The Dutch government has finally moved to correct a flagrant injustice in the restitution of art treasures looted by the Nazis in World War II.
For a long period, between the end of that war and 1997, a veil of secrecy had been drawn over the so-called “NK collection”, works of art that had been recuperated but had not been returned when the date for submitting an application for restitution passed.
These works, thousands of them, passed into the Dutch National Art Collection and were exhibited in museums. One example was the Rijksmuseum’s star piece, an Augsburg silver-gilt ewer by the 17th-century goldsmith Johannes Lencker. This had belonged to the Gutmann family (see below), and was one of over 200 works of art from that family, which in 2000 was still part of the NK collection. The children of the Gutmanns, who were murdered in the war, had been claiming these objects since before 1952. They were finally returned last year, and sold at Christie’s last month.
This was just one of a number of cases cited in a report published last year by an advisory committee set up by the Dutch government. Among the other artworks that have been returned are Huybrecht Beuckeleer’s “Paschal lamb” which went back to the American heirs of a family known just as “B”.
As well as being given to museums, works from the NK collection had been placed in embassies and ministries. In another case which the report examines, a painting had disappeared after being lent to the Ministry of Defense. The committee advised that the owners, the “H” family, should be compensated, but finally the work was located.
Evelien Campfens, secretary/reporter for the committee, told The Art Newspaper that the NK collection has 4,000 inventory numbers, but that some numbers identify more than one item. Currently there are another seven claims being examined, mainly for one or two works, but in one case for over 50 objects.
The likelihood of these works appearing on the market is quite strong. As Ms Campfens explains, talking about works already restituted, “Often there are a number of heirs and so selling them is the only option.”
The report is being publicised in Holland and on the website www.restitutiecommissie.nl.