China 'Famille Rose' plate with flower vase decor

Recommendation regarding the application for restitution of a China 'Famille Rose' plate with flower vase decor (NK 504)

Recommendation number: 
1.63
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
7 January 2008
Period loss of possession: 
1940-1945
Private owner/art dealer: 
Art dealership
Location of loss: 
The Netherlands

In a letter dated 8 March 2007, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (hereafter referred to as ‘the Minister’) asked the Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War (hereafter referred to as ‘the Restitutions Committee’) to issue a recommendation regarding the application submitted by M.M.v.L. in R. (hereafter referred to as ‘the applicant’) on behalf of herself and her sister L.v.O. for the restitution of a China 'Famille Rose' plate with flower vase decor that was formerly part of the trading stock of the art dealership Kunsthandel A. van Leeuwen & Zoon (hereafter also referred to as ‘art dealership Van Leeuwen’). Since its return to the Netherlands after the Second World War, the claimed object has been part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereafter referred to as ‘NK collection’) under inventory number NK 504. According to information from the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (hereafter referred to as ‘the ICN’) it is now part of the collection at Kasteel Groeneveld in Baarn.

The procedure

The reason for the application for restitution was a letter sent to the applicant on 12 January 2007 by the Origins Unknown Agency (hereafter referred to as ‘BHG’) informing her that the above-mentioned object had possibly been part of the trading stock of the art dealership Van Leeuwen during the Second World War. Based on this, the applicant sent the Minister a letter dated 4 February 2007 requesting the restitution of the work of art in question. In response to the request for recommendation that was subsequently submitted, the Restitutions Committee instituted a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were summarised in a draft report dated 6 August 2007. This draft report was submitted to the applicant, to which she added her own memories and some additional facts in an email dated 2 October 2007. This information together with further investigatory findings was included in the investigatory report adopted in the committee meeting on 7 January 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 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. The applicant requests the restitution of the object a China 'Famille Rose' plate with flower vase decor (NK 504). The applicant is the daughter of the late Alexander Isaäc van Leeuwen, who was a partner at the V.O.F. A. Van Leeuwen & Zoon in The Hague. In her application for restitution, the applicant stated that she was acting in the name of herself and her father’s remaining heirs. As to this fact, the Restitutions Committee has taken cognisance of information from the Central Bureau for Genealogy (CBG) which showed the following. Abraham van Leeuwen was born in The Hague on 9 January 1877 and died in Loenersloot on 13 August 1963. He was married to Esther de Vries and had three children, namely Judith, Alida and Alexander Isaäc. According to information from the CBG, Alexander Isaäc van Leeuwen was born in The Hague on 4 July 1910 and died in Zoetermeer on 19 August 1998. He was married to J.G. van O. and had three daughters, namely M. (applicant), P. (died on 7 February 2000) and L. (co-applicant). The Van Leeuwen family is of Jewish extraction.

  2. The relevant facts are listed in the investigatory report dated 7 January 2008, a summary of which is given below. The V.O.F. A. van Leeuwen & Zoon was registered at the Trade Register of the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce and Factories in The Hague (hereafter referred to as ‘the Trade Register’) on 8 March 1939. According to the company file found in the Trade Register archive, the company was located at Oranjestraat 1 in The Hague and had been in operation since 1 January 1939. It was a company trading in new and second-hand furniture in the broadest sense.

    The following persons were registered as partners of the firm:
    a. Abraham van Leeuwen, born in The Hague on 9 January 1877, residing in The Hague (hereafter referred to as ‘Van Leeuwen Sr’); and
    b. Alexander Isaäc van Leeuwen, born in The Hague on 4 July 1910, residing in The Hague (hereafter referred to as ‘Van Leeuwen Jr’).

  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, the German Dr F. Hübner was appointed Verwalter of the art dealership Van Leeuwen on 27 November 1941.

  4. The Restitutions Committee’s search in the Nationaal Archief and The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation yielded little information on art dealership Van Leeuwen & Zoon during the Second World War. The only archive sources containing information on the events at the company during the war are post-war correspondence between Verwalter Hübner and his lawyer and a post-war overview of Hübner’s administration of art dealership Van Leeuwen, compiled at the behest of the Netherlands Property Administration Institute (hereafter referred to as NBI).

