Stettiner

NK 2694: Old Man with Beard by S. Koninck (photo: RCE)

Recommendation regarding Stettiner

Recommendation number: 
RC 1.139
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
2 February 2015
Period loss of possession: 
unknown

In a letter dated 9 October 2013 the Minister of Education, Culture and Science (hereinafter referred to as the Minister) asked the Restitutions Committee (hereinafter referred to as  the Committee) for advice about the application for restitution dated 11 September 2013 from AA, BB, CC, DD, EE and FF (hereinafter referred to as the applicants) as being entitled to the estates of Alphonse Stettiner, Oscar Stettiner and Adele de Jong-Stettiner (hereinafter referred to as Adele Stettiner). The application concerns a painting by Salomon Koninck (1609-1656), Old Man with Beard, which is part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereinafter referred to as the NK collection) under inventory number NK 2694. It is currently in the repository of the Netherlands Cultural Heritage Agency.

The procedure

Originally Nancy Parke-Taylor, and later (from February 2014) James Palmer, both with  Mondex Corporation, Toronto, Canada, acted as representative of the applicants in the restitution application. Powers of attorney from five of the six applicants authorizing this representation were submitted. No power of attorney from BB was submitted, despite repeated requests by the Committee to that effect. The Committee therefore has had to assume that Parke-Taylor and Palmer are not authorized to represent BB and that the application was made on behalf of the other five applicants and not by BB.
The Committee investigated the facts as a result of the request for advice. It recorded the results of its investigation in a draft investigatory report dated 22 July 2014, which was sent to the applicants and the Minister for comment with letters dated 23 July 2014. The applicants responded to the draft investigatory report in a letter dated 23 September 2014. The Minister stated in a letter dated 31 July 2014 that she did not wish to bring any additional information to the Committee’s attention.
Previously the heirs of Katz requested the return of NK 2694 as part of an application for the restitution of 189 artworks. On 17 December 2012 the Committee advised the Minister to reject that restitution application for 188 artworks (RC 1.90 B), including NK 2694. The Minister followed that recommendation.

Considerations

1. The applicants state they are heirs of Alphonse Stettiner, Oscar Stettiner and Adele Stettiner (hereinafter also referred to, jointly with the Stettiner gallery or otherwise, as Stettiner). In order to prove this they submitted inheritance-law-related documents on the grounds of which the Committee sees no reason to doubt the position of the applicants as being entitled to the Stettiner estates.

2. The applicants contend that at the time of the events in 1939/1940 to be described below, the painting Old Man with Beard (hereinafter also referred to as NK 2694) was owned by Alphonse, Oscar and Adele Stettiner or the gallery Stettiner et Cie. in Paris (a company set up in 1924 and dissolved in 1951 under French law, in which Alphonse, Oscar and Adele Stettiner were the shareholders). They consider private property of Oscar to be the most probable. They furthermore assert that the painting was lent or given on consignment by the owner to the gallery Firma D. Katz (hereinafter referred to as Katz) in Dieren for an exhibition from 8 July to 15 September 1939 inclusive, after which it was not returned by Katz to the owner in Paris but - without the knowledge or cooperation of Stettiner - was sold by Katz on or around 5 August 1940 to Alois Miedl, a German art dealer established in the Netherlands, who shortly before had taken over the Amsterdam gallery J. Goudstikker N.V. (hereinafter referred to as Goudstikker/Miedl) and that shortly thereafter Miedl sold the painting on to H. Hoffmann, who bought art on behalf of Hitler, for the Führer Museum planned in Linz. The applicants claim that possession of the painting was lost in August 1940 and that this loss was involuntary as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime.

Overview of the facts

3. Alphonse, Oscar and Adele Stettiner, born in 1876, 1878 and 1880 respectively, were the children of Henri Jules Stettiner and his wife Gertrude Davis. They were of Jewish descent. Oscar and Alphonse had British nationality, and Adele had French nationality. At the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century Henri Stettiner was an antiques dealer in Paris and had an established reputation. After Henri retired the business was continued by the children. They were partners in Stettiner et Cie., which operated and was well known internationally.

4. Originally - until 1935 - the company was headed by Alphonse, and then by Oscar from 1935. The Second World War started 3 September 1939. The Stettiner family closed the gallery in Avenue Matignon in Paris on 20 November 1939. Oscar moved to his home in the Dordogne. In view of their Jewish descent and the British nationality of Alphonse and Oscar, they must have been fearful of persecution in the circumstances that existed then, and that is also what happened. The gallery’s trading stock and the personal possessions of Alphonse, Oscar and Adele were seized in the context of the aryanization of the business. The gallery’s trading stock was auctioned off on a number of days during the February - May 1943 period. In 1943 Oscar was arrested and imprisoned in La Grande Caserne Denis, which had been used as a prison for British citizens since 1940. Alphonse, Oscar and Adele survived the war. Their deaths were in 1966 (Alphonse), 1948 (Oscar) and 1963 (Adele).

