Investigation into the provenance of museum collections in connection with the theft, confiscation and sale of objects under duress between 1933 and 1945.

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Overview of Frequently Asked Questions.

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What does the investigation comprise?

Objective

The investigation Museum Acquisitions from 1933 onwards aims to ensure that Dutch museums administer collections with a thorough and transparent provenance. Following the earlier large-scale provenance investigations conducted at the end of the 1990s, it emerged that art objects stolen by the Nazi regime in Germany and Austria had entered Dutch museums already before the Second World War. Art objects may also have ‘drifted’ after the war. The investigation thus focuses on works that may have been traded or changed hands in another way between 1933 and 1945.

The scope of the investigation

This investigation represents an enormous undertaking for institutions with large collections: the Rijksmuseum, for example, is home to 1.1 million works, 13,000 of which are involved in the investigation, while the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam has a collection of 90,000 objects, 3846 of which are subject to scrutiny in this investigation. The works include paintings, drawings, and sculptures acquired after January 1933 and produced before 1946.

Certain other museums only had a few works requiring investigation because their collections consist largely of modern art made after the Second World War.

Support from museums

A total of 162 museums are participating in this investigation. A project team from the Netherlandish Museums Association provides guidelines for the investigation and support in carrying it out. It receives advice from the Committee of Museum Acquisitions from 1933 onwards, headed by Rudi Ekkart. Moreover, the Museums Association has organised multiple informative afternoons and symposiums, and included a page in its website where participating museums can find information and advice.

Publication of the results

The website devoted to the provenance investigation entitled Museum Acquisitions from 1933 onwards was launched on 29 October 2013. It incorporates the findings of the museums that in the meanwhile have rounded off their investigation. Works whose provenance between 1933 and 1945 cannot be established, and which give reason to suspect that they were looted or sold under duress during the Nazi regime, are published on this website.¹ For works thought to have been looted, the Museums Association advises its members to trace the original owners or their heirs.

In doing this, museums can turn to the Museums Association for advice and support.

Heirs

The rightful owners or possible heirs can confer with the museum or current owner of the art object in question. In consultation with the museum or the current owner of the work of art, heirs can also present a claim to the Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War. This advisory board – referred to as the Restitutions Committee – gives a binding recommendation in these instances. If it concerns an object in the possession of the Dutch State, family members or heirs of the rightful owners can submit a written request for restitution to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science.

Completion of the provenance investigation

A number of museums will complete their provenance investigation after November 2013. Because they were either in the process of digitizing their entire collection, in the midst of a sweeping renovation, or have a large collection, they required more time to conclude the provenance investigation. The investigation will also continue on in general after November 2013: transparent collections require steady on-going effort, and with regard to the provenance of works new facts can always surface.

In regard to art objects, there are numerous instances in which the provenance is unclear. However, Museum Acquisitions from 1933 onwards focuses solely on works of art and Jewish ritual objects that conceivably changed ownership through confiscation or forced sale during the Nazi regime.

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Why is the investigation being conducted?

The objective of the provenance investigation is to do justice to history. A museum can only truly present a work of art when the story behind it is known. In other words, the museum must be fully aware of the vicissitudes of a work of art in order to inform the visitors in all respects. By making every effort to recover this collecting history, museums make it possible for rightful owners or their heirs to decide the future of the work concerned in consultation with them.

Advancing insight

Museums Acquisitions from 1933 onwards is the second comprehensive provenance investigation into Dutch museum collections and the second investigation conducted under the supervision of the Museums Association. An earlier investigation concentrated on art acquired during and shortly after the Second World War. This first provenance investigation led to advancing insight: art was wrongfully taken from (mostly) Jews in Germany, and later in Austria, already since 1933. It could not be ruled out that this art might have ended up in Dutch museums in the course of time via auctions, art dealers, or private individuals. Moreover, many works of art ‘drifted’ and were sold at auctions in the period after the Second World War. Of special interest in this investigation are the periods 1933–1940 and 1948–1954, during which looted goods could have entered Dutch collections. Museums that did not participate in the earlier provenance investigation must now also concentrate on the period 1940–1948.

Earlier investigation

In the period 1998–2001 the Committee of Museum Acquisitions 1940–1948 under the leadership of Ronald de Leeuw, then director of the Rijksmuseum, worked on coordinating and stimulating investigation into the provenance of acquisitions made by Dutch museums in the period during and shortly after the Second World War.

Parallel to this, between 1998 and 2005, the Ekkart Committee conducted the Origins Unknown project, which traced the provenance of 4217 art objects that since the recuperation shortly after the Second World War had remained in the possession of the Dutch State, in the so-called Netherlands Art Property Collection.

Background of the provenance investigation

For a long time little was known about the possible presence of looted art in Dutch collections. The Netherlands Art Property Foundation was established shortly after the Second World War and was tasked with recuperating confiscated art from Germany. Subsequently, it took charge of any restitution to the legitimate owners or their heirs.

Ultimately the foundation’s work was not thoroughgoing enough, and did not come up to the mark administratively. Moreover, the foundation preferred to preserve art property for the national collection. In order to submit a claim private individuals had to follow an extensive evidentiary procedure. Consequently, only 1.7 million guilders worth of art objects was returned to their legitimate owners, a mere 12% of the total recuperated art property. In the end more than 4000 works were not restituted and remained in the national collection. This part of the national collection was later called the Netherlands Art Property Collection.

The investigation Museum Acquisitions from 1933 onwards is a continuation of the earlier provenance investigations and a large number of works of art formerly left out of consideration have now been taken into account.

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How was the investigation conducted?

Provenance research takes place in two phases. In the first one, a museum checks whether objects in its collection have a problematic provenance. In the second one, questionable objects are subjected to closer scrutiny.

Inventorying

In the first phase the museums subdivides its holdings into acquisition periods: 1933–1940, 1948–1954, and 1955–present. Only objects with so-called ‘recognition value’ qualify for investigation. These constitute primarily paintings, drawings, silver objects, and exceptional pieces of furniture. Jewish ritual objects are always investigated. The Museums Association has compiled a list that museums can consult. Works acquired prior to 1933 or made after 1945 are not taken into account in the investigation. In this initial probe, museums consult their own archives, annual reports, old registration cards, the acquisitions register, and former staff members. The museums also closely examine the works of art themselves. Labels and annotations on the back or bottom of an object, such as an auction number, can all be clues. Museums subsequently focus specifically on distinguishing features particularly relevant to the acquisition period. For example, works acquired between 1933 and 1940 at German auction houses or from art dealers, or later in German occupied territories such as Austria, receive special attention. This also applies to works whose rightful owners could not be found, and which the Netherlands Art Property Foundation put up for auction between 1949 and 1952.

Specific provenance research

Phase two begins after this pre-selection, and involves ‘zooming in’ on problematic objects. The museums investigate whether involuntary loss of property indeed occurred in these cases, for which the Museum Acquisitions Project Team is consulted. The project team often conducts research itself in more specific archives and places its art-historical expertise at the service of the museum investigation.

Some art museums are left out of the investigation. This could be because a collection consists of only modern art from after 1945, or because a museum only has generic objects, such as tiles. These kinds of objects cannot be traced to a specific owner because they were produced in large numbers and have no recognition value. For this or other legitimate reasons, over 400 museums did not take part in this provenance investigation.

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What can the results of the investigation signify for the rightful owners and their heirs?

A provenance investigation is conducted in the case of problematic works. This can have various outcomes. For example, a work may turn out to have been legitimately acquired by a museum and therefore does not fall into the category of looted art. A work can also be classified as looted art, and where it came from be unknown. A variation on this is the situation in which a work was identified as looted art and restituted directly after the Second World War, and subsequently sold by the owner or heir. In these three instances the provenance investigation yields clarity. This, however, is certainly not always the case. One may suspect that a work is looted art, while the provenance is obscure. In that instance an assessment is always made whether it is still possible to recover the exact provenance. These works are published on this website precisely in order to make their record of ownership transparent. The selection of objects with a (possibly) problematic provenance is based on the following criteria mo re...

