Van Aldenburg Bentinck
Recommendation regarding Van Aldenburg Bentinck
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 of 1 November 2007 by I.A.O.-V.A.B., residing in D.S. (hereafter referred to as: ‘the applicant’), for the restitution of the painting Portrait of a married couple by Pieter Codde. The applicant claims that the painting in question was a family heirloom that her father gave to a Jewish business contact during the Second World War in an attempt to prevent said contact from being deported by the occupying forces. This painting was returned to the Netherlands after the Second World War and is now part of the Dutch National Art Collection under inventory number NK 2550. The claimed work is currently housed in the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
Following the request for advice by the Minister, the Committee conducted a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were recorded in a draft investigatory report of 9 November 2009. On 16 November 2009, the draft investigatory report was sent by letter to the applicant for comment and also to the Minister with a request for additional information. On 4 December 2009, the applicant commented on the draft investigatory report, and on 14 December 2009, the Minister informed the Committee that he had no further information to add. The Committee subsequently carried out a further investigation of Dutch and German archives. Furthermore, on 3 March 2010 a Committee delegation interviewed Mr H.N. in L., a report of which was made and sent to the applicant by letter on 2 April 2010, to which she responded on 20 April 2010. The draft investigatory report was amended to include the additional information received and sent to the applicant for perusal on 19 May 2010. The applicant informed the Committee by letter dated 26 May 2010 that she had nothing further to add to this draft report. On behalf of the applicant, Mr N.W.C., steward of castle M., sent the Committee a photograph and additional information concerning the applicant’s father on 25 August 2010.
The investigatory report was adopted on 6 September 2010. For the facts of this case, the Committee refers to the investigatory report.
The painting (NK 2550) at issue in this recommendation is also part of a separate application for restitution, namely the case of the Katz art dealership in Dieren, currently also being handled by the Committee (RC file 1.90-B). The provenance overview of the Origins Unknown Agency cites both Van Aldenburg Bentinck and the Firma D. Katz in Dieren as former owners. As and when necessary, the Committee considers dual claims together. However, given the following considerations, this is not necessary for this recommendation.
The applicant has requested restitution of the painting Portrait of a married couple by Pieter Codde (NK 2550). The applicant is a daughter of and heir to Willem Frederik Charles Henry, Count Van Aldenburg Bentinck, who died in 1958 (hereafter referred to as: ‘Bentinck’). Born in London on 22 June 1880, Bentinck married Lady Adrienne Vegelin van Claerbergen in 1923, a marriage that produced two daughters, one of whom is the applicant (born 1925). The family lived in castle M. in D.S., near Arnhem, but also spent a few months every year on the family estate in Germany. Bentinck had both Dutch and German nationality. Regarding this, the applicant states the following: ‘Zijn Duitse nationaliteit was verbonden met de door zijn grootmoeder Waldeck Pyrmont ingebrachte bezitting G. waarmee het ‘Standherrschaft’ verbonden was en daarmee de Duitse nationaliteit die hij als een historisch gegeven beschouwde evenals zijn Nederlands staatsburgerschap, dit alles los van de tijdelijke politieke verwikkelingen.’ [His German nationality was linked to the G. estate, which was brought into the family by his grandmother Waldeck Pyrmont and which came with ‘Standherrschaft’ and therefore German nationality as well, which he deemed a historical given, just like his Dutch citizenship, and separate from any temporary political entanglements.]
The applicant states that NK 2550 had been owned by her family since her great-grandparents’ time. She remembers that the painting hung in the forecourt building on the M. estate during or after 1936 and that, during the occupation, her father gave the painting to Jewish art dealer A.N. in L. to prevent said dealer and his family from being deported by the occupying forces: Mijn ouders voelden zich in de oorlogsjaren zeer betrokken bij de kwetsbare positie waarin de familie A.N. zich bevond. Zij zagen het als hun plicht de grote druk te verlichten die van de zijde van de bezetter op de met hen bevriende heer N. werd gelegd. Deze druk bestond daaruit, dat hij verondersteld werd regelmatig interessante objecten te verwerven ten einde de dreigende deportatie van zijn gezin te voorkomen. Het was een onderwerp waarover bij ons thuis werd gesproken. In dit licht heeft mijn vader in 1944 één van de weinige waardevolle schilderijen uit zijn bezit ter beschikking gesteld, met het enkel doel deportatie te voorkomen. Het betreft het dubbelportret van een echtpaar van Pieter Codde uit 1634. (…) Helaas heeft deze aktie de deportatie van de familie N. niet kunnen voorkomen’. [During the war years, my parents were very concerned about the A.N. family’s vulnerable position. They considered it their duty to ease the pressure the occupying forces were putting their friend Mr N. under. This pressure consisted of his regularly being expected to acquire noteworthy objects to ensure that the threatened deportation of his family was prevented. It was a subject we discussed at home. In light of this, my father made one of the few valuable paintings in his collection available in 1944 for the sole purpose of preventing deportation. This was the dual portrait of a married couple by Pieter Codde from 1634. (...) Unfortunately, this move did not prevent the deportation of the N. family.]
