Stag Hunt in the Dunes by Gerrit Claesz. Bleker (Semmel/Municipality of Haarlem)

Stag Hunt in the Dunes by Gerrit Claesz. Bleker (photo: Tom Haartsen)

Binding opinion in the dispute on restitution of the painting Stag Hunt in the Dunes by Gerrit Claesz. Bleker, with a claimed provenance of Richard Semmel, currently owned by the Municipality of Haarlem

Recommendation number: 
RC 3.127
Type: 
Binding expert opinion
Publishing date: 
25 April 2013
Period loss of possession: 
1933-1940
Private owner/art dealer: 
Private individual
Location of loss: 
The Netherlands

BINDING OPINION

in the dispute between:

A.A. and B.B.,
of C. and D. (South Africa), respectively
represented by lawyer Olaf S. Ossmann
of Winterthur (Switzerland)
(hereafter also referred to as: the applicants),

and:

Stichting Frans Hals Museum | De Hallen Haarlem,
acting on behalf of the Municipality of Haarlem,
represented by Karel Schampers, director Stichting Frans Hals Museum | De Hallen Haarlem
in Haarlem
(hereafter also referred to as: the Museum),

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), also called: the Committee.

1.  THE DISPUTE

The Museum has stated that the painting Stag Hunt in the Dunes by the artist Gerrit Claesz. Bleker, which is part of its collection, is owned by the Municipality of Haarlem, and has been in the Museum’s custody since 1934. The applicants state that Jewish entrepreneur Richard Semmel (1875-1950, hereafter also referred to as: Semmel) of Berlin owned the painting until November 1933. The applicants state that they are "the heirs of Richard Semmel" and claim restitution of the artwork on account of what they adduce was involuntarily lost possession due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. The parties have submitted a joint request to the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science (hereafter also referred to as: the State Secretary) to submit the applicants’ claim to the Committee for binding opinion.

2.  THE PROCEDURE 

In a letter dated 31 August 2011, the State Secretary asked the Committee to advise the parties in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 2, paragraph 2 of the Decree Establishing the Restitutions Committee of 16 November 2001 (hereafter referred to as: the Decree). In letters of the same date, the State Secretary advised the parties of his request for advice to the Committee, in which he underlined that his intermediation was for practical reasons, and that at no time would the State become party to the dispute.

The parties declared in writing that they would defer to the ‘Regulations (established by the Committee) on the binding opinion procedure pursuant to Article 2, paragraph 2, and Article 4, paragraph 2, of the Decree establishing the Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and  the Second World War’ (hereafter referred to as: the Regulations’),
 and that they would consider the Committee’s recommendation to be binding, which the applicants did in a letter dated 6 October 2011 and the Museum did in a letter dated 7 November 2011. The Committee has verified the identities of the parties. The Museum has submitted its by-laws showing that the director is authorised to act on behalf of the Municipality of Haarlem in this procedure. The applicants have submitted three notarial certificates of inheritance showing that they are the heirs to Richard Semmel’s estate.

The Committee has taken cognisance of all documents submitted by the parties and has conducted its own further investigation. The findings of the investigation, by both the parties and the Committee, have been documented in a draft investigatory report sent to the parties for comment on 27 April 2012. After an agreed deferral, the applicants responded to this in letters dated 25 October 2012 and 31 October 2012, submitting further documents. The Museum responded to the draft report, after an agreed deferral, in a letter dated 17 January 2013. The Committee subsequently conducted further research, the results of which were sent to the applicants and the Museum in a letter dated 25 February 2013. This binding opinion includes the relevant information from the investigation and the parties’ replies.

Article 9 of the Regulations stipulates that the parties must immediately send the other party a copy of all documents they submit to the Committee in this procedure. However, the parties did not comply with this during this procedure. Consequently, in letters dated 8 March 2013 and 11 March 2013, the Committee sent the applicants and the Museum the documents that were missing at that point.

On 7 February 2013, a video call was held with the chair and the director of the Committee and the applicants in Cape Town (South Africa) and lawyer Ossmann (Switzerland) with a telephone connection. During this call, E.E., the husband of applicant A.A., read out a statement and spoke on behalf of the applicants.

