Art dealership Staal

Recommendation regarding Staal

Recommendation number: 
1.62
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
7 April 2008
Period loss of possession: 
1940-1945
Private owner/art dealer: 
Art dealership
Location of loss: 
The Netherlands

In a letter dated 12 March 2007, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (OCW) asked the Restitutions Committee to issue a recommendation regarding the application submitted on 15 February 2007 by L.E.S., of P.W., United States of America (hereafter referred to as ‘applicant’) for the restitution of the following objects:

NK 178 A-E: garniture
NK 179 A-E: garniture
NK 225 A-D four plates
NK 447 A-B: two plates
NK 470: goblet
NK 490: amulet
NK 560: tapestry
NK 563: bowl
NK 611: dish
NK 686: tapestry
NK 2313: P.P. Lastman, Mordechai’s Triumph
NK 2506: A. van Beijeren, Still life (forgery)
NK 3225: vase
NK 3400: C.F. Mali, Shepherdess with cattle near a mountain lake

According to the applicant, these objects were part of the original trading stock of Amsterdam art dealership A. Staal (hereafter referred to as ‘art dealership Staal’). 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. Some works are in the depot of the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage in Rijswijk (hereafter referred to as ‘ICN’) and some in various institutions in the Netherlands and abroad.

The procedure

The reason for the application for restitution was a letter from the Origins Unknown Agency (hereafter referred to as ‘BHG’) concerning the above-mentioned objects that had possibly been part of the trading stock of art dealership Staal during the Second World War. In response to the request for recommendation, the Restitutions Committee instituted a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were summarised in a draft report dated 3 September 2007. This draft report was sent to the Minister on 5 October 2007 to give the Minister the opportunity to add information. On the same day, the draft report was also sent to the applicant, who responded to the contents in a letter dated 12 December 2007. The report was adopted on 7 April 2008. For the facts of the case, the Committee refers to this 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 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. The applicant requests the restitution of the following objects in the Dutch National Art Collection: NK 178 A-E, NK 179 A-E, NK 225 A-D, NK 447 A-B, NK 470, NK 490, NK 560, NK 563, NK 611, NK 686, NK 2313, NK 2506, NK 3225 and NK 3400. The applicant has stated that she is the great-granddaughter of the founders of art dealership A. Staal, Abraham Salomon Staal and his wife Betje Staal-Morpurgo, and that she is a great-niece of Salomon Staal, the last owner of the company. The applicant has stated that she is acting ‘on behalf of all the heirs of A. Staal Antiquairs’.

  2. The relevant information is contained in the investigatory report of 7 April 2008. The following summary suffices here. Art dealership Staal was founded by Abraham Salomon Staal (hereafter referred to as ‘Abraham Sr.’) and his wife Betje Staal-Morpurgo. The company had its premises on Rokin 154-156 in Amsterdam. Abraham Sr. died on 18 July 1929. His widow and their sons Salomon and Joseph continued the business as a partnership firm. According to information from the Trade Register of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry for Amsterdam (hereafter referred to as ‘trade register’), as of 14 March 1939, Salomon continued the business on his own under the old company name of A. Staal.

  3. During the Second World War, the German occupying forces in the Netherlands put in place a number of measures designed to successively 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 consequence of the above decree, Friedrich Hübner was appointed Verwalter of art dealership Staal on 29 November 1941. In June 1942, during Hübner’s management, art dealership Staal was sold to C.W.M.M. Zwijns-Swanenburg.

  4. Salomon Staal went into hiding for a while during the war, probably in Woudenberg. His mother Betje Staal-Morpurgo and his sister Elisabeth Staal-Staal and her family were arrested in 1943 and deported by way of Westerbork to Sobibor, where they all perished. Salomons nephew Abraham (Andy) Staal, the applicant’s father, managed to escape arrest and survived the war.

  5. After the liberation, in June 1945, the art dealership was transferred back to Salomon Staal, who had survived the war. Information in the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (hereafter referred to as ‘SNK’) archive showed that Staal probably submitted a declaration of loss of possession of items of cultural value to the SNK. However, during its investigation of the said archive, the Committee did not find any declaration forms concerning individual objects. In correspondence dating from after the war, Salomon Staal indicated that much of the work he had in his company had disappeared during the war. Salomon Staal died on 22 February 1981.

  6. The applicant requests the restitution of 14 objects, currently registered under the above-mentioned NK numbers. Below are explanations per category.

  7. NK 2506
    The investigation has revealed the following facts with regard to the ownership of NK 2506. Based on the BHG’s reconstruction of the provenance and the archive documents found, the Committee concludes that art dealership Staal sold this object during the war. The Committee then attempted to establish whether this work was part of the old trading stock (purchased prior to the appointment of the Verwalter) or the new trading stock (i.e. purchased after the appointment of the Verwalter). The archive material has shown that this work was sold in June/July 1940 by art dealership Staal to Dutch art dealership P. de Boer of Amsterdam. That was before the art dealers were placed under the management of the Verwalter. The object should therefore be considered part of the old trading stock. The Committee then investigated whether there were any indications to suggest that it was highly likely that the sale of this painting during the war was a case of involuntary loss of possession due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. The Committee concludes that in this case, this was a sale to a Dutch art dealership made by the owner himself and prior to the appointment of the Verwalter. Under these circumstances, the Committee believes that involuntary loss of possession due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime has not been made sufficiently plausible. In connection with this opinion, the Committee refers to the explanations to the Recommendation of the Ekkart Committee concerning the art trade (2003) which states that ‘the art trade’s objective is to sell the trading stock so that the majority of the transactions, even at the Jewish art dealers, were principally carried out in the normal way’.

  8. NK 179 A-E, NK 225 A-D, NK 447 A-B, NK 470, NK 563, NK 686, NK 3400
    The investigation has revealed the following facts with regard to the ownership of the objects registered under the above seven NK numbers. Based on the BHG’s reconstruction of the provenance and the archive documents found, the Committee concludes that art dealership Staal sold these objects during the war. The Committee investigated whether these works were part of the old trading stock (i.e. purchased prior to the appointment of the Verwalter) or the new trading stock (purchased after the appointment of the Verwalter). However, on the basis of the currently available facts, the Committee did not succeed in establishing when these objects became part of art dealership Staal’s trading stock. The applicants have not put forward any facts to indicate that these objects belonged to the old trading stock. For this reason, the Committee does not consider it very probable that these objects were part of art dealership Staal’s old trading stock.

  9. NK 178 A-E, NK 490, NK 560, NK 611, NK 2313, NK 3225
    The investigation has revealed the following facts with regard to the ownership of the objects registered under the above six NK numbers. Based on the BHG’s reconstruction of the provenance and the archive documents found, the Committee concludes that insufficient proof has been found that these objects were part of art dealership Staal’s trading stock at any time during the occupation of the Netherlands. The Committee therefore believes that there is insufficient evidence that art dealership Staal owned this object during the occupation.

Conclusion

Based on the above, the Committee concludes that the current information is insufficient and that there are insufficient grounds for granting the application.

The Restitution Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to reject the application for the restitution of NK 178 A-E, NK 179 A-E, NK 225 A-D, NK 447 A-B, NK 470, NK 490, NK 560, NK 563, NK 611, NK 686, NK 2313, NK 2506, NK 3225 and NK 3400.

Adopted at the meeting of 7 April 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 the secretary.

(R. Herrmann, chair)
(E. Campfens, 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.