Recommendation regarding Wolf
In a letter dated 29 October 2008, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (hereafter referred to as: ‘the Minister’) requested the Restitutions Committee (hereafter referred to as: ‘the Committee’) to issue a recommendation regarding the application submitted by Mrs H.J.L.-W. and Mrs P.J.v.B.d.J.-W (hereafter referred to as ‘the applicants’) on 14 November 2007 for the restitution of three works of art in the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereafter referred to as: ‘the NK collection’). The applicants are the daughters of Daniel Wolf, to whom the objects are said to have belonged during the Second World War. The applicants are represented by Mr P.L., Daniel Wolf’s grandson.
The application concerns A country wedding by P. Brueghel II (NK 2227), the painting Madonna and child by L. Cranach (NK 3071) and a Medallion carpet made of wool with star flower in the centre (NK 1042). The object NK 1042 is also at issue in another application for restitution and will be dealt with in connection with that (RC 1.104). The painting NK 2227 is on loan to the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch; the painting NK 3071 is under the administration of the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
The reason for the application for restitution was that a German lawyer approached Mr P.L. in October 2007, alerting him to the presence of the current objects in the NK collection. After carrying out his own research, L. then decided to submit an application for restitution on behalf of his mother and aunt. At the Minister’s request, L. provided some additional information in a letter dated 10 December 2007.
Following the Minister’s request for a recommendation, the Committee instigated a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were included in a draft investigatory report dated 14 September 2009. The draft investigatory report was sent to the applicants for comment in a letter dated 30 September 2009 and to the Minister with a request for factual information on 1 October 2009. On 15 October, the Minister informed the Committee that no further information would be brought to its attention. The applicants responded to the draft investigatory report in a letter dated 29 October 2009, on the basis of which it was subsequently amended. The draft report was subsequently adopted on 9 November 2009 and sent to the applicants on 10 November 2009. For the facts of the case, the Committee refers to this report.
The applicants requested the restitution of the paintings NK 2227 and NK 3071 in their capacity as heirs to their father Daniel Wolf. In this context, the Committee has taken cognisance of several documents pertaining to the law of inheritance. These documents have given the Committee no reason to doubt the applicants’ status as rightful heirs.
The relevant facts are described in the investigatory report of 9 November 2009. The following is a summary. Daniel Wolf (hereafter referred to as: ‘Wolf’), of Jewish descent, was born in Arnhem, the Netherlands, on 3 January 1893. He married Renée Louise Gokkes in 1919 and the couple had two daughters (the present applicants). Wolf was a successful businessman. He had a great interest in antiques and art and owned a substantial collection of paintings. From 1937, the family lived at ‘Groot Haesebroek’, an estate in Wassenaar. The applicants stated that Wolf was in France at the time of the German invasion. Soon after, he managed to escape to England. Later in the war, he moved to the United States and died in New York in 1943.
‘Groot Haesebroek’ was seized shortly after the German invasion of the Netherlands, and subsequently served as residence for a high-ranking Nazi. Wolf’s assets were placed under the administration of a Verwalter in November 1940. According to the applicants, the claimed paintings were in their father’s house when it was confiscated. In connection with this, the applicants submitted a document drawn up in 1952 by Loyens & Volkmaars, a firm of accountants, during the settlement of Wolf’s estate. The document provides an overview of Wolf’s painting collection on 10 May 1940 (hereafter also referred to as: ‘the 1952 overview’). Among the works listed is a painting by Brueghel and one by Cranach. Despite the fact that the overview contains no titles or descriptions of the paintings, the Committee deems it highly likely that these are the currently claimed works, given the other documentation found (see considerations 4 and 5). However, in the 1952 overview, the works by Brueghel and Cranach are part of a group of paintings alongside which is the note ‘in pand van Dr. Tietje’ [pledged by Dr Tietje]. This refers to H.C.W. Tietje, who, like Wolf, was a wealthy industrialist and art lover.
