Ukraine returns Koenigs’ looted drawings

But the 139 works go to Dutch State, not collector’s heirs


A group of 139 looted Old Master drawings has been returned from the Ukraine to the Netherlands, and is on display at Rotterdam’s Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum. The works are mostly by 15th- and 16th-century German artists, including Holbein, but there is also a Jacopo de’ Barbari still-life of a dead jay. It was not until 1998 that they were discovered in the basement store of the Khanenko Museum in Kyiv (Kiev).

The drawings were once part of a larger group of 528 works belonging to collector Franz Koenigs which was seized in Rotterdam by Hitler’s art agent, Hans Posse, in 1940. They were then moved to Dresden, where in July 1945 they were requisitioned by the Red Army and sent to Moscow. Two years later, part of the collection was secretly dispatched to the Ukrainian capital. It was not until last December that Rotterdam curator Albert Elen was allowed to examine the 139 drawings in Kyiv and they were restored to the Netherlands on 8 July. Although officially not directly related to the restitution, the Dutch government is providing €500,000 for training of museum professionals in the Ukraine.

The drawings from Kyiv are now on long-term loan to the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum. After the display closes on 26 September, they will require minor conservation and will then be available for scholars and loans. A catalogue is published in English.

Meanwhile, 307 Koenigs drawings discovered in the vaults of the Pushkin Museum in 1992 are still being held in Moscow, since the Russian government refuses to return them. In a further development, the Dutch government recently rejected a legal claim from Christine Koenigs for other works of art once owned by her grandfather.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Ukraine returns Koenigs’ drawings'