The applicant also states that her father did not tell her ‘dat het voorwerp is verkocht noch dat er sprake was van een tegenprestatie [that the object was sold or that any favour in return was expected.]
According to art-historical documentation, the claimed painting by Codde appears to have belonged to Bentinck in the pre-war years. Furthermore, it has been determined that in February or March 1944 the painting was bought by the German Dr E. Göpel for the collection of the Führermuseum being set up in Linz. However, when and under what circumstances Bentinck lost possession of the painting and who sold the painting to Göpel remains unclear. According to archival documentation from the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (hereafter referred to as: ‘the SNK’), it appears that, after the war, A.N. submitted a claim regarding the sale of the claimed painting. The form bears the original entry ‘Graaf Bentinck, M.’ as the painting’s owner, but this entry was crossed out, probably by the SNK itself, and replaced with N.’s name. Furthermore, it is not only the names Bentinck and N. that appear in the source material in relation to the sale of the painting in question to Göpel, but the names of J.G. Wigman and the Katz art dealership in Dieren as well.
With regard to Codde’s painting, the following is stated on a list of works of art returned to the Netherlands drafted by property recovery authorities: ‘früher Graf Bentinck 22.2.1944 von dort über Kunsth. J.G. Wigman, den Haag für hfl. 60.ooo,- (zus.mit Linz 3495) an SL [Sonderauftrag Linz, RC]’ [previously Count Bentinck 22.2.1944 from there to SL [Special Project Linz, RC], via art dealer J. G. Wigman, The Hague for hfl. 60.ooo,- (together with Linz 3495)]. The NLG 60,000 amount cited is probably also related to another painting not relevant to this case. A receipt signed by Wigman indicates that Wigman received this payment. It is unclear, however, whether he acted on behalf of Bentinck or N. From the same list by the property recovery authorities, it also appears that a year earlier, in January 1943, Bentinck sold two watercolours by C. Troost from the family porperty to Göpel. N. was apparently also involved in one of these sales.
As part of the fact-finding investigation, the Committee spoke to H.N. in L. (born 1925), son of the aforementioned art dealer A.N. H.N. recognised the Codde painting from a picture and confirmed that it originated from the collection of Bentinck, to whom his father was close. H.N. thinks he remembers the Codde being at his father’s art dealership before 1942, when the family had to move to Amsterdam due to the circumstances of war. H.N. did not provide any additional details on the painting. In relation to the N. family’s situation during the war, H.N. stated that, in 1941, his father and brother went into hiding for 6 weeks at J.G. Wigman, the caretaker of The Hague branch of the D. Katz art dealership in Dieren. In 1942, the N. family had to move to Amsterdam, and in the course of 1943 the family was interned in Westerbork concentration camp. H.N. stated that his father was regularly despatched from the camp and coerced to perform valuations for the occupying forces. In support of this, H.N. handed over to the Committee a post-war letter from his father A.N., in which his father writes the following: ‘(…) in 1943 heeft men mij voor de keus gesteld: Voor de Duitsers schilderijen te taxeren en te adviseren in aankopen, of met mijn gehele gezin naar Polen te worden doorgezonden’ [(…) in 1943 I was given the choice: either valuate paintings for the Germans and advise on whether to buy them, or have my entire family sent to Poland].
The Committee has found documents in the archives of the occupying forces that confirm that, during the war, A.N. was coerced by the occupying forces to collaborate on acquiring artworks for Sonderauftrag Linz, in particular from the nobility. In return, H. and his family were temporarily exempted from deportation. In 1944, the occupying forces sent the family on to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
The Committee is tasked with issuing a recommendation on the question of whether this is a case of involuntary loss of possession due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. The Committee holds the opinion that in the event of sale by private individuals, like Bentinck, loss of possession is only involuntarily in case of a direct threat or coercion from the Nazi regime. In this context, the applicant stated that, out of concern for N., her father considered it his moral duty to help N.’s family by giving the painting to N. In this matter, the Committee deems that such a moral obligation cannot be equated to a situation in which Göpel were to have pressured Bentinck to sell the Codde painting. In addition, certain details relating to the loss of possession have not been clarified, such as the conditions under which and the time at which Bentinck gave the painting to N.
Based on the above, the Committee concludes that the grounds for restitution have not been met.
The Restitutions Committee advises that the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science to reject the application for the restitution of the painting Portrait of a married couple by Pieter Codde (NK 2550).
Adopted at the meeting of 6 September 2010 by W.J.M. Davids (chair), J.Th.M. Bank, P.J.N. van Os, D.H.M. Peeperkorn, E.J. van Straaten, I.C. van der Vlies (vice-chairman) and signed by the chair and the secretary.
(W.J.M. Davids, chair) (E. Campfens, secretary)