Recommendation regarding Morpurgo II
In a letter dated 30 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 in an application for restitution made by W.G. of A. (hereafter referred to as: the applicant) on 14 November 2007 for various works of art from the Netherlands Art Property Collection administered by the State (hereafter referred to as: the NK collection). According to G., the objects were the former property of his grandfather, Louis Morpurgo, one of the partners of art dealership Joseph M. Morpurgo. This recommendation concerns the following objects:
- NK 276 A-B: Two China vases and covers of glazed porcelain with blue and white decor of landscapes and flowers
- NK 277 A-B: China vase and cover with blue and white decor of flowering branches and landscapes
- NK 481: Glass decanter and stopper in the shape of Kuttrolf and painted in brown with a wild boar hunt so-called Hausmalerei
- NK 955 A-B-C-E-F-G-I: Seven green rummers
- NK 2785: painting by P. Codde, Soldiers ransacking a house
In addition to the above objects, the Ministers request for advice also pertained to the sculpture Bronze stonemason , by C.E. Meunier (NK 414). As this sculpture was also part of another application for restitution presented to the Committee, the recommendation on both claims to NK 414 was filed separately under Steenhouwer (RC 1.60), on which application the Committee issued a recommendation on 13 April 2011. In addition, the application for restitution regarding Morpurgo II initially also related to five rummers with inventory numbers NK 955 D, H, J, K and L. However, in a letter dated 28 April 2010, the Minister said that these rummers were no longer part of the national collection. As a result, the Minister has withdrawn his request for a recommendation concerning these five missing objects.
In a letter dated 22 October 2010, the Committee asked the applicant for an explanation of his application for restitution. The applicant submitted documentation in replies dated 28 October and 4 November 2010. The Committee also conducted its own investigation, the results of which were recorded in a draft investigatory report of 15 November 2011. In a letter dated 31 January 2012, the Committee sent this draft investigatory report to the Minister with a request for additional information. The Minister informed the Committee on 14 February 2012 that she did not have any additional information that she wished to bring to the Committees attention. In a letter dated 31 January 2012, the Committee sent this draft investigatory report to the applicant for comment, to which he responded in a letter dated 9 February 2012. This reply has been enclosed as appendix to the draft report.
The investigatory report was adopted on 5 March 2012. The Committee refers to this report for the facts of the case.
The applicant has stated that he is the heir of his grandfather, Jewish art dealer Louis Morpurgo (1875-1942), and that he is acting on his own behalf and on that of Louis Morpurgos co-heirs, with the exception of A.W.-M. The applicant submitted inheritance documents, on the basis of which the Committee sees no reason to doubt the applicants status as rightful claimant to his late grandfathers inheritance. According to the applicant, the current objects (NK 276 A-B, NK 277 A-B, NK 481, NK 955 A-B-C-E-F-G-I and NK 2785) were in Morpurgo’s possession. The applicant wrote the following to the Committee on this subject:
“I am afraid that I cannot answer your question as to whether the claimed objects were part of my grandfathers private collection or his trading stock. As you will realise, I was a child at the time (I was 13 years old in 1945) and I was not informed about this.”
Morpurgo was an art dealer of Jewish descent. He was married to Naatje van Wijnbergen (1874-1945) and had four daughters, Flora, Selma, Rachel and Susanna, and a son, Lion. The Committee has taken cognisance of an agreement of 1 August 1939 between Louis Morpurgo and his son Lion Morpurgo from which it can be concluded that both were partners of art dealership Joseph M. Morpurgo at Rokin 108 in Amsterdam (hereafter also referred to as: art dealership Morpurgo). On the basis of the deed of partnership concluded between Louis Morpurgo and his son Lion Morpurgo in 1939, and the survivorship clause contained in it, Lion Morpurgo continued the art dealership Morpurgo as sole owner from 1 October 1945 on. A.W.-M., Lion Morpurgos daughter, is now the sole owner of art dealership Louis Morpurgo.
At the start of the war, the occupying forces ordered the closure of art dealership Morpurgo, following which various Verwalters were employed in the company. In 1942, the company was sold to an Austrian art dealer, the occupying forces having ordered the auction of part of the trading stock. Louis Morpurgo and his wife were deported and did not survive the war. After the liberation, Lion Morpurgo returned to Amsterdam from Theresienstadt concentration camp.
It can be concluded from the Committees investigation that the claimed artworks were returned to the Netherlands from Germany after the Second World War. The following has become known about the provenance:
a) On the basis of reports by Lion Morpurgo made to the Netherlands Art Property Foundation after the war it was found that three Chinese vases with covers (NK 276 A-B and NK 277 A-B) and a glass decanter (NK 481) were taken from art dealership Morpurgos trading stock during the war and fell into German hands.
b) With regard to the painting by Pieter Codde (NK 2785), it became clear from the investigation that this painting was in art dealership Morpurgos possession in 1927 but that by 1934 already, it was owned by another art dealership.
c) Concerning the seven rummers (NK 955 A-B-C-E-F-G-I), the investigation yielded several conflicting provenance details. The provenance name Morpurgo is uncertain.
The Committee concludes that with regard to NK 276 A-B, NK 277 A-B and NK 481, it can be said that in the relevant period these objects belonged to art dealership Morpurgo but that there are no indications that the claimed objects were ever Louis Morpurgos private property.
In a previous recommendation dated 12 March 2007 (RC 1.33) concerning a painting from art dealership Morpurgos trading stock, the Committee advised returning this work to applicant A.W.-M. as owner of the one-man business Joseph M. Morpurgo. In this recommendation, the Committee also referred to obligations ensuing from a continuation proviso in the partnership contract concluded between Louis Morpurgo and his son Lion Morpurgo in 1939 (see under 2), considering that pursuant to this regulation, art dealership Morpurgo would have been entitled to the restitution of the painting, following a financial settlement for the value of the painting with Louis Morpurgos heirs. In its recommendation RC 1.33, the Committee was of the opinion that as the sole owner of the one-man business Joseph M. Morpurgo, the applicant was entitled to claim restitution of the painting but that the value of the painting would have to be settled financially with all Louis Morpurgos heirs.
With a judgement of the Court of Amsterdam of 16 December 2009, upheld in appeal in a decree by the Amsterdam Court of Appeal on 28 December 2010, it has been established in a court of law that the claim made by Louis Morpurgos heirs on A.W.-M. for a financial settlement has been lost on account of lapse of time. The financial settlement obligation arising from the implementation of the continuation proviso cited above under 5, as a result of which an artwork belonging to the company assets of art dealership Morpurgo should be returned to A.W.-M., can now no longer be exercised. In light of the above, the Committee will, in the current case, limit itself to the question whether the applicants request in his own right and as authorised representative is admissible.
With regard to this question, the Committee considers that the current claim has been submitted by and on behalf of the rightful claimants to Louis Morpurgos estate, with the exception of A.W.-M. The Committee has found no indications that the currently claimed objects were Louis Morpurgos private property. The possibility that these objects were part of the company assets of Louis Morpurgo and Lion Morpurgo, to which A.W.-M. is exclusively entitled, will need to be seriously taken into account. It follows from this that it is highly probable that the applicant and the persons he represents are among the rightful claimants so that his request is denied, both on his own behalf and in his capacity as authorised representative.
The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to reject the current application for restitution.
Adopted at the meeting of 5 March 2012 by W.J.M. Davids (chair), J.Th.M. Bank, P.J.N. van Os, D.H.M. Peeperkorn, E.J. van Straaten, and signed by the chair and the secretary.
(W.J.M. Davids, chair) (E. Campfens, Secretary)