The case was discussed in a hearing on 5 March 2013. The applicants were represented by their lawyer Olaf Ossmann, accompanied by historian Beate Schreiber of the historical investigation bureau Facts & Files of Berlin. The Museum was represented by Karel Schampers (director) and Joke van Haaren (collections project assistant). At the hearing, a DVD of the conversation with the applicants on 7 February 2013 was shown.

3.  THE FACTS

In this procedure, the Committee assumes the following facts:

3.1. Richard Semmel was born in Zobten am Berge, located in Germany at the time but currently Sobótka in Poland, on 15 September 1875. He was a wealthy German entrepreneur and art collector of Jewish descent. When the Nazis assumed power in Germany in 1933, he owned the textile plant Arthur Samulon in Berlin and was living in a villa in this city with his wife, Clara Cäcilie Brück, where he had amassed a sizeable art collection. The couple did not have any children. The applicants stated that, while they were living in Berlin, their grandparents were close friends of the Semmels, and that this friendship dated back to the period during which the two families were still living in Zobten am Berge. On 27 June 2002, F.F., the applicants’ mother, gave evidence in the context of restoration of rights procedures regarding Semmel’s property in which she stated that, as a child, she often visited Semmel’s villa in Berlin.

3.2. Shortly after the Nazi’s coup d’etat in 1933, Semmel experienced the consequences of the anti-Jewish climate in Germany. According to the applicants, he came under such severe pressure from the Nazis that he fled the country in April 1933. In a post-war statement about his persecution during the Nazi regime, Semmel said the following about this:

‘Im Anschluß hieran will ich noch sagen, daß der Inhalt der Schreiben von Peck u. Gross nur zum kleine Teil zeigen, was ich durch den Beginn der Hitler-Zeit zu leiden hatte. Ich wurde buchstäblich Tag und Nacht mit Drohungen telefonisch und schriftlich bombardiert, unflätige Zettel kamen täglich in meine Wohnung, es war eine von der Nazipartei organisierte Hetze mit Hilfe der aufgepeitschten Angestellten. Obgleich ich immer Demokrat war, hat man behauptet, ich konspiriere mit Severing u. Braun, weil Severing mal in meinem Kontor war und um Beisteuerung für einen Jugendbund bat, dessen Name mir entfallen ist. Man behauptete, ich hätte nicht nur mein Haus, auch Waren vom Geschäft ins Ausland verschoben. Ich war gerade geschäftlich in St. Gallen, als die Hitler-Katastrophe hereinbrach, sofort kam ich zurück, wurde schon auf dem Bahnhof bei der Ankunft gewarnt, in meine Wohnung zu gehen, so daß ich ein Zimmer in dem Hotel in der Fasanenstr. nahm. Wie richtig diese Maßnahme war, sollte sich bald zeigen, denn im Geschäft spielten sich die Vertrauensleute der Nazis als Herren auf und es kam so weit, daß ich, wie schon gesagt, im letzten Moment nach Holland entkam.’

According to the applicants, Semmel’s persecution at this early stage of the Nazi regime was because of his involvement in the Deutsche Demokratische Partei, but above all because he was a Jewish owner of a large textile plant in Berlin. The Nazi authorities’ attempts to control and aryanise the textile industry would have made Semmel, a leading figure in the industry, a key target. The applicants claimed that Semmel had incurred losses as a result of the economic crisis of the 1930s and that he had financial and other obligations going back to the period before the Nazi regime. However, according to the applicants, his business was sound enough to deal with this, had there been no anti-Jewish measures by the national socialists. The applicants state that the boycott of Jewish shops and business organised on 1 April 1933, the intervention in the company by the Treuhänder der Arbeit appointed by the Nazi authorities, and the financial measures taken by Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Bank under the influence of the Nazi regime ultimately led to Semmel losing his company and his capital.

After fleeing Germany in 1933, Semmel settled in the Netherlands. In 1939, he left the Netherlands again, to eventually settle in New York in 1941. Various sources suggest that Semmel had to pay Reichsfluchtsteuer when fleeing Germany. The applicants have stated that Semmel also paid the Nazi authorities Judenvermögensabgabe.