5. In the Archives de la Seconde Guerre Mondiale in the Archives Nationales in Paris there is a file about the management of the Stettiner gallery during the occupation by an administrator appointed by the Commissariat général aux questions juives, the body responsible for implementing the anti-Jewish policy of Vichy France. During investigation of the file, the Committee found an inventory of the Stettiner gallery’s trading stock as of 20 May 1940. The painting by Koninck and the name Katz are not referred to on the list or elsewhere in the file. The explanation the applicants give for this is that when the list was drawn up, the painting was in Katz’s hands and so it was not included in the inventory.

6. Stettiner got the gallery’s business premises in Avenue Matignon back after the war, but it was found that the firm’s trading stock and records and various personal belongings that were in the property had been stolen by the Germans or destroyed. In 1945 and 1946 Oscar Stettiner submitted claims in France relating to objects stolen from him and/or the Stettiner gallery. In the context of the present restitution investigation the Committee carried out research in the files of the restitution authorities in France. No reference was found in files relating to Stettiner to the painting by Koninck or to Katz. The applicants state that they have not found any proof that the painting was reported as missing after the war by Stettiner. As a possible explanation for this they argue that the painting was simply overlooked because it was no longer present in Paris when Stettiner was robbed of his possessions in Paris.

NK 2694

7. After the war the painting Old Man with Beard was returned from Germany to the Netherlands because during the German occupation it was sold in September 1940 by Goudstikker/Miedl to H. Hoffmann, who bought art on behalf of Hitler, for the Führer Museum planned in Linz.

8. Source research reveals that the painting is listed in the catalogue of a sale of the collection of Moritz Freiherr von Königswarter, Vienna, at the Eduard Schulte gallery in Berlin on 20 November 1906. In an annotated copy of the sale catalogue at the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD) there is a handwritten note next to the painting ‘14.100-/Kleinberger’. This might refer to the sum that the painting was sold for at the auction and to the F. Kleinberger Galleries in New York as purchaser (active in Paris 1848-1973 and New York 1913-1973). No certainty was obtained about the provenance of the painting between the sale in 1906 and the Katz exhibition in 1939.

9. Between 8 July and 15 September 1939 inclusive Katz in Dieren staged an exhibition of some hundred paintings (Tentoonstelling van belangrijke 17e eeuwsche Hollandsche schilderijen [exhibition of important seventeenth-century Dutch paintings]), including the present one. Katz wrote the following in the foreword of the exhibition catalogue. ‘Het is met groot genoegen, dat ondergeteekende bij deze den catalogus aanbiedt van een honderdtal schilderijen van oude Meesters in haar bezit. Door het tentoonstellen van deze keuze uit haar zich steeds méér uitbreidende verzameling van hare werken, bedoelt zij mede het aankweeken ten onzent van de waardering onzer Oude Schilderkunst in steeds breeder kring. Zij streeft er meer en meer naar, zooveel mogelijk het beste aan te koopen, wat op dit gebied, in Binnen- en Buitenland te vinden is. Bij het samenstellen dezer Tentoonstelling heeft ondergeteekende haar best gedaan om de prima kwaliteit van haar bezit, duidelijk aan den dag te doen treden’ [It is with great pleasure that the undersigned offers this catalogue of some one hundred old master paintings that are in the gallery’s possession. The gallery’s intention in exhibiting this selection from the ever growing collection of its works is to contribute to fostering greater appreciation of our old paintings in progressively larger circles in our country. The gallery is striving more and more to buy the best possible of what can be found here and abroad in this field. The undersigned has made the greatest possible effort when selecting works for this exhibition to display, for all to see, the fine quality of the gallery’s possessions]. This text suggests that at the time of the exhibition Katz was the owner of the exhibited works (‘haar bezit, ‘hare werken’ [‘in the gallery’s possession’, ‘its works’]). The catalogue of the 1939 exhibition gives the following provenance information about the present painting (number 49, exhibited under the name Old Man with Gloves).

Vroeg. coll.:        Verzameling, Rusland.           [Former coll.:   Collection, Russia.]
                              Stettiner, Parijs’.                    [Stettiner, Paris.]

The Committee has not been able to establish which collection ‘Collection, Russia’ refers to or during which period the painting belonged to it (before or after the sale at the Eduard Schulte gallery in Berlin in 1906). While studying the back of the work the Committee found three Russian wax seals. The Committee sent a request for information about these seals to a heraldic artist and Russia expert. This person stated that all three seals are Russian. One of them might be a state seal/export seal and one of the other two seals could be an indication of a family called Oguievsky. The Committee found no further information about a Russian link in the provenance.