That a situation of pledge did exist is also evident in extant documents from the audit and trust company Deutsche Revisions- und Treuhand-Aktiengesellschaft (DRT), which recorded Wolf’s financial circumstances in 1942. According to a DRT report, Wolf and Tietje were mutually involved in various business transactions and Tietje had given Wolf a number of paintings in pledge as security for the repayment of a several monetary loans. On the basis of this report too, the Committee deems it likely that the currently claimed Brueghel (NK 2227) and Cranach (NK 3071) were part of the pledge.
The Committee concludes that the rest of the documents also indicate that Wolf was not the owner of the claimed paintings but that he held them as pledgeholder. Reference is also made to information contained in the archives of the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK) such as a letter of 22 January 1946 by or to Mr C.J. Kuyer of the Military Investigation Department of the Central Property Investigation Department, and to provenance details from the Federal Archive in Koblenz, Germany.
It also appears from the 1952 overview that the Cranach painting (NK 3071) was sold to Alois Miedl with Tietje’s permission for a sum of NLG 35,000 in June 1940, and was then sold on to Göring. As regards the Brueghel painting (NK 2227), it is noted that the Verwalter returned it to Tietje in March 1943 as part of a settlement related to the business relations between Tietje and Wolf. This is consistent with information in the DRT report. The applicants challenged the legal validity of these acts in their response of 29 October 2009. This is discussed in considerations 10 and 11.
In October 1945, Wolf’s heirs reported the loss of the painting ‘Merry-making peasants (fair)’ by Brueghel (NK 2227) to the SNK. It was noted in the report that Wolf was holding the painting in pledge for Tietje. However, the report also noted that the Verwalter returned it to Tietje by mistake. Wolf’s heirs seem to have changed this viewpoint at a later date. In a letter dated 9 January 1951, they inform the competent authorities as follows:
‘Inderdaad was Dr. Tietje eigenaar van het bovengenoemde schilderij en de heer D. Wolf pandhouder. […] Uit de ons in 1945 ter beschikking staande gegevens meenden wij destijds te moeten concluderen, dat deze teruggave van het schilderij inderdaad ten onrechte was geschied. Bij het afwikkelen van de boedel van thans wijlen de Heer D. Wolf,[…] hebben wij eerst onlangs inzake onze verhouding tot de Heer Tietje moeten concluderen, dat door ons voor deze dading tussen de toenmalige beheerder, de Heer Kattenstroth en Tietje, geen rechtsherstel moet worden aangevraagd. Daar door ons van de theoretische mogelijkheid van rechtsherstel voor deze dading geen gebruik wordt gemaakt, kunnen door ons geen rechten meer worden geldend gemaakt op het bovengenoemde schilderij en trekken wij hierbij de aangifte van vermissing daarvan in.’
[Dr Tietje was indeed the owner of the aforementioned painting and Mr D. Wolf the pledgeholder. (…) Based on the information we had in 1945, we believed at the time that this painting had indeed been wrongfully returned. Only recently, when the late Mr D. Wolf’s estate was being settled, (…), have we been obliged to conclude with regard to our relationship with Mr Tietje that we should not request the restoration of rights for this settlement between the former administrator Mr Kattenstroth and Tietje. As we are not taking advantage of the theoretical possibility of the restoration of rights, we can no longer exert our rights to the above painting and therefore withdraw our declaration of loss thereof.]
In October 1945, Wolf’s heirs also reported the loss of the painting ‘Madonna and child’ by Cranach (NK 3071) to the SNK. However, in a letter dated 22 January 1953, the heirs stated that: ‘dat door ons afstand wordt gedaan van alle rechten, welke wij mogelijkerwijs zouden kunnen doen gelden i.v.m. ons bovengenoemd schilderij, vroeger eigendom van thans wijlen de Heer D. Wolf en verplichten ons geen stappen te zullen ondernemen om al of niet tegen betaling van de door U genoemde f. 35.000 dit schilderij in ons eigendom terug te verkrijgen.’ [We are waiving all rights which we may have been able to exert to our painting mentioned above, the former property of the late Mr D. Wolf, and undertake to refrain from taking any steps to regain possession of said painting, whether for payment of the sum of NLG 35, 000 mentioned by you or otherwise.]