Semmel put up part of his art collection for auction by the firm Frederik Muller & Cie. in Amsterdam on 21 November 1933. One of the works of art put up for auction is the currently claimed painting. Documentation drawn up as part of a restoration of rights procedure by F.F. in Germany in the 1990s suggests that Semmel used the proceeds of the sales of these works of art to pay his costs of living, to continue to meet various financial obligations in Germany dating from before the Nazi regime, and in attempts to retain his capital in Germany. There is no further information on the time at which and way in which the works of art from the Semmel collection came to the Netherlands.

3.3. In her statement referred to above under 3.1, F.F. said that she emigrated to South-Africa in 1937, while her mother, Grete Gross-Eisenstädt (the applicants’ grandmother) fled to Cuba in 1939, and settled in New York two years later. In New York, Grete Gross-Eisenstädt renewed acquaintances with the Semmels, who were living there in destitute circumstances. Grete Gross-Eisenstädt is said to have cared for Semmel, who was in very poor health, on a daily basis after his wife’s death in 1945. F.F. stated that her mother was named sole heir as thanks for looking after him. The Committee’s file contains a certificate of inheritance dated 16 September 1997 as proof of this. Semmel died in New York on 2 December 1950. Grete Gross-Eisenstädt died in New York on 22 January 1958.

3.4. Since 1925, the current painting, Stag Hunt in the Dunes, has often been attributed to the painters Gerrit Claesz. Bleker (1595-1656) and Willem Cornelisz. Duyster (1599-1635) together. It was also assumed that Duyster had painted the figures in the landscape. The 2006 stock catalogue Painting in Haarlem 1500-1850. The collection of the Frans Hals Museum notes that this point of view, which was adopted in, for example, the Museum’s 1969 catalogue, had in fact already been dismissed in 1950 by art historian S.J. Gudlaugsson. The 2006 catalogue also notes that the figures in this painting are very similar to those in other Bleker paintings. The art work is signed and dated 'BLE […] 162 [.] F.

The currently claimed painting was put up for auction as an artwork by Bleker at the firm Frederik Muller & Cie. in Amsterdam on 19 June 1913. This auction concerned ‘Tableaux anciens formant la collection Petit’ and ‘Tableaux anciens de diverses provenances’. The above-mentioned 2006 Museum catalogue states the following about the auction proceeds and the buyer of the artwork: ‘(for 2150 guilders to Van Gelder)’. The currently claimed painting was put up for auction again at Frederik Muller & Cie. on 17 June 1925, this time as a work by Bleker and Duyster. The auction concerned ‘Tableaux anciens / provenant des successions: / Madlle W. Bringenberg, Bunnik / M. J..... a Rotterdam / D'un amateur a Vienne, e.a.’. Annotations in copies of the catalogue in question from the RKD suggest that the painting fetched NLG 2,100 at this auction. It is not known who bought the artwork at the auction. The applicants have claimed that Semmel was probably the buyer, but the Committee’s investigation found no documentation to that effect. The current painting was once again put up for auction at Frederik Muller & Cie. between 21 and 24 November 1933. According to information from the RKD, the firm drafted two catalogues and two supplement catalogues for this auction. The work of art in question is mentioned in a catalogue of old paintings ‘provenant de diverses collections privées’ that were auctioned off on 21 November 1933 (lot number and illustration 1, as ‘Gerrit Claesz. Bleker et W. C. Duyster’). The catalogue does not give any provenance name for the claimed painting. The cover and title page of a copy of the catalogue from the RKD does, however, include the following hand-written annotation below ‘provenant de diverses collections privées’: ‘(including R. Semmel from Berlin)’. It is not known to which of the individual paintings mentioned in this catalogue the annotation refers. Copies of the 21 November 1933 auction catalogue of Frederik Muller & Cie. that the Committee consulted include the following annotation ‘fl. 2400.-’ and ‘Haerlem M.’ alongside the current painting (see also 3.5). An investigation by the Committee into the back of the currently claimed painting has not yielded any further provenance data.