  5. In addition to the archive materials mentioned in 5, the Restitutions Committee has two written accounts of telephone conversations with the applicant that were drawn up by a BHG employee. Below are two quotes from these accounts concerning the situation during the war:

    ‘Mrs V.L. said that her father was still working in the business at the beginning of the war. Whenever a potentially dangerous situation arose, for example when Germans came by, Alexander van Leeuwen’s employees alerted him and he took cover in a small space between two floors until all was clear. He survived the war by going into hiding. (...) His wife, Van Leeuwen’s mother, was not Jewish. (...) Mr Van Leeuwen spent the war in hiding in and outside The Hague, at various underground addresses’.

    ‘According to Mrs V.L., the Verwalter sold everything in the old trading stock during the war, without permission. (...) “My mother said to me: everything was taken by that Verwalter. My sister knows that, my cousin too…”.’

  6. Both partners of art dealership Van Leeuwen survived the war. After the occupation ended, they continued the company. The Trade Register archives show that the V.O.F. A. Van Leeuwen & Zoon was disbanded on 19 July 1957 due to the resignation of one of the partners, Abraham van Leeuwen. On 19 July 1957 A.I. van Leeuwen continued the company on his own under the same company name. On 1 January 1965, the one-man business became a general partnership under the name Firma A. van Leeuwen en Zoon, the partners being Alexander Isaäc van Leeuwen and his wife J.G. van Leeuwen. According to the applicant’s statement, Firma A. van Leeuwen en Zoon was finally closed down when Alexander Isaäc van Leeuwen retired.

  7. The investigation has revealed the following facts with regard to the ownership of the claimed object (NK 504). BHG’s reconstruction of the provenance of NK 504 shows that A. van Leeuwen & Zoon partnership sold the plate to the Münchener Kunsthandelsgesellschaft (Munich Art Dealership) in Munich, Germany during the war. Exactly when during the war the sale took place is unknown, nor was BHG able to ascertain when and from whom art dealership Van Leeuwen acquired the plate. Consequently, the Restitutions Committee has not been able to determine whether the claimed object belonged to the old trading stock (bought by the owner) or the new trading stock (bought by the Verwalter). The applicant, however, stated that one of the partners had bought the claimed object before May 1940 and that it was therefore part of the old trading stock. The investigation in question subsequently turned up information that backs up the applicant’s statement, in particular regarding the Verwalter himself and the fact that the art dealership had a warehouse that supplied the Verwalter with articles to sell. Further information on this is contained in the investigatory report. The Restitutions Committee therefore deems it highly probable that the claimed objet d’art was part of the old trading stock of the art dealership Van Leeuwen.

  8. The Committee also investigated whether there were any indications to suggest that it was highly likely that this is a case of involuntary loss of possession as stipulated in the Recommendations for the Art Trade 4 and 6 issued by the Ekkart Committee. In accordance with these recommendations, the Restitutions Committee’s first concern was to ascertain whether one of the partners had ever submitted a claim on the sale of the plate after the war. However, a search of the SNK archive turned up nothing to that effect. According to the above recommendations, in the absence of claim forms, the required high degree of probability can also be assumed if the object was sold by a Verwalter. As stated before, the claimed object was bought by the Münchener Kunsthandelsgesellschaft during the war, which, according to information from the Facts and Files research agency in Berlin, was established in 1939 by the Kameradschaft der Künstler München (Munich Artists’ Fellowship) to ‘Aryanise’ the famous Jewish art dealership L. Bernheimer. Chair of the Kameradschaft was Adolf Wagner, the Gauleiter of the NSDAP in Munich. In the Committee’s opinion, the applicant has made a sufficiently plausible case that her father did not deal with these institutions as a matter of principle, and therefore, the Committee concludes that the work can only have been sold by the Verwalter without the owner’s permission and that it is highly likely that he did not fully profit from the transaction. Given these circumstances, the Committee believes that the loss of possession should be considered involuntary and due to the Nazi regime.

Conclusion

The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister to return the China 'Famille Rose' plate with flower vase decor (NK 504) to the heirs of Abraham van Leeuwen and Alexander Isaäc van Leeuwen.

Adopted at the meeting of 7 January 2008,

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)

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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.