In connection with the Cranach painting, the Committee concludes that in 1953, the heirs refer to it as Wolf’s property, even though this is contrary to the information in the 1952 overview and to the other provenance details. As the applicants have, for that matter, not provided any information that would suggest title to ownership, the Committee concludes in the light of considerations 3 to 6, that Wolf held the painting in pledge.
In a letter to the Minister dated 10 December 2007, the applicants noted that the lack of financial resources was the reason why the heirs decided not to claim the paintings in the 1950s. The Committee does not consider this plausible, however. Rather, the correspondence shows that the heirs had resigned themselves to the settlement and believed that they could not exert any rights to the paintings. In this context, the Committee refers to the last part of the quotation cited in consideration 8, which shows that possible repayment did not play a part in the decision not to claim the Cranach painting.
In their response to the draft investigatory report, the applicants argued that the sale of the Cranach painting (NK 3071) in June 1940 probably took place without Wolf’s knowledge or permission as he was abroad at the time. Hence they are of the opinion that the sale was involuntary and, therefore, unlawful. In this regard, the applicants refer to another painting from Wolf’s collection (Jan Steen’s The Alchemist), which was also sold to Alois Miedl in Wolf’s absence in the summer of 1940. After the war, the SNK assumed that the Jan Steen painting had been sold by an unauthorised party, after which it returned to the heirs of Wolf on payment of the sales price received during the war. As for the Brueghel painting (NK 2227), the applicants challenge the legal validity of the March 1943 settlement between Tietje and the Verwalter and the painting’s return to Tietje related to it. In their opinion, the settlement was probably reached without Wolf having been consulted and the return of the painting was unlawful, given that Tietje’s debt to Wolf had not been redeemed.
As regards the applicants’ arguments, the Committee considers it perfectly possible that the sale of NK 3071 to Miedl in June 1940 and the return of NK 2227 to Tietje in March 1943 took place without Wolf’s knowledge or permission. It is no longer possible to find out whether due to these events, Wolf, as pledgeholder, was at a disadvantage. It is not the task of the Committee, however, to advise the Minister on the reparation of financial loss that may have occurred during the war. The Committee’s exclusive task, as described in Article 2, paragraph 1 of the Decree establishing the Restitutions Committee of 16 November 2001, is to advise the Minister on decisions to be taken concerning applications for the restitution of items of cultural value of which the original owners involuntarily lost possession due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. According to the Ekkart Committee’s eighth recommendation of April 2001 concerning private art property, the title to art objects has to be proved with a high degree of probability, and there can be no indications to the contrary. The results of the investigation suggest however, that Wolf was not the owner of the claimed paintings but held them in pledge. In the Committee’s opinion, the comparison with the return of the Jan Steen painting does not hold. After all, according to the 1952 overview, the Jan Steen painting was Wolf’s property while the claimed work NK 3071 was owned by Tietje, according to that overview.
In the light of the above, the Committee considers that the conditions for restitution have not been met and recommends that the application for restitution of the works NK 2227 and NK 3071 be rejected.
The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to reject the application for the restitution of A country wedding by P. Brueghel II (NK 2227) and the painting Madonna and child by L. Cranach (NK 3071).
Adopted at the meeting of 9 November 2009 by W.J.M. Davids (chair), J.Th.M. Bank, J.C.M. Leijten, P.J.N. van Os, E.J. van Straaten, H.M. Verrijn Stuart, I.C. van der Vlies (vice-chair), and signed by the chair and the secretary.
(W.J.M. Davids, chair) (E. Campfens, secretary)