3.5. Documentation from the Museum’s archive suggests that the artwork was probably sold for NLG 2,640 at the auction at Frederik Muller & Cie. on 21 November 1933 to the Vereeniging tot uitbreiding der verzameling van kunst en oudheden (VUVKO), on behalf of the Museum, with a financial contribution of NLG 431 from art dealership D. Katz in Dieren. The information in question can be deduced from the VUVKO’s minutes and cashbook for the period October –December 1933, from a letter from the director of the Museum to the firm Frederik Muller & Cie. dated 22 November 1933, and from the Museum’s 1934 annual report. Based on the provenance information in the Museum’s above-mentioned 2006 catalogue, the applicants have claimed that art dealership D. Katz in Dieren acquired the current painting at the 1933 auction at Frederik Muller & Cie. This is not consistent with the information found in the other documentation the Committee consulted.

In 1934, the painting came to be owned by the Municipality of Haarlem when the VUVKO donated it to the municipal Frans Hals Museum (as it was then and is now). The statement of the director and the by-laws of the Stichting Frans Hals Museum | De Hallen show that the municipality transferred the custody and the authority to dispose of the artwork to the Museum.

3.6. An investigation by the Committee did not yield any evidence that Semmel or the parties entitled to his inheritance tried to regain possession of the currently claimed painting after the war, or to obtain compensation for the loss of possession. The current painting is not mentioned in the archive of lawyer Benno J. Stokvis, who successively represented Semmel and Grete Gross-Eisenstädt in the Netherlands, which can be found in the Amsterdam City Archives. This archive does, however, refer to various other works of art from the Semmel collection, including objects that had been surrendered to the German looting organisation Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co. of Sarphatistraat in Amsterdam during the occupation of the Netherlands (1940-1945) and for which Semmel sought restoration of rights after the war.

4.  THE APPLICANTS' POSITION

4.1. The applicants claim that Richard Semmel was the party who put up the painting in question, Stag Hunt in the Dunes, for auction at the firm Frederik Muller & Cie. on 21 November 1933. In this context, they referred to an article by P. Wescher on the paintings from the Semmel collection in the art magazine Pantheon from 1930, in which the artist Duyster is mentioned in the following passage: ‘Was die holländischen Landschaften betrifft, so ist neben Goyen und Salomon von Ruysdael eine 1650 datierte mittelgroβe Dünenlandschaft am Fluβ von Jacob Ruysdael bemerkenswert. Aus der Gruppe der Wachtstuben- und Gesellschaftsmaler wie Duyster ist ferner Simon Kick und Dirk Hals vertreten’. According to the applicants, this reference suggests that the currently claimed artwork was part of the Semmel collection.

4.2. The applicants have also stated that Semmel put up for auction all 71 paintings (69 lot numbers) in the above-mentioned catalogue of the Frederik Muller & Cie. auction. According to the applicants, the auction house could not publicise this provenance name, one of the reasons being that Semmel had transferred the paintings from Nazi Germany to the Netherlands without an export permit. To explain the fact that the title of the auction catalogue refers to multiple parties (‘provenant de diverses collections privées’), the applicants argue that this reference relates to other works of art that were auctioned off at the firm Frederik Muller & Cie. between 21 and 24 November 1933, particularly paintings mentioned in a supplement catalogue of the auction house: ‘The plural refers to the supplement catalogue’.

4.3. The applicants have argued that Semmel lost possession of the currently claimed work of art involuntarily as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. They state that the economic difficulties Semmel was having as a result of increasing pressure from the Nazi regime prompted him to sell part of his collection, including the painting in question. According to the applicants, Semmel was forced to sell works of art at auctions in Amsterdam because he needed funds to save his business in Germany: ‘The actions of the National Socialists against Richard Semmel resulted in the enormous damage of his businesses. The “trustee of work” (Treuhänder der Arbeit) was demanding no staff reduction; the options for selling the products were limited due to the boycott of Jewish businesses and increasing demands by the banks. Therefore assets were needed. As there were no other assets left and accessible to him, Richard Semmel started to sell his art collection. The auctions in Amsterdam were caused by the political and “racial” persecution of Richard Semmel by the Nazis in early 1933. In consequence they should be regarded as forced sales’. The applicants also said the following about the proceeds from the auction: ‘Proceeds of the auction have been used to pay discriminating debts of the Third Reich’.

