THE GUTMANN COLLECTION
The previous history of the Gutmann claim commences in May 1998. In that year, the first (test) report of the Ekkart Committee was published, which listed some objects which, it was concluded, belonged to the former Gutmann collection. This prompted the first contacts between the Gutmann family and the ICB. An application for the restitution of these objects dates from 1999. At that time it was not yet clear how many objects were involved, what the circumstances of the loss of possession were, and why these objects were part of the NK collection. The ICB started an investigation into the objects with Gutmann provenance in the NK collection, which was concluded in September 2000 with a report. This was submitted to the State secretary for OCenW and the Gutmann family. In the following weeks and months, the case attracted some public and media interest, and was discussed during the consultation between State secretary Van der Ploeg and the Standing Committee for OCenW. On 24 January 2002, the case was submitted to the Restitutions Committee. The State secretary asked the committee to provide him with its advice within 12 weeks in respect of the application for the restitution of the Gutmann collection. The advice to be issued by the Restitutions Committee was decided on in the meeting of 25 March 2002.
Summary of documentary report
The banker and art collector F.B.E. Gutmann, who was originally of German nationality, took up residence in the Netherlands in 1919, together with his wife. In 1924 he was granted Dutch nationality. Building on his father - Eugen Gutmann-'s collection, the couple amassed a large number of works of art at their country house 'Bosbeek' in Heemstede. During the years 1939 to 1942, circumstances in connection with the fact that under the German race laws they were classified as Jewish led to the couple disposing of their art collection. The most valuable objects had already been sent to Paris in 1939; these would be stolen from their depository during the occupation of Paris. Also in 1939, Mr. Gutmann brought a number of objects to the Amsterdam art dealer Rosenberg: these would be purchased by Göring in 1940. Gutmann then sold all the remaining works of art to the German art dealers Böhler and Haberstock during the years 1941 and 1942. This sale involved a large number of objects of applied art, as well as objects from his family's silver collection and a number of paintings. In 1943, before the couple could flee the country, they were arrested by the Nazis. Both Mr. and Mrs. Gutmann lost their lives in concentration camps.
After the war, it only proved possible to recover a few of the works of art brought to Paris. Those works recovered in Germany and brought back to the Netherlands were returned to the Gutmann heirs by the SNK. In contrast to the objects stored in Paris, many of the objects that Mr. Gutmann had sold to Böhler and Haberstock were recovered from Germany after the war. The Gutmanns' children, who survived the war in a foreign country, applied to the SNK for restitution of these objects. A disagreement regarding the right to restitution of these objects then arose between the SNK and the Gutmann family. The SNK took the view that the sale was voluntary, which meant that restoration of rights was not applicable. This led, in 1952, to a ruling by the restoration of rights judge. This judge ruled that the intended sale may not have been made under direct duress but, however, was made "under the influence of the special circumstances" that had arisen. On these grounds, the judge ruled that this sale could be contested. In his judgement, he restored the heirs to their legal position as owners but ruled that they had to pay to the State of the Netherlands the consideration that Mr. Gutmann received during the war. The Gutmann heirs were thus actually given the option of repurchasing the objects from the Dutch government. Although the children of the Gutmann couple argued that their father had never actually received the sales proceeds, they repurchased a number of objects during the 1950s.
In the year 2000, the NK collection still contained more than 200 works of art from the former Gutmann collection. These objects, including 9 paintings, can be classified into three separate main categories:
1 Three silver objects that were offered for sale to the Amsterdam art dealer Rosenberg in 1939, which in the end sold them to Göring in 1940. These objects were not the subject of any post-war application for restitution, and it may be that the heirs never knew that these objects had returned to the Netherlands.
2 The objects that Mr. Gutmann sold to Böhler and Haberstock and which the judge had commented on in 1952. This ruling restored the heirs to their position as owner, on condition that they repaid the sales proceeds received during the war. The heirs did not utilise this option, probably for financial reasons. Most of the works of art with provenance Gutmann that were found in the NK collection belong to this group.
3 Twelve works of art found in the NK collection about which little was known apart from the fact that Gutmann provenance had been proven. These were probably part of the group of works sold to Böhler and Haberstock. Since the heirs after the war obviously did not know about these objects, they were not part of their restitution application.
The advice to be given by the committee to the State secretary for OCenW was decided on during the committee meeting on 25 March 2002. After studying the case and taking everything into consideration, the Restitutions Committee recommended, on the basis of the documentary report, the restitution of all works of art listed in the report to the heirs of F.B.E. Gutmann. The committee concluded that the loss of possession by Mr. Gutmann during the war should be deemed to have been involuntary. With regard to the post-war handling of the application for restitution, the committee felt that the changed insights into the policy pursued at that time, under which the works of art could only be recovered upon payment of a cash sum, could be deemed to be a novum within the context of the current government policy. The committee felt that no forfeiture of rights was involved, as more is required for this than just refraining from the repurchasing of objects or making a conscious choice.
The State secretary for OCenW adopted this advice and ruled in favour of restitution to the heirs of Mr. F.B.E. Gutmann.