Options for heirs

If the pedigree of a work is clear, heirs can consult with its owner or the museum (often the keeper). Options include compensating the owner or heir for the work of art, or updating the provenance (if the object is on display, on the accompanying label, for example) in order to do justice to its history. In consultation with the owner, heirs can also lay a claim on the work. Since 2002, in consultation with the present owner, the claimant can submit a claim to a stolen work of art to the Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War (in short referred to as: the Restitutions Committee) for investigation and advice as an alternative way of settling a dispute. The Restitutions Committee comprises lawyers, a historian, and an art historian. In the case of a work in the collection of a museum, a private individual, or a local government (municipality, province, or other public body), the Restitutions Committee gives a binding recommendation. This advice is based on extensive analysis and consideration of the interests of both the heirs and the keeper or present owner of the work of art. The recommendation may entail awarding the work to the heirs, or leaving it in possession of the museum, but also, for example, compensating the heirs for the loss. If it concerns an object in the possession of the Dutch State, family members or heirs of the original owner can submit a written request for restitution to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science.
For additional information on the advisory procedure, the reader is referred to the website of the Restitutions Committee.

All information available

All museum acquisitions made after 1933 suspected of having changed hands through theft, forced sale, or other illegitimate transactions during the Nazi regime are disclosed online on this website. All of the available information on the ownership history and details of an object is given in Dutch, and – from 2014 – in English. Thus the visitors to this website can help clarify the provenance of a work of art. Furthermore, the website enables the original owners or their heirs to enter into consultation with the museum concerned, and perhaps even request restitution. This does not alter the fact that (when on the basis of a museum investigation the names of owners or heirs can be traced) these museums are encouraged to seek out the owners or their heirs themselves.

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How do other (Western-European) countries deal with looted art as a consequence of the Nazi regime?

Since laying down the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art in 1998, a number of countries have created a structure for claiming art looted by the Nazis in the Second World War. France, Austria, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands established a restitutions committee.

United Kingdom

In 1999 the National Museum Directors’ Council in the United Kingdom established a committee headed by Sir David Neuberger, which concentrated on monitoring the investigation of ownership history and advising museums that conduct provenance research, and aimed at charting art looted by the Nazis. In 2003 and 2004 this committee published reports on recovered works with a lacuna in their provenance between 1940 and 1945. A consultable database for these objects was made.

Germany

In Germany, provenance research into art seized by the Nazis has been conducted since 1998 by the Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg (the central German service institution for lost cultural assets and the documentation of cultural assets). Its primary objective is to make transparent the provenance of museum collections. The Koordinierungsstelle administers the database of ‘lost art’ and supports museums with a provenance research module, checklists, and a code of ethics for ownership of art property. Additionally, in 2008 Germany instituted the Arbeitstelle fur Provenienzrecherche/-forschung (Bureau for Provenance Research and Inspection), which is charged with distributing funds for provenance research to public institutions and providing practical support in researching ownership history. In 2012 Germany increased public financing for provenance research to 2.4 million Euro per year.

France

France established transparency in its collection of recuperated art property from Germany under the title Musées Nationaux Récupération. In 1949 France declared that these recuperated works – which were originally in private ownership – were indefinitely not the property of France, and would remain available for claims by the original owners or their heirs. France is now launching an active investigation of the MNR. Since 1999 France has also had a Restitutions Committee, the Commission pour l’indemnisation des victimes de spoliations intervenues du fait des législations antisémites pendant l’Occupation (CIVS). It determines matters of compensation for the victims of looting as a consequence of the anti-Semitic legislation during the Occupation in the broadest sense of the word, including art property.

Belgium

In 1997, Belgium established a Study Commission Jewish Assets (Studiecommissie joodse goederen). This commission aimed to investigate the fate of the Belgian Jewish Community’s property that was plundered, surrendered, or abandoned during the Second World War. The Study Commission looked into how looting took place during the Occupation, as well as the measures taken after the war by the Government and the private sector to restore the stolen property to or compensate its owners. The work carried out by the Study Commission was a reason for Belgium not to institute a Restitutions Committee or establish a national provenance investigation.

Austria

In Austria, too, 1998 was an important year for investigation into ownership: in that year parliament passed a restitution law that mandated how museums and private individuals were to handle collections that had been looted during the National Socialistic regime or have a lacuna in their provenance between 1938, the year when Nazi Germany annexed Austria, and 1945. Museums in Austria conduct provenance research on their own authority and in their own time. The reports are available on the website of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism.

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