4.4. Concerning the extent of the efforts made to have the painting returned after the war, the applicants stated that, at the time, Semmel did not have any information on the whereabouts of the paintings that had been auctioned off in and after 1933. He was very ill and, according to the applicants, tried to claim property for which documentation was available. The applicants do not know whether Semmel asked the firm Frederik Muller & Cie. about the paintings that had been put up for auction, and the company’s archive has not been preserved. According to the applicants, attempts by their own family to trace documentation on the paintings from the Semmel collection initially came to nothing. The search for what happened to the Semmel collection was given new impetus when in the 1990s their mother, F.F., instigated a procedure in Germany to obtain compensation in relation to the Semmel property.

4.5. The applicants have described their interest in the current painting as ‘Getting family history back’. In the call with the Committee on 7 February 2013, E.E., A.A.’s husband, stated on behalf of the applicants that, to them, the paintings from the Semmel collection are interwoven with the histories of persecution and flight of their own family and Semmel’s. In this context, the applicants stated that their grandmother, Grete Gross-Eisenstädt, and her husband were close friends of Semmel in Berlin and that, after their flight from Germany and their lives falling apart, that friendship between the two families was continued in New York, where Grete Gross-Eisenstädt cared for the sick and destitute Semmel until his death. According to the applicants, F.F., who had fled to South Africa and never saw her mother again, remembered how, as a young girl, she had admired the paintings in Semmel’s home. The many conversations with her about the magnificence of the Semmel collection and what happened to it supposedly brought home to the applicants how their own family was connected with this collection: ‘Over the years our mother often talked to us about Mr Semmel’s art collection, telling us what a grand collection it was. And we began to understand just how important the collection was to Mr Semmel and how our family was emotionally tied to it. Our mother could never get over that. She used to say how terrible it was that these paintings were stolen from him [...]’. In this context the applicants claimed that, as Semmel’s heirs, they consider it justified to have returned to them what is rightfully theirs. The applicants also stated that they have never seen the paintings from the Semmel collection themselves and that, in general, their mother did not remember any details about the paintings she had seen in Semmel’s home as a child.

4.6. During the video call the applicants stated that, they cannot yet say what they will do with any paintings from the Semmel collection that will be returned. According to the applicants, the family was forced to sell a different painting from the Semmel collection that belonged to the Netherlands Art Property Collection in 2009 and that had been returned in case RC 1.75 at the recommendation of the Committee in order to pay the high costs of the lengthy investigation.

4.7. The applicants also said that if the Committee were to advise returning the currently claimed painting to them, they would be open to an arrangement under which the painting could remain in the Museum, but only upon payment of the painting's fair market value.

5.  THE MUSEUM'S POSITION

5.1. The Museum notes that it does not question the nature of the Semmel’s loss of possession, but that it does not share the applicants’ point of view regarding the provenance of the painting. The Museum claims that the current painting is not from the Semmel collection, stating:

  • that there is no evidence that Semmel acquired the currently claimed painting at the auction in 1925;
  •  that there is no evidence that Semmel put up for auction the currently claimed painting at the auction concerned in 1933 or that he owned the painting at any point;
  •  that the Pantheon article on the Semmel collection states the name Duyster, while the  current work was painted by Bleker. In this context, the Museum notes that the painting was signed and dated BLE[…] 162[.]F’ (see 3.4), where ‘F’ stands for ‘fecit’ [was made by, RC], which, according to the Museum, indicates that Bleker created the work on his own, without the help of any other painters;
  • that research has shown that the figures in this painting were not painted by Duyster, contrary to what was previously assumed.

5.2. The Museum also refers to the fact that the current painting was not purchased by art dealership Katz at the auction of November 1933, as the applicants claim, but by the VUVKO, with a contribution from Katz, on behalf of the Museum.

5.3. The Museum also states that the current painting is an important piece in its collection. The Museum refers to the fact that Bleker was a Haarlem painter and that his work is typical of the new genre of landscape painting that was being produced in Haarlem in the early seventeenth century. According to the Museum, the landscape in the painting depicts a scene in the Haarlem area. The painting was restored by the Museum in 1976 and it is part of its permanent exhibition.

