Portrait of a man by N. de Largillière

Recommendation regarding the application for the restitution of the painting Portrait of a man by N. de Largillière (NK 1847)

Recommendation number: 
1.36
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
31 July 2006
Period loss of possession: 
1940-1945
Private owner/art dealer: 
Private individual
Location of loss: 
The Netherlands

In a letter dated 13 July 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 Portrait of a man by N. de Largillière (NK 1847), submitted by V.R.M.R. (hereafter the applicant) on 2 June 2005. The painting in question is part of the national collection and is currently on long-term loan to the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht.

The procedure

The reason for the application for restitution was a letter from the Origins Unknown Agency (‘BHG’) of 3 November 2004 to the applicant containing a request for information regarding the painting Portrait of a man by N. de Largillière. The letter indicated that the applicant’s grandfather, Philipp Brünell, had sold various works of art to Alois Miedl in the period 1940-1941, one of which was probably the work by De Largillière referred to above. At the same time, the BHG informed the applicant of the possibility of submitting an application for restitution if this was a case of involuntary sale.

As a result of this application for restitution, the Committee conducted an investigation of the facts, the results of which were included in a draft report of 12 June 2006. The report was then shown to the applicant and was adopted on 31 July 2006. As regards the facts of this case, the Committee refers to the investigatory report, the content of which is considered part of this recommendation.

General considerations

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.

Special considerations:

  1. The applicant requests restitution of the painting Portrait of a man by N. de Largillière in her capacity as sole heir to her mother, Margot Branau-Brünell, who in turn was sole heir to her father, Philipp Brünell, the original owner of the claimed work. In this context, the Committee has taken cognisance of the last will and testament of Margot Branau-Brünell, dated 2 May 1969, with a supplement dated 26 August 1976, that has been appended to this application for restitution.

  2. The investigation of the facts revealed the following. Philipp Brünell, born in Cologne in 1867, was a German merchant of Jewish origin. He lived in Berlin until 1938, when he fled to the Netherlands, where his daughter Margot Branau-Brünell and her husband Ernst Branau and their child (now the applicant) lived. According to post-war information from Ernst Branau, Philipp Brünell had built up an art collection in Berlin since about 1914, and he was in a position to take various works of art with him to the Netherlands upon his emigration, including the work being claimed. Initially, Philipp Brünell was provided for by his daughter and son-in-law, but during the occupation, he had to look after himself, so he was forced to sell part of his art collection. Plans to flee the Netherlands probably played a part in this decision, as is evidenced in a letter written by a family acquaintance, former envoy W.J.R. Thorbecke, dated 30 September 1949, to the director of the Netherlands Art Property Foundation. However, Philipp Brünell died in Amsterdam in April 1942. Margot Branau-Brünell and her family survived the war.

  3. An investigation of the origin of the painting being claimed showed that Philipp Brünell probably owned the work since 1925. In a catalogue of an exhibition of old masters from ‘Berliner Besitz’ in the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, Brünell is listed as the owner of the painting ‘Brustbild eines vornehmen Herrn. Lwd., 77x62’ by Nicolas de Largillière. Given the artist’s name and the information on the work itself, the Committee considers it likely that this is work NK 1847 that is being claimed. This is confirmed by data from the Netherlands Institute for Art History, which possesses a picture of the painting with the following note on the back: ‘Sept. 1926 im Bes. d. Herrn Philipp Brünell – Berlin’. Various archive sources show that Brünell sold the painting and a number of other paintings and works of art to the German Alois Miedl on 20 July 1940, who then included it in his art dealership Voorheen J. Goudstikker N.V. Details of this transaction are registered in the sales and purchases ledger of the art dealership, and an invoice for NLG 1,500 has also been found. On 16 September 1940, the painting was sold to E. Gritzbach for NLG 2,500, to be added to the collection belonging to H. Göring. After the war, the work of art was returned to the Netherlands. The Committee has also taken cognisance of a document that shows a different provenance of the painting. This is a list of works of art returned to the Netherlands between 1945 and 1962 from the ‘Treuhandverwaltung von Kulturgut München’. This list indicates art dealership Katz as the vendor and not Philipp Brünell. The Committee assumes this information to be incorrect, however, given the wealth of sources that point in the direction of Brünell, and concludes that Brünell should be seen as the original owner of the work being claimed.

  4. After the war, Ernst Branau made a number of attempts to recover works of art sold by Brünell during the war. He considered the sales to be forced and pointed out that his father-in-law, ‘who had collected these paintings all his life, would never have sold them at the prices he received unless he was convinced that as a Jew during the occupation, he would be totally at the mercy of the Germans’. In 1949, the Netherlands Art Property Foundation sold back three works from Philipp Brünell’s former collection in return for the purchase price received at the time plus a fee for recuperating and looking after them. The work by N. de Largillière was not returned, probably because of confusion with another portrait by the same artist that was part of a private collection. The committee therefore considers the application to be admissible, since it is clear that the case was never dealt with conclusively in the past.

  5. Under current government policy, the Committee considers the sale of the painting to be regarded as involuntary as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. For this ruling, the Committee refers to the Ekkart Committee’s third recommendation of 26 April 2001, which has been adopted by the government and states that sales made by Jewish citizens in the Netherlands after 10 May 1940 should be regarded as involuntary as long as there are no indications to the contrary. The Committee considers it likely that Philipp Brünell was forced to sell the painting to keep himself alive and to fund his plans for escape. With regard to the involuntariness of this loss of possession, the Committee reiterates the identity of the buyer, Alois Miedl, who is known to have exerted pressure on Jewish art collectors to sell their works right from the beginning of the occupation. The fact that the painting was resold after the sale by Brünell for a substantially higher price is another clear indication of involuntary sale.

  6. In light of the above, the Committee considers the application for restitution of the work entitled Portrait of a man by N. de Largillière (NK 1847) to be sustained. As to the question of whether any amount should be paid for the return of the painting in repayment of the sales price, the Committee assumes that, in accordance with the Ekkart Committee’s fourth recommendation of 26 April 2001, repayment of sales returns must only be at issue if and in so far as the then seller had free disposal of such returns. Since Brünell was forced to use the returns on the sale to stay alive and fund his escape plans, the Committee assumes that Brünell did not have free disposal of these sales returns.

Conclusion

The Restitutions Committee advises the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science to approve restitution of the painting Portrait of a man to the heirs of Margot Branau-Brünell.

Adopted at the meeting of 31 July 2006,

B.J. Asscher (chair)
J.Th.M. Bank
J.C.M. Leijten
P.J.N. van Os
E.J. van Straaten
H.M. Verrijn Stuart
I.C. van der Vlies

Summary: