Couple in an Interior after A. van Ostade
Recommendation concerning the application for the restitution of: Couple in an Interior after A. Van Ostade (NK 2884)
In a letter dated 2 May 2006, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (OCW) asked the Restitutions Committee to issue a recommendation regarding the application dated 5 April 2006 by M.N.-M. (hereafter: applicant 1) for the restitution of the painting Couple in an Interior based on Adriaen van Ostade. In a letter dated 16 August 2006, the Minister for OCW made a second request for a recommendation by the Restitutions Committee in relation to this painting. This request was submitted on 31 May 2006 by D.M.H. on behalf of his children S.S.H. and M.I.H. (hereafter: applicants 2). The painting in question is part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection under the custody of the national government (NK 2884) and is housed in a depot of the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage in Rijswijk. Applicant 1 and applicants 2 are jointly referred to as applicants in this recommendation. The Committee has dealt with the restitution applications collectively. Due to the age of applicant 1, this request has been given priority.
The reason for the application for restitution was a letter to the applicants from the Origins Unknown Agency (BHG) dated 30 January 2006, containing a request for more detailed information regarding the provenance of painting NK 2884. According to the BHG, the painting may have belonged to a member of their family, Schoontje Goldsteen, and was possibly handed over to the German looting bank Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co (Liro bank) during the war. On receipt of the request for advice, the Committee began an investigation into the facts. Part of that investigation involved more detailed art-historical research into both the painting and its attribution to Adriaen van Ostade by a Van Ostade expert. The results of the investigation were included in a draft report dated 18 December 2006, which was enclosed in a letter to the applicants on 12 January 2007, in which it was pointed out to the applicants that during the research it had not revealed that NK 2884 was identical to the painting that Schoontje Goldsteen had been forced to give up during the war. It was for this reason that the applicants were asked where possible to provide more specific information on this point. Applicant 1 responded by post on 27 March 2007; applicant 2 by email on 7 March 2007. No new facts pertaining to the painting that was lost during the war were forthcoming in these replies. The report was subsequently adopted on 14 May 2007. As regards the facts of the case, the Committee refers to its investigatory report, which is considered an integral part of this recommendation.
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.
In their capacities as heirs of Schoontje Goldsteen (1877-1942), applicants are asking for restitution of the painting Couple in an Interior. Applicant 1 is the second wife of Michaël Nathans (1905-2002), whose first wife, Saartje Regina Goldsteen (1910-1975), was a niece of Schoontje Goldsteen. According to a certificate of inheritance from 1950, Schoontje Goldsteen named her niece Saartje Regina and nephews Jacob and Mozes Goldsteen as sole beneficiaries in 1937. Saartje Regina was the sole family survivor of the war, along with Hartog Simon Goldsteen, the only child of Jacob and his wife. Applicants 2 are the grandchildren of Michaël Nathans. Their mother, A.S.N. (1940-1982), was the daughter of Michaël Nathans and Saartje Regina Goldsteen and was married to D.M.H. The Committee has taken note of several documents with reference to the position of the applicants according to the law of inheritance.
The fact-finding investigation has revealed the following: Schoontje Goldsteen (hereafter: Goldsteen) was born in 1877, was not married and had no children. At the beginning of the Second World War, she lived at Amsteldijk 38 in Amsterdam, where, according to the applicants, she owned a collection of art and antiques. Goldsteen died around 2 October 1942 in Auschwitz. It has been determined that during the war, Goldsteen handed over at least 19 paintings to the Liro bank. This information comes from a list of registered works that were turned over to this looting bank. Among other works, the list includes ‘Man and Woman Drinking’, ‘copie n[aar]/ Ostade’ (copy of Ostade) registered to ‘S. Goldstein’, Amsteldijk 38. The Committee is assuming that Goldstein means Goldsteen. The work was valued at the time at NLG 2 and was sold, on 20 September 1943, for NLG 5 to the N.V. Handelsonderneming A.D.O.C. (hereafter: Adoc), a commercial enterprise with connections to the Liro bank. It is not clear what happened to the painting after it was sold to Adoc.
In 1946, the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK) drafted an internal registration form presumably based on the Liro list with regard to ‘Man and Woman Drinking’, ‘Copie naar Ostade’ (copy of Ostade), stating ‘S. Goldstein, Amsteldijk 38, Amsterdam’ as the former owner. At that moment, no work that satisfied this description had yet been recovered.
