An eighteenth-century Savonnerie carpet
Recommendation regarding the application for the restitution of an eighteenth-century Savonnerie carpet (NK 1066)
In a letter dated 19 December 2006, the Minister for Culture, Education and Science (OCW) asked the Restitutions Committee to issue a recommendation regarding the application dated 5 December 2006 submitted by R.A.H. (‘the applicant’), also on behalf of her sister-in-law, D.A., for the restitution of an eighteenth-century Savonnerie carpet with central medallion and rich decoration in brown and pink. The carpet was recovered from Germany after the Second World War and added to the Netherlands Art Property Collection (NK 1066). The carpet is now part of the Rijksmuseum collection in Amsterdam, where it is held in storage.
The reason for the application for restitution was a letter from the Origins Unknown Agency (‘BHG’) of 18 October 2006 to the applicant containing a request for further information regarding the carpet. The letter also pointed out that the carpet had been the property of her mother, Ellinor Sternberg. In response to the application for restitution then filed, the Committee conducted an investigation of the facts. In view of the applicant’s age, the application was given priority. The results of the investigation were included in a draft report dated 12 March 2007, which was given to the applicant, who informed the Committee by telephone that she had no comments. The draft report was also submitted to the Minister for OCW, who informed the Committee on 3 April 2007 that no additional information was available. Subsequently, the Committee adopted the report on 16 April 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 her capacity as heir of her parents Max Alsberg (1877-1933) and Ellinor Käthe Margot Clara Sternberg (1888-1965), the applicant requests the restitution of the carpet (NK 1066). She is also acting on behalf of D.A., the widow of the couple’s son, who died in 2001 and who changed his name from K.A. to C.A. in 1939.
The fact-finding investigation revealed the following. The claimed carpet was part of Dr Max Alsberg’s collection of works of art and antiques. Dr Alsberg was married to Ellinor Sternberg and the couple had two children, one of which is the applicant. Alsberg and his wife were of Jewish origin and had the German nationality. During the Weimar Republic, Alsberg was a well-known criminal lawyer, notary public and man of letters. In 1933, he fled to Switzerland, where he took his own life in September of that same year. In 1939, Sternberg settled in the United Kingdom.
Documents from the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK) and the Netherlands Property Administration Institute (NBI) show that in 1933, Sternberg had part of the art and antiques collection put in storage at the firm of N.V. Koninklijke Meubeltransport-Maatschappij De Gruijter & Co in The Hague. On or about 26 April 1941, the stored goods, including the claimed carpet, were confiscated by the Sammelverwaltung feindlicher Hausgeräte. The Committee has taken cognisance of a letter dated 21 April 1941 sent by this German looting organisation to the said transport company commandeering the Alsberg collection. Various sources reveal that after it had been confiscated, the carpet was auctioned off at the auction house of Van Marle en Bignell, after which it came into the possession of art dealership Von Flotow in Hamburg, Germany. It is not known whether Sternberg received part of the proceeds of the auction after the war.
After the war, assisted by various authorised representatives, Sternberg made several attempts at regaining the very valuable collection. In July 1946, the loss of an eighteenth-century carpet was reported to the SNK on Sternberg’s behalf. A photograph was added some time later, which shows that that declaration related to the currently claimed carpet NK 1066. The carpet was recovered in Hamburg in March 1948 and stored in an SNK depot. It can be deduced from surviving files that the carpet was viewed in 1949 by a person authorised by Sternberg, but that the proceedings were discontinued because of the poor condition of the carpet. With reference to the first recommendation of the Ekkart Committee of 2001, the Committee considers the application admissible as it is clear that the case was never dealt with conclusively in the past.
The committee is of the opinion that the conditions for restitution have been met. It concludes that the investigation has shown that the currently claimed carpet did belong to Max Alsberg and Ellinor Sternberg, the applicant’s parents. Moreover, the committee considers that the loss of the collection due to its confiscation by the Nazis should be regarded as an involuntary loss that was the result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. In the light of the above, the Committee considers the application for the restitution of the carpet NK 1066 admissible.
The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Culture, Education and Science to return the carpet (NK 1066) to the heirs of E.K.M.C. Sternberg.
Adopted at the meeting of 16 April 2007,
B.J. Asscher (chair)
P.J.N. van Os
E.J. van Straaten
H.M. Verrijn Stuart
I.C. van der Vlies