The Council for the Restoration of Rights acknowledged the agreement in a judgement from 1949. The Committee has concluded, therefore, that the rights to the currently claimed paintings have lain with Nardus or his heirs from 1947 onwards.

    6. After the war, Nardus, who resided in Tunisia, authorised his daughter Flory Nardus to trace works of art from the collection that had been lost during the war. In 1948, Flory entered into an alliance with Georges Schiff-Giorgini (hereafter referred to as: ‘Giorgini’), a banker in Paris. This alliance led to a significant dispute between Giorgini and the Nardus family in later years and to uncertainty among those Dutch authorities responsible for the restoration of rights.

    7. With regard to this alliance, the Committee has taken cognisance of two agreements, one drafted in French (unsigned) from 1 October 1948 and another in Dutch from 11 February 1950. The agreement from 1948 states that Giorgini would receive 25% of the proceeds from paintings he sold from the Nardus collection, and Nardus would receive the other 75%. In addition, Giorgini assumed certain debts from Flory Nardus. The agreement from 1950 stipulates that ‘Partij Nardus draagt hierbij aan partij Giorgini over, welke overdracht partij Giorgini hierbij aanvaardt, alle rechten, welke hij kan doen gelden tegen LVVS (..), in het bijzonder zijn vordering op LVVS uit hoofde van de verkoop van de z.g. collectie Nardus. Deze overdracht geschiedt tot zekerheid voor de betaling van hetgeen partij Giorgini van partij Nardus te vorderen heeft krachtens de overeenkomst van partijen d.d. 8 oktober 1948 (….)’ [Nardus hereby transfers, which transfer Giorgini hereby accepts, all rights and claims against L.V.V.S. (...), in particular his claim with regard to the sale of the Nardus/Van Buuren collection. This transfer is effected as security for payment of the amount that Nardus owes Giorgini under the agreement between the parties dated 8 October 1948 (...)]
      In addition, the documents refer to the establishment on 9 February 1951 of what was known as an ‘association en participation’, a partnership under French law, on the basis of which – as the Committee understands it – Giorgini was given representative authority and could act as the rightful claimant to the art collection with respect to third parties. Based on this, the Committee assumes that Giorgini was given certain (limited) rights with regard to the collection as security for a monetary claim.

    8. Several works from the Nardus/Van Buuren collection were recovered after the war and, at a certain moment, the two currently claimed NK works came to be administered by the Dutch authorities for the restoration of rights. The investigation has shown that, from 1951, Giorgini presented himself to the authorities as the owner of the collection. The file also contains a statement from Flory Nardus of 9 February 1951 in which she confirms that the ownership rights to the recovered works and to works yet to be recovered had been transferred to Giorgini. The Dutch lawyer representing Giorgini sent this statement to the authorities in reply to their questions regarding Giorgini’s position as rightful claimant.
      However, the Committee has also taken cognisance of a letter from Flory Nardus to a French judicial body on 18 April 1953, in which she argues that this statement was only formulated to provide Giorgini with more clout in negotiating with the authorities responsible for the restoration of rights: ‘La déclaration ci-dessus n’ayant pas d’autre but, disait-il [Giorgini, RC], que de lui donner plus d’autorité à l’égard des tiers.’ The Committee knows neither the facts nor the outcome of the legal procedure that Flory Nardus started against Giorgini in France in 1953, and the context in which she apparently formulated this letter. Although the investigation by C. Hershkovitch revealed that in the 1950s Flory Nardus brought various legal actions in France against Giorgini, more detailed particulars are unknown, as the relevant files were probably destroyed.

    9. Some time after the war, the currently claimed NK works came into Giorgini’s possession together with a third painting that also belonged to the Nardus/Van Buuren collection. How and when Giorgini took possession of the NK works is unknown. However, Giorgini returned both paintings to the Bureau for Restoration Payments and the Restoration of Property of the Ministry of Finance (Hergo) in December 1951 with the statement ‘welke nader gebleken zijn niet tot de verzameling Van Buuren/Nardus te behoren’ [which later proved not to have been part of the Van Buuren/Nardus collection.] In the deed of assignment that was drawn up for this transaction, Giorgini renounces his claims to the paintings.
      His ownership of one of these three paintings was in all probability based on a mistake, given that there are indications that the painting did not belong to the Nardus/Van Buuren collection. The other works Giorgini returned were the currently claimed NK works, which the Committee has determined were definitely part of the Nardus/Van Buuren collection. Giorgini’s motives for returning the paintings are unknown.

    10. In addition, the investigation has shown that all funds to which Nardus was entitled as a result of his claims against Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co, Sarphatistraat in liquidation (LVVS) were transferred to Giorgini. The applicant contends that this payment by LVVS far exceeded Giorgini’s costs, a fact that the Committee considers plausible.

    11. On the basis of this account of the facts, the Committee must consider whether it should recommend the restitution of the currently claimed paintings. Pursuant to current national policy in respect of the restitution of items of cultural value, the Committee can only recommend restitution if there is a convincing case regarding the right of ownership and if the original owner relinquished possession involuntarily as a consequence of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime.

    12. With regard to the question of ownership, the Committee has established that the investigation shows that when possession was lost in 1943, the two claimed paintings were part of the Nardus/Van Buuren collection. As indicated in consideration 5 above, the rights to the collection were allocated to Nardus from 1947 onwards.

    13. The Committee is of the opinion that Nardus must be considered the owner also in relation to Giorgini. The Committee considers the following in this respect:
      a) Giorgini took possession of the paintings at some point but returned them voluntarily in 1951 for reasons unknown to the Committee – see 9 –, thus relinquishing his rights to the paintings. In any case, this means that any claim for restitution that Giorgini may have had against Nardus has now lapsed.
      b) Based on the facts as described in 7, 8 and 10, the Committee assumes that the transfer of ownership by Nardus to Giorgini in 1950 was a means of providing security for outstanding claims, but that these claims were very probably met. If this was not the case, these claims have now similarly lapsed, which means that any rights Giorgini may have had concerning the transfer of the works as security have also lapsed in favour of Nardus.

    14. Furthermore, regarding Giorgini’s position in relation to the Dutch State, the Committee considers it impossible for him to still have a claim on NK works. To this end, Giorgini declared in the deed of assignment from 1951 (see consideration 9): ‘Dat hij prijsgeeft alle aanspraken, die hij jegens het Bureau Herstelbetalings- en Recuperatiegoederen, alsmede jegens andere organen van de Nederlandse Staat mocht hebben of verkrijgen terzake van schade aan voormelde schilderijen, of uit welke andere oorzaak ook met deze schilderijen samenhangende’ [‘That he relinquished all claims, which he may have had or may have acquired against the Bureau for Restoration Payments and the Restoration of Property or any other body of the Dutch State with regard to damage to the above-mentioned paintings or for any other reason related to these paintings].

    15. The Committee is of the opinion that the loss of possession was directly attributable to the Nazi regime, seeing as the loss of the works was the direct consequence of the circumstances that the works had to be surrendered to the German looting bank Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co by order of the Nazi regime.

    16. Given that there is no known judgement by the Bureau for Restoration Payments and the Restoration of Property or any other authorised judicial body and that Nardus (or his heirs) did not renounce their right of action after the war for the benefit of the Dutch authorities responsible for the restoration of rights, there is no question of a case that has been settled in the past. The applicant’s request, therefore, is admissible and the Committee is of the opinion that the conditions for restitution have been met.

    CONCLUSION

      The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to grant the application for restitution by S.N. and to return the paintings NK 2894 and NK 2895 to the heirs of Nardus.

      Adopted at the meeting of 6 April 2009 by W.J.M. Davids (chair), J.Th.M. Bank, J.C.M. Leijten, P.J.N. van Os, 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)