6. THE COMMITTEE'S TASK

6.1. 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 to issue an opinion about disputes relating to the return of items of cultural value between the owner who, as a result of circumstances directly linked to the Nazi regime, involuntarily lost possession, or his or her heirs, and the current owner, not being the State of the Netherlands. In accordance with article 2 paragraph 5 of the Decree Establishing the Restitutions Committee, the Committee gives opinions on the basis of the yardsticks of justice and fairness. This opinion is a binding opinion within the meaning of article 7:900 of the Dutch Civil Code.

6.2. First the Committee states that, in accordance with article 3 of the Regulations, during the considerations when preparing its opinion it can in any event take account 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 the possession by the current owner and the investigation conducted by him before the acquisition. It can in addition take account in its considerations of the importance of the work to both parties and of public art treasures. Nationally and internationally accepted principles, such as the Washington Principles and the government’s guidelines concerning the restitution of looted art, can be incorporated in the considerations in so far as they, in the Committee’s opinion, are correspondingly applicable in the specific case.

7.  ASSESSMENT OF THE DISPUTE

7.1. The Committee has ascertained that the dispute between the applicants and the Museum has not already been definitively settled. In this case, the Committee has found no evidence of legal proceedings or a legal ruling in relation to the current dispute. Nor have the applicants at any point in the past explicitly relinquished their rights to the painting. As such, the Committee considers both parties’ cases admissible.

7.2. The applicants have no family ties with the original owner Semmel and argue that they are entitled to Richard Semmel’s estate because their grandmother, Grete Gross-Eisenstädt, was appointed Semmel’s sole heir in his will.
During the procedure it was discovered that, in the 1990s, a family member of the Semmel couple tried to challenge the claims of F.F., the applicants’ mother, to Semmel’s estate. In that light, the Committee asked the applicants further questions.
The applicants provided adequate answers to these questions by submitting three certificates of inheritance to the estates of Richard Semmel (dated 16 September 1997), Grete Gross-Eisenstädt (dated 1 June 1993) and F.F. (dated 13 January 2011), respectively. The Committee concludes that the applicants are currently the only parties entitled to Richard Semmel’s estate.

7.3. The first issue that needs to be addressed is the likelihood that the current painting was once Semmel’s property and was put up for auction by him in 1933. This matter needs to be satisfactorily resolved, before the circumstances stated under consideration 6.2 can be addressed.

7.4. The applicants claim that in 1933 the painting was Semmel’s property, and base this claim on:

1) the statement that all 71 paintings (69 lot numbers) in the catalogue of the auction at Frederik Muller & Cie. of  21 November 1933 were Semmel’s property;
2) the reference to the artist Duyster in an article by P. Wescher
on the Semmel collection in the art journal Pantheon from 1930.

7.5. As regards the applicants’ first point, the Committee considers the following.
The paintin
g Stag Hunt in the Dunes is mentioned in the catalogue of the auction at Frederik Muller & Cie. on 21 November 1933 stated under 3.4. The title of this catalogue refers to multiple parties (‘provenant de diverses collections privées’) and this is confirmed by the annotation ‘incl. R. Semmel from Berlin’ on an annotated version of the catalogue. The applicants claim that all of the paintings mentioned in the catalogue originally came from Semmel and that the auction house could not publicise the provenance name Semmel at the time, one of the reasons being that Semmel had transferred the paintings from Nazi Germany to the Netherlands without an export permit. The Committee does not concur with the applicants’ point of view in this case. The Committee refers to the fact that the phrase ‘provenant de diverses collections privées’ in the title of the auction catalogue is not open to interpretation and that Semmel’s anonymity would also have been guaranteed with a reference to a single anonymous collector (‘collection privée’). The annotation ‘incl. R. Semmel from Berlin’ on an annotated version of the catalogue in questions confirms this view.

To explain the plural form in the title of the auction catalogue (‘provenant de diverses collections privées’), the applicants then claim that this refers to the provenance of many other paintings, including  artworks mentioned in a supplement catalogue, that were also put up for auction at Frederik Muller & Cie. in November 1933. The Committee also rejects this claim. A more detailed study of the auction catalogue, in which the current painting is mentioned, and the supplement catalogue, has revealed no evidence to support this claim. The supplement catalogue was published after the catalogue in which the currently claimed painting is mentioned because the supplement catalogue concerned art objects found later which supplemented the various parts of the auction at Frederik Muller on 21-24 November 1933. As such, the plural form (‘provenant de diverses collections privées’) on the catalogue in which the current painting is mentioned cannot refer to the supplement catalogue because it had not even been published when the first catalogue went to press.

