The Rhine near Coblenz by Gerard Battem

Advice relating to concerning the application for restitution of The Rhine near Coblenz by Van Battem (NK 1994)

Recommendation number: 
1.11
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
18 September 2003

In the the letter dated 26 November 2002, the Sstate Ssecretary of Education, Culture and Science asked the Restitutions Committee for advice about to advise on the decision to be taken concerning at the applicationrequest by of Mr S.M., of 29 August 2002, for pertaining to restitution of the painting The Rhine near Coblenz by Van Battem, which is part of the Dutch national art State collection under inventory number NK 1994.

The facts

Further to the application for restitution, the Provenance Investigations BureauOrigins Unknown agency (hereinafter referred to as Bureau Herkomst Gezocht,) Bureau Herkomst Gezocht initiated an investigation into the facts and the results are recorded in a report issued in May 2003. On 1 July, an English translation of this report was submitted by the Restitutions Committee to the party making the requestapplicant, who then responded on 18 July 2003.

General considerations

The Committee has drawn up its opinion with due regard for the relevant lines of policy issued by the Ekkart Committee and the government.

The Committee asked itself whether it is acceptable that an opinion to be issued is influenced by its potential consequences for decisions in other cases. The Committee resolved that such influence cannot be accepted, save cases where special circumstances apply, since allowing such influence would be impossible to justify to the applicant concerned.

The Committee then asked itself how to deal with the circumstance that certain facts can no longer be traced, that certain data has been lost or has not been retrieved, or that evidence can no longer be otherwise compiled. On this issue the Committee believes that, if the problems that have arisen can be attributed at least in part to the lapse of time, the associated risk should be borne by the government, save cases where exceptional circumstances apply.

Finally, the Committee believes that insights and circumstances which, according to generally accepted views, have evidently changed since the Second World War should be granted the status of new facts.

The Restitutions Committee bases its advice on the lines of policy relating to the Ekkart Committee and the government. The Restitutions Committee asked itself the question of whether any advice it might issue would be influenced by possible consequences for the decision in other matters. The Committee answers that question in the negative, barring exceptional circumstances, because such an influence may be objected to vis-à-vis the party making the request. The Restitutions Committee also asked itself how it should deal with the problem that certain facts can no longer be retrieved, that certain data has been lost or cannot be retrieved, or that other proof can no longer be provided. In relation to this matter, the Committee is of the opinion that, if the period of time is (partly) the cause of the problems that have arisen, the risk, barring exceptional circumstances, should be borne by the government. The Restitutions Committee is lastly of the opinion that insights and circumstances that have evidently changed since the Second World War must, according to societal views, be put on a par with new facts.

Special considerations:

  1. The party making the requestapplicant is acting on behalf of the heirs of his great- aunt, J. M.-U., who was born in 1894 in Hamburg and who died in 1943 in Auschwitz.
  2. The application for restitution was submitted with a reference to the website of the Provenance Investigations Bureau (Bureau Herkomst GezochtBureau Herkomst Gezocht), where the following is stated in the provenance overview details relating to The Rhine near Coblenz by Van Battem (NK 1994): '1939, collectie Meijer te Amsterdam' [1939, Meijer collection in Amsterdam]. To substantiate his request, the party making the requestapplicant submits that - although relevant lists no longer exist - his great -aunt owned an extensive art collection and that she in any case lived in Amsterdam at least until 1939. Given that she was persecuted for being Jewish, she fled Amsterdam in 1940 to Belgium, where she was rounded up by the Nazis in 1943.

  3. The investigation revealed that it was not possible to establish any link between the painting by Van Battem and the collection of J. M.-U. The reference to the name ‘Meijer’ in the provenance overview on the website of the Provenance Investigations Bureau Bureau Herkomst Gezocht Bureau Herkomst is based on the entry ‘collection Meijer, Amsterdam ‘39’ on the rear of a photo of the painting in the art-historical archives of the Netherlands Institute for Art History Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie. However, this entry cannot be verified by any other source. In addition, the name is also a very common surname in Amsterdam.

  4. Neither was it possible to find acquire an answer to the question of which of the other possible owners as featured in the above-mentioned overview from Bureau Herkomst Gezochtthe Provenance Investigations Bureau Bureau Herkomst Gezocht (Felders, Van Breemen and Goudstikker-Miedl) can be designated owners at any moment – just before or during the war. The report concludes that the data found to date cannot be used to sketch a conclusive provenance history of the painting The Rhine near Coblenz by Van Battem.

  5. In his response, the party making the requestapplicant argued in the investigatory report dated 15 July 2003 that Ms M.-U. owned an art collection which was plundered during the war or was sold under duress and that it is perfectly plausible that she owned the painting by Van Battem.

  6. In this respect, the Committee takes into account that, in restitution cases such as the present one, some leeway should be allowed with regard to the burden of proof and that the risk of the lack of proof pertaining to the collection under its her guardianship, due (partly) to the period of time that has passed, should be borne by the government. However, this does not prejudice the recommendations of the Ekkart Committee that restitution can only take place if the original right of ownership is substantially plausible and if that there are no contradictory indications.

  7. The Committee is therefore of the opinion, in the matter in handcasu, that, that – given the lack of additional indications – there is an insufficient basis for granting the request for restitution to the heirs of Ms M.-U.

Conclusion

In view of Given the above, the Committee advises the state secretary of Education, Culture and Science to reject the request by Mr S. M. for restitution of van the painting The Rhine near Coblenz by Van Battem (NK 1994).

Adopted Thus laid down at the meeting of 18 September 2003.

J.M. Polak (Chairman)
B.J. Asscher (Vice Chairman)
J.Th.M. Bank
J.C.M. Leijten
E.J. van Straaten
H.M. Verrijn Stuart

Summary: