A persian medallion carpet (Wolf/Van den Bergh)
Recommendation regarding a Persian medallion carpet with inventory number NK 1042 (Wolf / Van den Bergh)
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: ‘applicants I’) for the restitution of a Persian medallion carpet (NK 1042). Applicants I are the daughters of Daniel Wolf (application I).
On the same date, the Minister also asked the Committee to issue a recommendation regarding the application submitted by Mr R.J.S. and Mrs E.M.A. (hereafter referred to as: ‘applicants II’) for the restitution of the same Persian medallion carpet (NK 1042). Applicants II are the great-grandchildren of Samuel van den Bergh (application II).
Both applications for restitution are dealt with in this recommendation. After the war, the carpet was returned from Germany to the Netherlands, where it became part of the Dutch National Art Collection under inventory number NK 1042. The carpet is currently housed in the depot of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
The applications for restitution were submitted following the findings of research by the Origins Unknown Agency (hereafter referred to as: ‘the BHG’), which concluded that, during the Second World War, NK 1042 was confiscated from either Samuel van den Bergh or Daniel Wolf.
Applicants I submitted their application for the restitution of NK 1042 to the Minister on 14 November 2007 as part of an application for the restitution of three works of art from the Dutch National Art Collection. The Committee issued its recommendation regarding the other two works involved in this claim, namely NK 2227 and NK 3071 (see recommendation regarding Wolf, RC 1.101), on 9 November 2009. Applicants II submitted their application for the restitution of NK 1042 to the Minister on 7 December 2007. The Minister submitted both applications to the Committee on 29 October 2008, and active handling of the case started in September 2009.
Given the connection between the claims from applicants I and II regarding NK 1042, the Committee decided to combine them in file number RC 1.104.
The Committee instigated a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were included in a draft investigatory report of 14 September 2009. The draft report was sent to applicants I and II for comments on 30 September 2009, to which applicants I responded in a letter dated 29 October 2009 and applicants II in a letter dated 25 October 2009. Both parties agreed with the findings of the Committee, with the exception of several factual additions. On 1 October 2009, the Committee also sent the draft report to the Minister with a request for more factual information, who informed the Committee on 15 October that he had no additional information to provide. The investigatory report was then adopted on 29 March 2010.
On 26 January 2010, in the course of the procedure, the chairman of the Committee viewed the carpet in the depot of the Rijksmuseum in Lelystad under the supervision of the acting curator of textiles for the Rijksmuseum, Ms M. Albers. During this visit, aspects such as the condition of the carpet were recorded and photographs taken, copies of which were sent to the applicants. On 1 February 2010, a meeting took place between the representative of applicants I, applicants II and the chairman of the Committee, the aim of which was to agree on a solution regarding the carpet. Following this meeting, the applicants and the Committee agreed to combine the applications and focus on finding a museum or other potential location for the carpet in the best interests of the common good. Contact was sought with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam about a possible joint donation to the museum by the applicants.
For the facts in this case, the Committee refers to its investigatory report.
Background to application I
Applicants are requesting the restitution of the carpet (NK 1042) in their capacity as heirs of their father Daniël Wolf (hereafter referred to as: ‘Wolf’). The Committee has taken cognisance of several legal inheritance documents, on the basis of which it has deemed that for the purposes of the current procedure, the applicants have provided sufficient proof that they are Wolf’s (sole) heirs. The applicants are represented by Mr P.L. of W., Wolf’s grandson.
Wolf was born in Arnhem on 3 January 1898 of Jewish descent. He married Renée Louise Gokkes in 1919 and the couple had two daughters (the current applicants). Wolf was a successful businessman, with a passion for antiques and art, who owned a sizeable collection of paintings. From 1937, the family resided on the Groot Haesebroek country estate in Wassenaar. The applicants have stated that, at the time of the German invasion, Wolf was in France, after which he managed to flee to England. During the war, he left for the United States, dying in New York in 1943. Shortly after the German invasion, Groot Haesebroek was seized for a high-ranking Nazi, General Friedrich Christiansen. It then became Christiansen’s home as well as a residence for Göring during his visits to the Netherlands. Wolf’s household effects, including the Persian carpet, were shipped to Germany in 1944 together with those of his Wassenaar neighbour, Samuel van den Bergh.
Background to application II
Applicants II are requesting the restitution of NK 1042 in their capacity as heirs of their great-grandfather, Samuel van den Bergh (hereafter referred to as: ‘Van den Bergh’), and also on behalf of the other heirs. The Committee has taken cognisance of several legal inheritance documents, on the basis of which it has deemed that for the purposes of the current procedure, applicants II have provided sufficient proof that they are representing Van den Bergh’s heirs.
Van den Bergh was born in Oss on 6 April 1864 of Jewish descent. In 1887, he married Betsy Willing with whom he had three children, Elisabeth Gabriella, George and Sidney James. Applicants II are the grandson of George and the granddaughter of Elisabeth Gabriella, respectively. Van den Bergh founded Unilever and resided in his country house De Wiltzangk in Wassenaar, which was furnished with valuable works (of art). During the German invasion, he was in France, where he died in 1941. Shortly after the German invasion, De Wiltzangk was seized and, like Groot Haesebroek, used for high-ranking Nazis. And like those of Groot Haesebroek, Van den Bergh’s household effects were shipped to Germany in 1944. The confiscated items included several Persian carpets.
Wolf/Van den Bergh’s household effects
At a certain moment during or shortly after the war, the household effects of the Wolf and Van den Bergh residences were combined. It has also been determined that both Wolf’s and Van den Bergh’s effects included more than one carpet described as ‘Persian’. However, the inventories drawn up during and after the war are not specific enough to irrefutably establish the ownership of NK 1042. As a consequence, the Committee conducted extensive research into the recovery of NK 1042 from Germany by post-war authorities in order to see whether it was possible to identify the carpet as either Wolf’s or Van den Bergh’s. This proved to be impossible.
The facts can be summarised as follows. Towards the end of the war, the area in which Wolf’s and Van den Bergh’s household effects were kept was heavily plundered, first by German citizens and then by Russian, British and Canadian troops. A report on the search for these effects after the war states that the Allied Forces encountered items, including five carpets, in several different locations. These five carpets, belonging to Wolf/Van den Bergh, were returned to the Netherlands in March 1947. Despite a lack of clarity in the administration of the post-war restoration of rights authorities and the anomalous measurements in the various administrative descriptions of the carpet NK 1042, the Committee subscribes to the conclusion of the Origins Unknown Agency that NK 1042 was one of the five recovered carpets belonging to Wolf/Van den Bergh.
In the post-war period, both the Wolf family and the Van den Bergh family endeavoured to recover their property, often doing so together. Contact was maintained with the Dutch restoration of rights authorities regarding the effects recovered from Germany. As a result, delegates from both families visited what were known as claim exhibitions organised by the Netherlands Art Property Foundation, at which they recognised several of the carpets recovered from Germany, which were then returned to them. As far as the Committee has been able to ascertain, no request for restitution was submitted for NK 1042. It is unclear whether the families were able to view the carpet at the time or whether they had otherwise become aware of the carpet’s return to the Netherlands.
On the basis of the fact-finding investigation, the Committee has determined that during the war both owners lost possession of various Persian carpets that match the description of NK 1042 involuntarily as a result of confiscation. Based on the facts, however, it also concluded that, during or shortly after the war, these carpets were combined into a single mixed estate and that, as a result, it is now impossible to establish whether NK 1042 was owned by Wolf or Van den Bergh. Given the fact that the Committee deems it highly likely that NK 1042 was part of the combined Wolf/Van der Bergh estate, it nevertheless considers the conditions for restitution to have been met.
The Committee is of the opinion that the carpet should be returned to its rightful owners, whom, in this unusual case, it considers to be both the Wolf family (applicants I) and the Van den Bergh family (applicants II) on a fifty-fifty basis. According to the Committee, this outcome is prompted by the joint action of both parties during this procedure, in which they agreed to jointly seek a suitable destination for the carpet or the proceeds from any sale.
The Restitutions Committee advises the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science to transfer the carpet NK 1042 into the joint ownership of Applicants I and II, subject to the agreement that the applicants will jointly seek a destination for the carpet or any proceeds from its sale in the interests of the common good.
Adopted at the meeting of 29 March 2010 by W.J.M. Davids (chair), J.Th.M. Bank, J.C.M. Leijten, P.J.N. van Os, D.H.M. Peeperkorn, 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)