The Netherlands have relinquished their claim to art looted by the Nazis during World War II.
The government has decided not to appeal against the decision of the Austrian Landesgericht für Zivilrechtssachen, rejecting the Dutch claim to fifty-nine paintings currently held in the Mauerbach monastery near Vienna (see The Art Newspaper, No. 13, December 1991, p.1). The rejection was based on the "2. Kunst und Kulturgutbereinigungsgesetz", a law which came in force on 1 February 1986, specifying that only claims by private individuals could be considered for restitution. A year earlier, in 1985, the Austrian authorities had issued a list of 1,170 items still held in the Mauerbach monastery. The Dutch State subsequently entered a claim for fifty-nine paintings on the basis of royal decrees issued by the Dutch government in exile during May and June 1940 (just after the invasion by the Germans), whereby the State of the Netherlands declared that it would act on behalf of private individuals and that all voluntary transactions with the enemy would be declared null and void. Ownership of works of art voluntarily sold to the enemy, mostly by art dealers, thus fell to the Dutch State. Forty-nine of the paintings claimed by the Dutch government in the Mauerbach affair come under this category.
The problem is that many works are being claimed simultaneously by several persons. This is partly due to the fact that available details concerning the works stored in Mauerbach are scanty, while proof of ownership of objects last seen by the heirs of the original owners over forty-five years ago, or not at all, is by its nature inconclusive.
Those works of art remaining unclaimed after the conclusion of the Mauerbach affair are due to be auctioned off publicly for the benefit of people in need who were persecuted by the Nazi regime on account of their race, religion or political convictions. The decision by the Dutch government not to appeal cannot but weaken its claim to other war booty such as the Koenigs collection still held in Russia.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'The Dutch government gives up its claim'