The circumcision, anonymous, previously attributed to Meester van Kappenburg

Recommendation regarding the application for the restitution of The Circumcision, anonymous, previously attributed to the Master of Kappenburg (NK 1614)

Recommendation number: 
1.44
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
18 December 2006
Period loss of possession: 
1940-1945
Private owner/art dealer: 
Private individual
Location of loss: 
The Netherlands

In a letter dated 2 May 2006, the State Secretary for Culture, Education and Science (OCW) asked the Restitutions Committee to issue a recommendation regarding a decision to be taken on the application filed on 9 April 2006 by D.H. (hereafter referred to as ‘applicant’), also on behalf of other family members, for the restitution of the painting The Circumcision by an anonymous artist of Westphalia (NK 1614), formerly owned by Johanna Margaretha Stern-Lippmann. The claimed work of art was previously attributed to the Master of Kappenburg, also known as the Master of Kappenberg or Cappenberg, and as Jan Baegert. The painting, which is state custody as part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection, is currently on long term loan to the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht.

The procedure

The application for restitution was the result of a letter from the Origins Unknown Agency (hereafter referred to as ‘BHG’) dated 12 January 2006, in which eight of Johanna Margaretha Stern-Lippmann’s grandchildren were asked for further information about the painting The Circumcision. The letter said that the work of art may well have been the property of their grandmother and that if the work had fallen into the hands of the occupying forces through looting, confiscation or enforced sale, the legal heirs of the previous owner would have the opportunity to file an application for restitution. The family members to whom the letter was sent were unable to provide any further information about the painting or the circumstances surrounding its loss. In response to the application for restitution that was subsequently submitted, the Restitutions Committee instituted a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were summarised in a draft report dated 16 October 2006. This draft report was submitted to the applicants. The Restitutions Committee adopted the report at a committee meeting held on 18 December 2006. For the facts of the case, the Committee refers to its research report, which is considered an integral 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 the restitution of the painting The Circumcision in her capacity as heir of her grandmother Johanna Margaretha Stern-Lippmann (1874-1944). She declares that she is acting on behalf of the other heirs. The Committee has taken note of a certificate of inheritance dated 7 March 1949, in which Stern-Lippmann appoints her four children, all since deceased, as heirs. The applicant and the other members of the family named by her are all grandchildren of Stern-Lippmann.

  2. Stern-Lippmann was born in Berlin on 6 January 1874 and was of Jewish extraction. She married Samuel Siegbert Stern, also of Jewish extraction, who was an art lover and collector. The couple had four children, Annie Regina, Hilde Sophie, Hans Martin and Louise Henriette Stern. Samuel Siegbert Stern died in Berlin on 7 August 1935. As a result of anti-Jewish measures in Germany, Stern-Lippmann was forced to flee to the Netherlands after the death of her husband. She was living in Amsterdam in 1940. She made several attempts at procuring an exit visa for herself and several members of her family during the first years of the occupation. To this end, she handed over a painting by the artist Fantin Latour to the Dienststelle Mühlmann. No exit visas were issued, however. Stern-Lippmann subsequently went into hiding but was arrested in April 1943 and perished in Auschwitz on 22 May 1944. Her daughter Louise Henriette and her daughter’s husband also died there. Stern-Lippmann’s other children survived the war.

  3. The investigation was not able to clarify what happened to Stern-Lippmann’s art collection during the war. In correspondence conducted in 1948 between an authorised agent of the family and the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (hereafter referred to as ‘SNK’), the authorised agent states that Stern-Lippmann’s household effects were confiscated during the occupation and that she lost most of what remained of her estate. However, the correspondence with the SNK dealt exclusively with the painting by Fantin Latour, which was returned to the family in 1949. As far as is known, the family did not report the theft of any other missing works of art. A long time after the SNK had been dissolved, on 12 May 1955, the then authorised agent wrote to the Dutch authorities enquiring about 28 paintings and works of art, which, according to him, had belonged to Stern-Lippmann in 1940 and which had not been found in her estate in 1945. The authorised agent referred to one of the missing works belonging to Stern-Lippmann as: Tappenberg, Circumcision. The investigation conducted by the Ministry and the Netherlands Property Administration Institute (NBI) produced no results. No evidence was found that any further attempts were made to secure restitution of the claimed work. The Committee therefore considers the application for restitution to be admissible.

  4. The Committee finds it plausible that the authorised agent’s letter mentioned above does indeed concern the claimed work. After all, the title Circumcision is the same, and the name of the artist, ‘Tappenberg’ – a name that does not occur in the Netherlands Institute for Art History – bears a strong resemblance to the name ‘Kappenberg’. This should therefore be regarded as a writing error. The Committee is therefore of the opinion that this painting may be assumed to have belonged to Stern-Lippmann in 1940.

  5. Further investigations of the claimed work confirm that the painting was in any case in Stern-Lippmann’s possession before 1941. This can be concluded from various documents in the archives of Amsterdam art dealer P. de Boer, including an inventory card, a photograph and a reproduction of the claimed work. The words coll. Stern are noted both on the back of the card and on the photograph, although no date is given. As the said records show, the work was in the hands of one Leoni and was purchased by art dealer P. de Boer in January 1942. The painting was subsequently sold to a museum in Karlsruhe in April 1942. The painting with the number NK 1614 was recovered from Germany in 1946.

  6. Based on the above, the Committee considers it sufficiently plausible that the claimed work was owned by Stern-Lippmann in 1940 and that she lost possession of it after 10 May 1940. She may have sold the work to Leoni, who was presumably of Jewish extraction, but about whom the Committee was unable to find any further information. Another alternative is that Stern-Lippmann sold the work to art dealer De Boer, with Leoni acting as intermediary. The Committee does not consider it necessary to render a decision on this matter because in cases of contradictory claims, government policy allows the first loss of possession to prevail in most cases. As a result, priority would therefore be given to the claim of Stern-Lippmann’s heirs over any claims made by Leoni’s heirs.

  7. The question arises whether it is plausible that Stern-Lippmann surrendered possession of the work of art involuntarily as a consequence of circumstances directly associated with the Nazi regime. The investigation yielded no further information on this matter. Important in this respect, therefore, is the third recommendation of the Ekkart Committee of 26 April 2001, part of national policy, by virtue of which it is assumed that the sale of a work of art by a Jewish private person in the Netherlands after 10 May 1940 is to be considered a forced sale, unless explicitly proven otherwise. There are no indications that Stern-Lippmann sold the work of art voluntarily. The Committee therefore considers it plausible that Stern-Lippmann was forced to sell the painting in order to support herself and her family and possibly also to fund her attempts to leave the country. In so far as necessary, the Committee also refers to its general consideration under c, based on which the risk of loss of evidence due to lapse of time is to be borne by the government.

  8. In the light of the above, the Committee considers the application for restitution of The Circumcision (NK 1614) admissible. The Committee is of the opinion that no conditions should be attached involving the repayment of any purchase money received by Stern-Lippmann. Apart from the fact that it is no longer possible to find out how much was paid for the work at the time, the fourth recommendation of the Ekkart Committee of 26 April 2001 states that a repayment obligation exists only if the former seller was free to use the funds at his or her own discretion. The account of the facts lead the Committee to conclude that there was no question of this.

Conclusion

The Restitutions Committee advises the State Secretary for Culture, Education and Science to return the painting The Circumcision by an anonymous artist (NK 1614) to Johanna Margaretha Stern-Lippmann’s heirs.

Adopted at the meeting of 18 December 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: