What does the investigation comprise?
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.
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.