Van Messel (EN)

Recommendation regarding Van Messel

Recommendation number: 
1.57
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
4 February 2008
Period loss of possession: 
1940-1945
Private owner/art dealer: 
Art dealership
Location of loss: 
The Netherlands

In a letter dated 1 December 2006, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (hereafter referred to as ‘the Minister’) asked the Restitutions Committee to issue a recommendation regarding a decision to be taken on the application submitted on 12 November 2006 by E. W.-P. of B. (hereafter referred to as ‘applicant 1’). In a letter dated 23 March 2007, the Minister asked the Restitutions Committee to issue a recommendation regarding a decision to be taken on the application submitted on 13 February 2007 by Mr D.J.D., Master of Laws, as the authorised representative of his mother, H. D.-M. of A. (hereafter referred to as ‘applicant 2’). Both applications concern restitution of the following objects:

- NK 352: plate
- NK 355: plaque.

According to applicant 1, these objects belonged to the former trading stock of art dealership Firma S. van Messel of Amsterdam, and according to applicant 2, they belonged to the former trading stock of art dealership J. van Messel of Amsterdam. Since their return to the Netherlands after the Second World War, the claimed objects have been part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereafter referred to as the ‘NK collection’) under the inventory numbers listed above, and are currently located in the Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen and in the Museum Lambert van Meerten in Delft, respectively.

The procedure

The reason for both applications for restitution was the correspondence with the Origins Unknown Agency (hereafter referred to as ‘BHG’) concerning the aforementioned objects that may have formed part of the trading stock of Firma S. van Messel or art dealership J. van Messel during the Second World War. In response to the two requests for restitution referred to above, the Restitutions Committee instituted a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were recorded in a draft report dated 1 October 2007, which was then submitted to the applicants. Applicant 2 responded to the contents of this report in a letter dated 15 November 2007. The report was subsequently adopted on 4 February 2008. For the facts of the case, the Committee refers to the investigatory 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 if the art was privately owned, 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) It is highly probable that loss of possession was involuntary if the object was sold without the art dealer’s consent and 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.

Explanation of general considerations c and e[1]

In line with the recommendations with regard to art dealing and the explanation thereof, the Committee has come to the conclusion that consideration c should only apply to the ownership of art by private parties. Consideration e has been modified accordingly and, furthermore, this consideration should be taken to mean that only those objects that were effectively part of the old trading stock are eligible for restitution.

Special considerations:

  1. Applicants 1 and 2 both request the restitution for themselves of objects NK 352 and NK 355. Applicant 1 has stated that she is an heir to A. van Messel’s estate. She is also acting on behalf of his other heirs. During his life, A. van Messel was a partner in Firma S. van Messel. Applicant 2 is a daughter of J.M., the brother of R.M., spouse of J. van Messel. She is acting on her own behalf. During his life, J. van Messel owned art dealership J. van Messel. Both art dealerships were merged during the war.

  2. The relevant details are described in the investigatory report dated 4 February 2008. The following summary of events will suffice for the present purposes. In 1910, Samuel van Messel established an antiques dealership in Leeuwarden. In 1921, he opened a branch at Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 39 in Amsterdam under the name S. van Messel. This branch was run by his two sons, A. van Messel (1884-1955) and J. van Messel (1889-1944). In 1924, the latter opened his own art dealership under the name J. van Messel on Van Woustraat in Amsterdam, while in 1925, A. took over his father’s art dealership under the name Firma S. Van Messel. Their younger brother K. (1896-1966) was appointed manager with power of attorney of A.’s firm. In 1930, J.’s art dealership moved to Spiegelgracht and five years later, to Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 49 in Amsterdam. Consequently, the art dealerships of A. en J. van Messel were located within a stone’s throw of each other when the Germans invaded the Netherlands.

