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.
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.
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.