Finally, the Committee also notes with regard to the first point mentioned under 7.4 that it performed a random check in the RKD. This check concerned five paintings that are not part of the current claim that are included in the auction catalogue in question. These are works of art whose quality would lead one to believe that further provenance details will be available. During this investigation, indications were found for three of the five works of art that they were part of the Semmel collection at one time or another. For the other two paintings, no such indications were found, but neither were indications found as to who owned them. As such, the accuracy of the applicants’ claim has not been proven. The Committee must, therefore, conclude that a considerable number, but not all of the works mentioned in the catalogue of the auction of 21 November 1933 are definitely of Semmel provenance. The Committee deems it likely that other people also put up works for sale at the auction in question.

7.6. As regards the second point mentioned under 7.4, the Committee considers the following. The applicants claim that the work, which was auctioned as ‘Gerrit Claesz. Bleker et W. C. Duyster’ at Frederik Muller & Cie. in November 1933, was Semmel’s property and that this can also be ascertained from P. Wescher’s  1930 article in Pantheon about Semmel’s collection. This article mentions the artist Duyster: ‘Aus der Gruppe der Wachtstuben- und Gesellschaftsmaler wie Duyster ist ferner Simon Kick und Dirk Hals vertreten’ (see 4.1).
The Committee conducted a further investigation following this claim by the applicants. According to information from the RKD, Duyster was an Amsterdam artist who applied himself to ‘genre/ candle- or lamplight pieces / portraits/ still lifes / military pieces’.  He mainly made his name with scenes of gatherings in closed spaces, like soldiers in guardrooms. This ties in with the Wescher article, in which Duyster is placed in the Gruppe der Wachtstuben- und Gesellschaftsmaler. The Committee finds that the currently claimed painting actually depicts a different genre, namely landscape. The Wescher article does not mention Duyster and Bleker as representatives of the ‘holländischen Landschaften’ in Semmel’s collection. The painter Bleker is not mentioned anywhere in connection with Semmel’s collection either, although the current painting is signed by Bleker (at least with ‘BLE[…] 162[.]F’, see 3.4).

Unlike the applicants, the Committee does not regard the reference to the artist Duyster in the Pantheon article as an indication that the currently claimed painting was part of the Semmel collection. After all, a work such as the currently claimed work, depicting a stage hunt in a dune landscape and signed by Bleker (at least with BLE[…] 162[.]F, see 3.4), would not readily be regarded as an example of the genre of interior scenes or as being a ‘Duyster’ in an article which goes into the works in great detail. The Committee also notes that there is no reference to Bleker and/or Duyster in the passage in the article on the Dutch landscapes represented in Semmel’s collection. In terms of the applicants’ second argument mentioned under 7.4, the Committee finds that the Pantheon article from 1930 cannot be regarded as grounds for identifying the currently claimed painting as a painting from Semmel’s collection.

7.7. All things considered, the Committee finds that it has not been sufficiently proven that the currently claimed painting is from Richard Semmel’s property, given:

  • that the name Semmel does not appear in the provenance information of this painting from before the auction at Frederik Muller & Cie. on 21 November 1933;
  • that it has not been proven that Semmel was the only party to put up paintings for auction at the auction in question;
  • that the Wescher article cannot be deemed to contain evidence to suggest that the currently claimed painting was part of the Semmel collection.

7.8. Therefore, there is no longer any basis for the applicants’ claim, and as such the Committee issues the following binding opinion.


BINDING OPINION

The Museum is not obliged to return the painting Stag Hunt in the Dunes by Gerrit Claesz. Bleker to the applicants, nor does it have any other obligations.

This binding opinion was given on 25 April 2013 by W.J.M. Davids (chair), J.Th.M. Bank, P.J.N. van Os, E.J. van Straaten, R. Herrmann, I.C. van der Vlies (vice-chair), and signed by the chair and the director.

(W.J.M. Davids, Chair)                                             (E. Campfens, Director)