A bronze statue Stonemason by C.E. Meunier

NK414, Stonemason by C.E. Meunier (Photo: RCE)

Recommendation regarding Steenhouwer

Recommendation number: 
1.60
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
13 April 2011
Private owner/art dealer: 
Art dealership

In a letter dated 14 July 2005, the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science (OCW) requested the Restitutions Committee to issue a recommendation regarding a decision to be taken on the application filed by A.M.J. of A. (hereafter referred to as: ‘applicant Mogrobi’). This application concerns among other things the nineteenth-century bronze statue Steenhouwer (Stonemason) by C.E. Meunier, which, according to applicant Mogrobi, may have been part of the trading stock of Kunsthandel M. Mogrobi, his grandfather’s art dealership. Furthermore, in a letter dated 30 October 2008, the Minister for OCW requested advice concerning the application of W.G. (hereafter referred to as: ‘applicant Morpurgo II’) for the restitution of the same bronze statue, which, according to applicant Morpurgo II, used to belong to his grandfather, Louis Morpurgo, one of the partners of art dealership Joseph M. Morpurgo. Since its return to the Netherlands after World War II, the object claimed by the two applicants has been part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereafter referred to as: ‘NK collection’) under inventory number NK 414. The object is currently housed in the depot of the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage.

THE PROCEDURE

Following the request for a recommendation, the Committee instigated a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were included in a draft report dated 7 March 2011. The draft report was sent to the respective applicants for comment, who replied on 20 March 2011 (applicant Mogrobi) and on 21 March 2011 (applicant Morpurgo II). The draft report was also sent to the State Secretary for OCW (hereafter referred to as: ‘the state secretary’) with a request for more factual information. The state secretary informed the Committee that he had no additional factual material that he wanted to bring to the Committee’s attention. The investigatory report was adopted on 13 April 2011. For the facts of the case, the Committee refers to this report. The aforementioned two claims comprise several NK objects. The Committee already issued a recommendation on the application for the restitution of objects from the trading stock of art dealership M. Mogrobi (RC 1.37) on 12 February 2007, excepting NK 414, for which a separate file was made, the current RC 1.60. The recommendation about NK 414 in the Morpurgo II claim (RC 1.107) is also included in file RC 1.60. Both claims to NK 414 will be assessed below. A recommendation concerning the other objects in the Morpurgo II claim (RC 1.107) will follow at a later date.

CONSIDERATIONS

  1. Applicant Morpurgo II has stated that the bronze statue he is claiming, which depicts a stonemason (NK 414) by the Belgian artist Constantin Emile Meunier, once belonged to Louis Morpurgo, one of the partners of the Amsterdam-based art dealership Joseph M. Morpurgo. He is said to have lost possession of the object during the war as a consequence of the Nazi regime. Applicant Morpurgo II has indicated that he did not know whether the claimed statue was Louis Morpurgo’s private property or whether it was part of the trading stock of art dealership Joseph M. Morpurgo. Given the conclusion below, however, this can be disregarded. Initially, applicant Mogrobi stated that the claimed bronze statue once belonged to art dealership M. Mogrobi but in response to the draft investigatory report, he changed his statement, as explained below. In connection with the legal succession, the Committee has taken note of the documents submitted by applicants Morpurgo II and Mogrobi.

  2. Archival research into the current NK 414 has shown that the sculpture at issue was bought by Galerie F. Valentin of Stuttgart during the war at one of the following three Amsterdam art dealerships: M. Mogrobi, J.M. Morpurgo or F. Buffa & Zn. Based on source research, it has not been possible to establish from which of these art dealerships the sculpture came. The main indications would seem to point to art dealership F. Buffa & Zn (hereafter referred to as: ‘Buffa’) as the currently claimed sculpture was in fact made during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and Buffa specialised in art of this period. Moreover, it was found that Buffa did in any case possess two Meunier sculptures, one of which was known as a ‘steenenklopper’ (stone-cutter), which was still in Buffa’s trading stock in 1938. It is no longer possible to find out if this reference relates to the currently claimed sculpture, but the Committee considers it not unlikely.

  3. The source referred to in the investigatory report Kunst, kennis en kwaliteit. De Vereeniging van Handelaren in Oude Kunst in Nederland 1911-heden [Art, Knowledge and Quality. The Association of Dealers in Old Masters in the Netherlands, 1911- present] indicates that art dealership M. Mogrobi dealt in ’antiques’, as did art dealership J.M. Morpurgo, whose specialities included porcelain, silver and pottery, according to the source. Neither art dealership specialised in late nineteenth-century art as was the case with art dealership Buffa. In response to the draft investigatory report, applicant Mogrobi has confirmed that the claimed sculpture NK 414 is ‘atypical’ for the trading stock of art dealership M. Mogrobi.

  4. The assessment of the claim concentrates on the question of whether ownership rights to the artwork NK 414 of either art dealership Joseph M. Morpurgo or Louis Morpurgo in a private capacity, or art dealership M. Mogrobi have been proven with a high degree of probability. The Ekkart Committee’s eighth recommendation of 2001 states that the right to ownership must be proved with a high degree of probability and that there should be no indications that contradict this assumption.

  5. The Committee concludes that this criterion has not been met. It has not been made plausible that the currently claimed sculpture NK 414 belonged to art dealership Joseph M. Morpurgo or to Louis Morpurgo in a private capacity or to art dealership M. Mogrobi during the war. On the contrary, the investigation found strong evidence that art dealership Buffa owned the object in question. The Committee therefore concludes that the applications of both applicant Morpurgo II and applicant Mogrobi for the restitution of NK 414 should be rejected.

CONCLUSION

The Restitutions Committee advises the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science to reject both the application of A.M.J. and the application of W.G. for the restitution of the nineteenth-century bronze statue by C.E. Meunier (NK 414), known by the name of Steenhouwer [Stonemason].

Adopted on 13 April 2011 by W.J.M. Davids (chair), J.Th.M. Bank, P.J.N. van Os, D.H.M. Peeperkorn, E.J. van Straaten, H.M. Verrijn Stuart, I.C. van der Vlies (vice-chairman) and signed by the chair and the secretary.

(W.J.M. Davids, chair)      (E. Campfens, secretary)