Charles, Prince de Rohan Soubise by J.F. Voet and four 18th-century Louis XV armchairs
Recommendation regarding the application for the restitution of the painting Charles, Prince de Rohan Soubise by J.F. Voet (NK 1840) and four 18th-century Louis XV armchairs (NK 656 A-D)
In a letter dated 17 February 2005, the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science asked the Restitutions Committee to issue a recommendation regarding the application for the restitution of the painting Charles, Prince de Rohan Soubise by J.F. Voet (NK 1840) and four 18th-century Louis XV armchairs (NK 656 A-D) from the former property of Milly Antonie von Friedländer-Fuld. The application for restitution was submitted by G.v.G.-R. and A.M. (hereafter: the applicants) in a letter dated 30 November 2004.
In response to the State Secretary’s application for advice, the Committee conducted an investigation of the facts, the results of which were included in a draft report of 10 October 2005, which was submitted to the applicants in a letter dated 15 November 2005. In this letter, the Committee particularly asked the applicants for a response to the investigation regarding the provenance of the four 18th-century Louis XV armchairs (NK 656 A-D). The applicants responded in a letter dated 20 February 2006, which was sent by their authorised representative. Subsequently, on 3 July 2006, the Committee adopted the investigatory report, the content of which is considered part of this recommendation.
In this procedure, the applicants were represented by the legal firm of ‘Schulz, Herzberg, Wölki, Dr. Hasse’ of Berlin.
a) The Committee has drawn up its opinion with due regard for the relevant (lines of) policy issued by the Ekkart Committee and the government.
b) The Committee asked itself whether it is acceptable that an opinion to be issued is influenced by its potential consequences for decisions in subsequent cases. The Committee resolved that such influence cannot be accepted, save in cases where special circumstances apply, since allowing such influence would be impossible to justify to the applicant concerned.
c) The Committee then asked itself how to deal with the circumstance that certain facts can no longer be ascertained, that certain information has been lost or has not been recovered, 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 in cases where exceptional circumstances apply.
d) 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.
e) Involuntary loss of possession is also understood to mean sale without the art dealer’s consent by ‘Verwalters’ [Nazi-appointed caretakers who took over management of firms owned by Jews] or other custodians not appointed by the owner of items from the old trading stock under their custodianship, in so far as the original owner or his heirs did not receive all the profits of the transaction, or in so far as the owner did not expressly waive his rights after the war.
The applicants request the restitution of the painting Charles, Prince de Rohan Soubise by J.F. Voet (NK 1840) and four 18th-century Louis XV armchairs (NK 656 A-D) in their capacity as heirs to Milly Antonie von Friedländer-Fuld and Marie-Anne von Goldschmidt-Rothschild, née Von Friedländer-Fuld. The applicants are the children of Marie-Anne von Goldschmidt-Rothschild, who was born in Berlin in 1898 and died in France in 1973, and the grandchildren of Milly Antonie von Friedländer-Fuld (hereafter: Von Friendländer-Fuld), who was born in the Netherlands in 1866 and died in France in 1943. The latter can be considered the pre-war owner of what will be called ‘the Friedländer-Fuld collection’ in this recommendation. In this context, the Committee has taken cognisance of a certificate of inheritance dated 31 January 1948 drawn up by French civil-law notary Albert Laine, which is in the Committee’s dossier and which shows that Marie-Anne von Goldschmidt-Rothschild was the sole heir of Von Friedländer-Fuld. As proof of their entitlement to the inheritance, each to half of it, left by Marie-Anne von Goldschmidt-Rothschild, the applicants have also submitted a German certificate of inheritance, dated 2 December 1992 ('Gemeinschaftlicher Erbschein zum ausschliesslichen Gebrauch zur Geltendmachung von Rückübertragungsansprüchen nach dem Vermogensgesetz'). Although the wording of this certificate implies that it was only drafted for claims to immovable property in the Federal Republic of Germany, the Committee considers it sufficiently proven that the applicants are heirs of the original owner of the Friedländer-Fuld collection.
The Committee’s investigation has revealed that the Jewish Von Friedländer-Fuld, originally of Dutch extraction, owned a valuable art and antiques collection. In 1939, this collection was located in her house in Berlin, where she lived until the death of her husband, Friedrich Viktor von Friedländer-Fuld, in 1917. Between 1917 and 1939 she probably stayed in Amsterdam, and in 1921 she was granted Dutch nationality. In 1939, she moved her art collection to the Netherlands. On this occasion, the collection was inventoried, perhaps with a view to the various taxes imposed on Jewish assets in Nazi Germany at the time, and assessed at RM 487,820. Lists still exist from this period, which show the composition of the collection of art objects and antiques transferred to the Netherlands. In 1939, Von Friedländer-Fuld left for France, where she died in 1943. During the occupation of the Netherlands, her collection, which was stored at the Amsterdam company De Gruyter & Co., was considered enemy property by the Nazi regime and, in 1941, it was confiscated by the ‘Sammelverwaltung feindlicher Hausgeräte’. Most items from the Friedländer-Fuld collection were then auctioned off by this clearing house for stolen works of art on 20 October 1941, 27 January 1942, and 24 February 1942 at the The Hague auction house of Van Marle & Bignell. The individual works of art ended up with various Dutch and German buyers.
The Committee considers the loss of possession described above involuntary, as it occurred completely beyond Von Friedländer-Fuld’s control and resulted from circumstances directly associated with the Nazi regime. The next question that has to be answered is whether the NK works that are subject to the current application for restitution were part of the Friedländer-Fuld collection. In this respect, restitution policy, in accordance with the Ekkart Committee’s eighth recommendation from 2001, dictates that ‘objects can be returned if a plausible case has been made for ownership rights and there are no indications to the contrary’.
The investigation revealed the following information with regard to the ownership situation of the four claimed Louis XV armchairs listed as inventory numbers NK 656 A-D. Although it has been determined that similar armchairs belonged to the looted property of Von Friedländer-Fuld, and the Origins Unknown Agency (‘BHG’) used the name Von Friedländer-Fuld as ‘possible provenance’ in its published investigation results, further investigation by the Committee has been unable to confirm this ownership, while indications to the contrary were found. A comparison of Von Friedländer-Fuld’s armchairs with the NK armchairs based on photographic material and descriptions found in the archives brought to light a clear difference in chair frame, type of wood and respective scenes on the gobelin upholstery. The results of an investigation of the archives conducted by the Committee suggest confusion with a set of four armchairs that may have come from the trading stock of art dealer Etienne Delaunoy in Amsterdam. In connection with the BHG’s conclusion that Von Friedländer-Fuld may have been the owner, the results of the Committee’s investigation were submitted to Dr R.E.O. Ekkart, head of the (former) BHG, who, after having read it, declared he agreed completely with this provisional conclusion. In his response to these investigation results, the applicants’ authorised representative indicated that the applicants could not provide any further information on the armchairs, but that they believed they remembered them.
In light of the above, the Committee regards it insufficiently plausible that the armchairs, which are part of the Dutch National Art Collection under NK numbers 656 A-D, were part of the Friedländer-Fuld collection. The Committee notes that confusion of the armchairs based on a memory is conceivable, given the similarity between the sets of armchairs. If the applicants cannot submit further proof of the provenance Von Friedländer-Fuld, the Committee considers that there is insufficient basis to award the application for the restitution of the four Louis XV armchairs (NK 656 A-D).
As regards the claimed portrait by Voet (NK 1840), the investigation has revealed that this work of art certainly did belong to the Friedländer-Fuld collection. The painting, previously attributed to H. Rigaud, was auctioned by Van Marle & Bignell on 27 January 1942 and purchased by a Dutch buyer for NLG 3,800. This buyer then sold the work, which, in 1944, ended up in the art collection destined for Hitler’s Führermuseum (Sammlung Linz). After the war, the restoration of rights authorities returned the work of art to the Netherlands, but failed to establish a link between the painting and the Friedländer-Fuld collection. Source material suggests that the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (hereafter: SNK) did not investigate this work’s provenance thoroughly. Thus, there is no question of a previous application for restitution having been conclusively dealt with and the Committee considers the applicants’ claim admissible. It is the Committee’s opinion that the painting should be returned.
The next question that remains to be answered is whether, in the case of restitution of the work of art, any compensation received in the past will have to be repaid. In this context, it has been shown that, after the war, (the heirs of) Von Friedländer-Fuld did receive compensation, by order of the restoration of rights judge, from the Dutch buyer who had purchased the work by Voet at the auction at Von Marle & Bignell on 27 January 1942. A decision of the Amsterdam Jurisdiction Department of the Council for the Restoration of Rights of 24 December 1949 rendered this purchase null and void and awarded compensation for the painting to the amount of NLG 4,180. In this context, the Committee would like to point out that this decision is not an impediment for admissibility, as it did not concern the return of the work of art and the State of the Netherlands was not a party to it. After all, the applicants did not know at that time that the painting was under the administration of the Dutch authorities.
As regards repayment, government policy – on the recommendation of the Ekkart Committee – dictates that repayment of sales returns must only be at issue if and in so far as the then seller or his heirs had free disposal of such returns, with the applicant being given the benefit of the doubt if this cannot be ascertained. The Committee believes that this policy rule should be interpreted in the sense that the applicants shall not be enriched ungroundedly by the repayment. According to the Committee, this is not the case with the return of the painting by Voet without repayment. In this respect, it holds the view that the Von Friedländer-Fuld collection of works of arts and antiques was almost completely lost to the family as a result of the Nazi regime, while only part of the sales returns accrued to the Von Friedländer-Fuld estate. Of the original value of the collection, assessed at RM 487,820 in 1939 and at NLG 475,000 by the post-war administrator of the Von Friedländer-Fuld assets, only about half, viz. NLG 250,663.53, remained when administration of the estate was terminated in 1949 – which amount included returned goods and sums of money in return for those goods. Given the above, the Committee concludes that no payment obligation should be imposed on the applicants in return for the painting by Voet (NK 1840).
The Restitutions Committee advises the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science to admit the application for restitution of the painting Charles, Prince de Rohan Soubise by J.F. Voet (NK 1840) to the heirs of Milly Antonie von Friedländer-Fuld, and to reject the application for restitution of the four 18th-century Louis XV armchairs (NK 656 A-D).
Adopted at the meeting of 3 July 2006,
B.J. Asscher (chair)
P.J.N. van Os
E.J. van Straaten
H.M. Verrijn Stuart
I.C. van der Vlies