With reference to the currently claimed work, NK 2884, the investigation has yielded the following: At the end of July 1949, the painting, which portrays a man and woman drinking, was recovered from Munich and returned to the Netherlands. On a list from the Bundesarchiv Koblenz (Federal Archive in Koblenz) of cultural assets returned to the Netherlands after the war, it is stated in connection with the provenance of NK 2884 that ‘it came in 1940 from Holland to Germany [..]’. According to an inventory card that was kept, the painting was attributed to Adriaen van Ostade and was valued by the SNK at NLG 2,000. They then associated the work with the painting that Goldsteen had handed over to the Liro bank, doubting, however, whether NK 2884 was the painting that Goldsteen had lost. An SNK employee noted:
‘On Lippmann frame sold for f 5.=; it is improbable that this is the painting. No mention of Adoc.’
As far as is known, the SNK did not establish contact with any of Goldsteen’s surviving relatives after the war about the possible return of the work. The Committee does not consider this a case that was settled in the past and considers the application admissible.
Pursuant to current national policy in respect of the restitution of works of art as contained in the Ekkart Committee’s eighth recommendation of April 2001, a work of art will only be considered for restitution if ‘the title thereto has been proved with a high degree of probability and there are no indications to the contrary’.
In view of the fact that the aforementioned investigation yielded insufficient evidence to suggest that NK 2884 is the same painting as was lost by Goldsteen during the war, the Committee ordered additional research. Points of interest were:
i) the painting from Goldsteen’s estate was considered by the Liro bank to be a copy worth NLG 2, whilst NK 2884 was regarded by the SNK as an original worth NLG 2000 , and
ii) Adoc bought the painting from Goldsteen in September 1943 in the Netherlands, whilst according to archive material, NK 2884 went to Germany in as early as 1940.
The Committee asked Prof. R.E.O. Ekkart, former head of the BHG, to give a more detailed opinion concerning the provenance of the painting claimed. The BHG had earlier concluded in Sub report III of the research into the origins of the NK collection that NK 2884 belonged to Goldsteen. Ekkart reported that the earlier conclusion had been too definitive. In a letter dated 21 May 2006, he wrote the following:
‘I don’t take the last problem [the difference in valuation, RC] too seriously: with these sorts of paintings attributed to Van Ostade, the dividing line between originals and copies is hard to determine and is a constant source of confusion. [...] The discrepancy between 1940 and 1943 seems more serious to me, although that can also be due to an error in information from Koblenz, if there was evidence suggesting the contrary. [...]’
‘My conclusion is therefore that with regard to further investigation as to whether NK 2884 is the painting from the Goldsteen collection, I can only qualify it as “highly probable”, if there is supplementary documentation that in my opinion can only come from the family.’
Further to this, the Committee requested that more detailed art-historical research be done in order to find out more about the provenance of NK 2884. To this end, Charles Roelofsz, an Amsterdam art dealer and Van Ostade expert, and others, investigated the work. Mr Roelofsz concluded that NK 2884 is not an original Van Ostade, but a copy of fairly good quality, possibly from the late 17th century. The Committee observes that this could explain the difference in valuation of the work between the Liro bank (copy) and that of the SNK (original), as was also indicated by Ekkart.
In order to obtain more specific details with regard to the period in which NK 2884 arrived in Germany, and to explain the possible discrepancy between 1940 (arrival in Germany according to the archive in Koblenz) and 1943 (sale in the Netherlands according to the Liro archive), the Bundesarchiv Koblenz was once again consulted. This investigation, however, failed to yield any result regarding the said discrepancy.
The Committee concludes on the basis of the information available that it was possible, but not highly probable, that NK 2884 belonged to Goldsteen. The discrepancy between the possible arrival dates in Germany from the Bundesarchiv Koblenz and the Liro archive constitutes an indication to the contrary. In the opinion of the Committee, the fact that there are scores of copies of the ‘Man and Woman Drinking’ theme that are attributed to Van Ostade, is further indication that more evidence of ownership is necessary. After all, the chance that NK 2884 is returned to the wrong party under the circumstances is by no means imaginary. As described in the introduction, the applicants were unable to supply supplementary documentation with regard to the painting lost by Goldsteen. The Committee therefore considers the request inadmissible. It notes however that a new assessment is possible should new facts be brought to light.
In view of the above, the Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to reject the request for restitution of the painting Couple in an Interior (NK 2884) after A. van Ostade.
Adopted at the meeting of 14 May 2007.
B.J. Asscher (chair)
P.J.N. van Os
E.J. van Straaten
H.M. Verrijn Stuart
I.C. van der Vlies