  3. During the Second World War, the German occupying forces took a number of measures designed to register, manage and then wind up Jewish companies. On 12 March 1941, Verordnung 48/1941 was issued, the ‘decree ordering the removal of Jews from all business’. Pursuant to this decree, companies owned by Jewish entrepreneurs were taken over and then wound up by a Liquidations-Treuhänder or bought by / placed under the permanent administration of a Verwaltungs-Treuhänder (in short: Verwalter). As a result of this decree, Firma S. van Messel and art dealership J. van Messel were both placed under the administration of Verwalter Dr Friedrich Hübner. Research in the trade register of the Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce revealed that on 29 November 1941 Hübner was appointed Verwalter of Firma S. van Messel. It is unclear exactly when Hübner took over administration of art dealership J. van Messel.

  4. A. and K. van Messel both survived the war. On 4 September 1946, K., in his capacity as administrator of the assets of his brother J. and his spouse R.M., who both perished at Auschwitz in 1944, wrote a letter to the NBI, the Netherlands Property Administration Institute. This letter reveals that the art dealership J. van Messel was closed down by the Germans in November 1941. When the German establishment Omnia Treuhandgesellschaft mbH (hereafter referred to as ‘Omnia’) wanted to wind up its operations in 1942, Hübner was able to prevent it by having art dealership J. van Messel merge with Firma S. van Messel under his administration. This came into effect on 18 August 1942.

  5. Research has shown that after the war, there was contact between the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (hereafter referred to as ‘SNK’) and A. van Messel regarding artworks that were seized during the occupation. The SNK archives contain claim forms for objects that were taken from the collection of the art dealership during the war, but the Committee has discovered no claim forms for the two claimed objects.

  6. This request for a recommendation concerns two works of art. The considerations for each object are given below.

    NK 352

    With regard to the ownership of this plate, the investigation has revealed the following. On the basis of the origin reconstruction of BHG and the documents found in the archives, the Committee concludes that in 1942, this object was sold by art dealership Firma S. van Messel to the Kunstsammlungen der Stadt Düsseldorf in Düsseldorf. This took place after Hübner had been appointed Verwalter. However, it is unknown whether the sale occurred before or after the merger with art dealership J. van Messel. The Committee then tried to determine whether this claimed object belonged to the old trading stock (purchased by the owner) or to the new trading stock (purchased by the Verwalter). The Committee was unable to do so, however, because on the basis of the existing information, it is no longer possible to ascertain when this plate was added to the trading stock of Firma S. van Messel. Neither of the applicants has made a statement or supplied factual information that indicates that the plate belonged to the old trading stock. Therefore, the Committee does not consider it very likely that the plate in question belonged to the old trading stock of Firma S. van Messel, nor does the Committee consider it very likely that the plate belonged to the old trading stock of art dealership J. van Messel. It is for this reason that the Committee adjudges the claims for restitution of the plate (NK 352) to be inadmissible.

    NK 355

    With regard to the ownership of this plaque, the investigation has revealed the following. On the basis of the origin reconstruction of BHG and the documents found in the archives, the Committee concludes that in 1942, both this object and the plate referred to above were sold by art dealership Firma S. van Messel to the Kunstsammlungen der Stadt Düsseldorf in Düsseldorf. This also took place after Hübner had been appointed Verwalter. It is again unknown whether the sale occurred before or after the merger with art dealership J. van Messel. The Committee then tried to determine whether this claimed object belonged to the old trading stock (purchased by the owner) or to the new trading stock (purchased by the Verwalter). In its efforts to do so, the Committee encountered the same problems as in the case of NK 352. On the basis of the existing information, it is no longer possible to ascertain when and from whom Firma S. Van Messel purchased this object. Neither of the applicants has made a statement or supplied factual information that indicates that the plaque belonged to the old trading stock. Therefore, the Committee does not consider it very likely that the plaque in question belonged to the old trading stock of Firma S. van Messel, nor does the Committee consider it very likely that the plaque belonged to the old trading stock of art dealership J. van Messel. It is for this reason that the Committee adjudges the claims for restitution of the plaque (NK 355) to be inadmissible.

Conclusion

The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to reject the applications for restitution of the plate (NK 352) and the plaque (NK 355).

Adopted at the meeting of 4 February 2008 by R. Herrmann (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 (vice-chair), and signed by the chair and secretary.

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[1] Until 12 November 2007, general considerations c and e read:
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.
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, insofar as the original owner or his heirs did not receive all the profits of the transaction, or insofar as the owner did not expressly waive his rights after the war.