Recommendation regarding Mayer
In a letter dated 16 February 2009, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (hereafter referred to as: ‘the Minister’) asked the Restitutions Committee (hereafter referred to as: ‘the Committee’) to issue a recommendation regarding the decision to be taken on the application dated 26 September 2008 by E.L.H. of G., U.S.A. (hereafter referred to as: ‘the applicant’) for the restitution of the painting St Christopher by the Meester van Frankfurt (15th century). This work is currently part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (NK collection), which is administered by the Dutch government under inventory number NK 2556, and is currently housed in the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
Following the application for restitution, the Committee instigated a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were included in a draft investigatory report dated 6 December 2010. The draft report was sent to the applicant, who responded to its content in a letter dated 27 January 2011. This response was incorporated into the draft report. In addition, the Committee sent the draft investigatory report to the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science (hereafter referred to as: ‘the State Secretary) with a request for additional factual information. The State Secretary responded that he did not have any additional factual material that he wanted the Committee to consider. The investigatory report was subsequently adopted on 7 March 2011. For the facts of the case, the Committee refers to this report. During the procedure the applicant was represented by lawyer I. Gielen of Berlin, Germany.
The applicant is E.L.H., née M., of G., U.S.A. Through her late husband C.M., born on 20 May 1915, the applicant is related to Otto Mayer (1875-1964). Otto Mayer was a Jewish antiquarian who lived and worked in Berlin, Germany in the 1930s. The applicant is seeking restitution of the 15th century painting St Christopher by the Meester van Frankfurt (NK 2556), of which Otto Mayer is said to have lost possession as a result of confiscation in 1933. It is in this context that the applicant states that she is the sole heir of Otto Mayer. As proof of this, she has sent copies of the following legal inheritance documents: i. a certificate of inheritance [...]; ii. a certificate of inheritance [...]; iii. a will [...].
Otto Mayer is said to have acquired the current NK 2556 from an Austrian ‘Privatgalerie’ [private collection] in 1919. As part of anti-Jewish measures, the Gestapo confiscated a number of paintings and other items from Otto Mayer’s apartment in Berlin in October 1933. Eye-witnesses Clara Mayer and Valeska Kluge-Lindner both made post-war statements concerning the confiscated oil painting depicting ‘den heiligen Christophorus’ [St. Christopher], which, according to Kluge-Lindner, was ‘mit Christuskind auf der Schulter, in einer Landschaft’ [St Christopher with the Christ child on his shoulders, in a landscape]. This is in all probability the current NK 2556 St Christopher by the Meester van Frankfurt (NK 2556). After the war, the Mayer family also reported to the German authorities that the confiscated painting was depicted in a 1924 study by Friedrich Winkler. The Committee’s investigation has shown that the depiction to which the family referred in the study is the current NK 2556.
Otto Mayer escaped Germany in late 1935. It is unclear where the current NK 2556 was in the years after the confiscation, i.e. from 1933 to 1942. The current NK 2556 was probably sold to a German museum by Kunsthandel Paul Cassirer & Co. in Amsterdam (hereafter also referred to as: ‘art dealership Cassirer’). This art dealership probably acted as an intermediary in this sale. It is unknown when and from whom the art dealership Cassirer acquired the current NK 2556. At the end of the war, the artwork was recuperated from Germany to the Netherlands, probably because the Amsterdam art dealership Cassirer was the last known provenance name. As far as is known, no one applied to the Dutch authorities at that time for restitution of the current NK 2556.
Based on the rules concerning private art property, restitution can be made if the original owner of the claimed object lost possession involuntarily as a result of circumstances that were directly related to the Nazi regime. According to the Ekkart Committee’s eighth recommendation from 2001, title has to be proved to a high degree of probability and there should be no indications to the contrary.
As regards the title, the Committee has considered that the investigation shows that the confiscated painting was the private property of Otto Mayer. The witness statements from Clara Mayer and Valeska Kluge-Lindner provide strong clues to support the assumption that the current NK 2556 was in Mayer’s possession at the time of the confiscation. A statement in a 1929 publication by Max Jakob Friedländer confirms that the current NK 2556 was owned by Mayer. In addition, ‘verz. Otto Mayer, Berlijn’ [Otto Mayer collection, Berlin] is written as one of the provenance names on a post-war declaration form from the Netherlands Art Property Foundation. Furthermore, in 1960, the German state accepted that, at the time of the confiscation, Mayer was in possession of the painting ‘frühniederländisches Ölgemälde: Heiliger Christophorus in Landschaft’ [early Netherlandish oil painting: St Christopher in landscape], which, according to the investigation, corresponds to the current NK 2556. Given the state of affairs, the Committee deems it highly likely that Otto Mayer owned the current NK 2556 at the time of the loss of possession. The Committee found nothing to contradict this assumption.
As regards the nature of the loss of possession, the Committee has considered the following. The Committee finds the Gestapo’s confiscation of the current NK 2556 in Germany in October 1933 an involuntary loss of possession as a result of consequences directly related to the Nazi regime. The Committee bases this finding on the one hand on the first-hand witness statements of Otto Mayer, Clara Mayer and Valeska Kluge-Lindner, all of whom were present in Otto Mayer’s apartment at the time of the confiscation. On the other hand, the Committee considers the investigation’s discovery of the German Wiedergutmachungsamt’s (restitution office) decision in 1960 as recognition of the confiscation from the German side, seeing as Otto Mayer was awarded damages for the loss of possession of, among other things, the current NK 2556.
The Committee does not consider the fact that Otto Mayer did not seek restitution of the current NK 2556 after the war as an obstacle to restitution, given that there is no question of a post-war settlement of an application for restoration of rights. There is no evidence that Otto Mayer knew that the art work had been returned to the Netherlands.
As such, the Committee deems that all conditions for restitution have been met. As regards any obligation to pay for the restitution, the Committee finds that the financial compensation stated in 6 is a matter between Mayer’s heirs and the German state. It is noted here that, according to the applicant, the German state has already indicated that it will file a request for repayment should the current NK 2556 be restituted to Mayer’s heirs.
The Restitutions Committee advises the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science to return the painting St Christopher by the Meester van Frankfurt (NK 2556) to the rightful owners of Otto Mayer’s estate.
Adopted at the meeting of 7 March 2011 by W.J.M. Davids (chair), J.Th.M. Bank, P.J.N. van Os, D.H.M. Peeperkorn, 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)
 In the current cabinet, the State Secretary is the indicated administrator for restitution claims.