10.  The Committee has not been able to find any documentation containing further details in relation to the painting about the ‘Vroeg. coll. […] /  Stettiner, Parijs’ referred to in the catalogue. The applicants have stated with regard to the owner ‘Stettiner, Parijs’ that ‘regardless of which “Stettiner, Paris” the 1939 Katz catalogue referred to, it could only be the family of our dealers in Paris’. The Committee has established that a number of variants of the name Stettiner as owner are also mentioned in other documents investigated by the Committee - inventory card 5212 of the Goudstikker business records (‘Stettiner, Paris’) and documentation of the Stichting Nederlands Kunstbezit (Netherlands Art Property Foundation SNK) (‘Coll. Stettiner, Paris’) - but these references all seem to lead back to the listing in the 1939 Katz catalogue and give no additional information about the owner concerned. The Committee has also not been able to establish when and from whom ‘Stettiner, Paris’ acquired the painting Old Man with Beard. It has furthermore not been established when the painting ceased to be in the possession of ‘Stettiner, Paris’.

11.  The applicants contend with regard to the painting’s provenance that between September 1939 (end of the Katz exhibition) and August 1940 (sale by Katz to Goudstikker/Miedl) NK 2694 was probably left in the safe hands of Katz because according to the applicants Katz maintained a special relationship with the German authorities. The applicants consider it plausible that Katz sold the painting to Goudstikker/Miedl in August 1940 in order to avoid its confiscation by the Germans as enemy property (of Stettiner) under the terms of Regulation VO 26/1940. The applicants think it improbable that Katz was able to transfer the proceeds to Stettiner. They have told the Committee that they have no documentation relating to ‘the business relationship between the Stettiners or Stettiner et Cie and the Katz dealership’. The Committee did not find any information about this during its investigation either.

12.  Katz sold the painting to Goudstikker/Miedl in August 1940. The sale was part of a large transaction in which Katz sold over 500 paintings to Goudstikker/Miedl. According to inventory card 5212, which comes from the wartime Goudstikker business records and which is kept at the RKD, Goudstikker/Miedl sold the painting in September 1940 to ‘Reichskanzlei / Berlin / f 30.000,= / 20/9 ‘40’. The sale is confirmed by documents that the Committee found during its investigation in the Dutch National Archive and the Bundesarchiv Koblenz.

Assessment of the claim

13.  The Ekkart Committee’s eighth recommendation (2001) states as a condition for restitution that the right of ownership to the claimed object is proved with a high degree of probability, and that there are no indications to the contrary. This recommendation applies to the right of ownership of a private individual or an art gallery (Ekkart Committee 2003). In the assessment of the present claim consideration must therefore be given to whether the right of ownership of Stettiner and/or the Stettiner gallery with regard to the claimed artwork NK 2694 is very plausible and whether there are indications to the contrary. In this regard the ability to date the right of ownership at the moment that is important to the restitution application, namely the moment of the sale by Katz to Goudstikker/Miedl (on or around 2 August 1940), is also important. The question of whether there was involuntary loss of possession of NK 2694 can only be addressed if it is highly probable that Stettiner was the owner of the painting during the relevant period.

14.  The applicants contend that Stettiner and not Katz was the owner of NK 2694 during the exhibition in Dieren in 1939 and also in August 1940 (at the time of the sale to Goudstikker/Miedl). They base this contention primarily on the painting’s listing in the exhibition catalogue, with ‘‘Vroeg. coll.: Verzameling Rusland. / Stettiner, Parijs’ [Former coll.: Collection, Russia. / Stettiner, Paris] as provenance. In this regard the applicants assert that use of the word ‘Vroeg.’[Former] has no significance. Katz is said to have attributed the ownership of artworks to itself in catalogues on other occasions by adding the word ‘former’ in the description of a collection to which an artwork belonged. In this context the applicants refer to another work of art referred to in the catalogue concerned.
The Committee takes the view that the listing in the catalogue is nothing more than an indication that during some period prior to 15 September 1939 the painting was the property of ‘Stettiner, Parijs’. It remains unknown, however, when this period started and ended.

15.  In the Committee’s opinion the applicants have moreover not been able to make their assertion that Stettiner lent NK 2694 to Katz or gave it to Katz on consignment sufficiently plausible. It may well be the case, as contended by the applicants, that Katz regularly accepted artworks for sale on consignment (as the Committee judged in its recommendation RC 1.90 B) and that the Stettiner gallery regularly gave paintings to other galleries on consignment, but there is no evidence that this also happened in the case of NK 2694. In this regard the applicants remarked, ‘We do not have documentation showing that the painting was on loan or on consignment to the Katz dealership when exhibited in 1939.

16.  The conclusion is that the right of ownership of Alphonse, Oscar and Adele Stettiner and/or the gallery Stettiner et Cie with regard to NK 2694 is not highly probable. In view of this conclusion the Committee has not addressed the question of whether, as the applicants contend, the Stettiner family or gallery lost possession of the painting involuntarily in August 1940 as a result of circumstances directly connected with the Nazi regime.

Conclusion

The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister of Education, Culture and Science to reject applicants’ claim to NK 2694.

Adopted at the meeting of 2 February 2015 by W.J.M. Davids (chairman), J.T.M. Bank, R. Herrmann, P.J.N. van Os, E.J. van Straaten and I.C. van der Vlies (vice-chair), and signed by the chairman.

(W.J.M. Davids, chairman)

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