Art dealership Rubens

Recommendation regarding Rubens

Recommendation number: 
1.64
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
6 May 2008
Period loss of possession: 
1940-1945
Private owner/art dealer: 
Art dealership
Location of loss: 
The Netherlands

In letters dated 21 March 2007 and 25 June 2007, 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 applications for restitution submitted by A.H.M. of A., L.J.J.-R. of H. and A.v.d.S. of L., F. respectively.

These three applications concern the following objects:[1]

NK 182: earthenware dish;
NK 194 A-F: six plates;
NK 208 A-B: two coffee pots;
NK 230 A-E: set of decorative vases;
NK 339 A-F: six plates;
NK 417: ‘Prince’s plate’;
NK 418: plate;
NK 421 A-B: cup and saucer;
NK 422 A-D: four plates;
NK 449: plate;
NK 453: slide.

The applicants claim that these objects belonged to the former trading stock of art dealership L. Rubens in The Hague (hereafter referred to as ‘art dealership Rubens’). 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 ‘NK collection’) under the abovementioned inventory numbers and are currently housed in various museums in the Netherlands or in the depot of the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage in Rijswijk (hereafter referred to as ‘ICN’).

The procedure

The application for restitution was prompted by the correspondence with the Origins Unknown Agency (hereafter referred to as ‘BHG’) concerning the aforementioned objects. A.H.M. (hereafter referred to as ‘applicant 1’) and L.J.J.-R. (hereafter referred to as ‘applicant 2’) submitted their respective applications for restitution to the Minister on 9 February 2007 and 8 May 2007. The undated application submitted by A.v.d.S. (hereafter referred to as ‘applicant 3’) was received by the Minister on 22 May 2007. Given the mutual nature of the three applications, the Committee combined them on receipt of the Minister’s requests for a recommendation and instituted a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were summarised in a draft report dated 4 February 2008. On 21 February 2008, the draft report was sent to both the Minister and the applicants with a request for additional information. Neither the Minister nor the applicants provided any relevant additional facts. The report was subsequently adopted during the meeting of 6 May 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, 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[2]

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 applicants request restitution of thirty objects from the Dutch national collection, registered under the eleven abovementioned NK numbers. The applicants claim to be the heirs or relatives of Levie Rubens, who was the owner of art dealership Rubens. It is unclear whether the applicants are acting alone or whether they are representing other heirs. The relationships under the law of inheritance between the applicants and Levie Rubens is also unclear (particularly with regard to applicant 3). Given the following, the Committee sees no reason to instigate a more detailed investigation.

  2. The relevant details are described in the investigatory report dated 6 May 2008. For these purposes, the following summary will suffice. Art dealership Rubens was established by Levie Rubens (1872-1942) in Enschede around 1900. The company relocated to The Hague in mid-April 1940. At the time of the German invasion, the art dealership (probably a one-man business) was located at Lange Voorhout 88a.

  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, Frederich Hübner was appointed Verwalter of art dealership Rubens, a fact he registered in the trade register at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry for The Hague (hereafter referred to as ‘the trade register’) on 14 May 1942. After his appointment, Hübner probably combined art dealership Rubens with another art dealership based in The Hague, that of Samuel Alberge.

  4. Levie Rubens was deported to Auschwitz on or around 1 October 1942, together with his wife Jansje de Vries and his daughter Sophia Rubens, where they died on or around 8 October 1942. Hartog Rubens, Levie and Jansje’s son, was the only member of the family to survive the war. Little is known about Hübner’s administration of art dealership. During the allied bombing on 3 March 1945, in which the Bezuidenhout neighbourhood in The Hague was hit, several bombs landed in the vicinity of Lange Voorhout, causing extensive damage to the building in which art dealership Rubens was situated and resulting in a large proportion of the trading stock being lost.

  5. Hartog Rubens returned to The Hague after the liberation, where he discovered what was left of his father’s art dealership. On 5 July 1945, the Military Authorities appointed Hartog Rubens as temporary administrator of his father’s estate, whose art dealership he continued to run. On 26 April 1949, a record was entered into the trade register saying that the administration had ended due to the death of Levie Rubens, whose death could not be registered in the population register until the late 1940s. A record was also made of the fact that, as sole heir, Hartog had taken on the business. On 4 March 1970, art dealership Rubens’ entry in the trade register was deleted. According to details from BHG, Hartog Rubens died on 10 July 1979.

  6. The applicants request restitution of thirty objects, currently registered under the eleven abovementioned NK numbers. Below are the considerations per category.

  7. NK 182, NK 194 A-F, NK 208 A-B, NK 230 A-E, NK 417, NK 418, NK 421 A-B, NK 422 A-D, NK 449 and NK 453.
    With regard to the ownership of the objects registered under the ten abovementioned NK numbers, the investigation has revealed the following. On the basis of the reconstruction of provenance carried out by BHG and other documents found in the archives, the Committee concludes that these objects were probably sold by art dealership Rubens during the war. The Committee investigated whether these works belonged to the old trading stock (that is to say purchased before the appointment of the Verwalter) or the new trading stock (purchased after the appointment of the Verwalter). However, based on the information available, the Committee has been unable to determine when these objects became part of art dealership Rubens’ trading stock. The applicants have also failed to provide any factual information that would indicate that these objects belonged to the old trading stock. Therefore, the Committee has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to indicate whether the objects in question belonged to the old trading stock of art dealership Rubens. In reference to general consideration e, the Committee judges that the application does not meet the conditions for restitution.

  8. NK 339 A-F
    With regard to the ownership of the object registered under the abovementioned NK number, the investigation has revealed the following. It can be concluded from the reconstruction of provenance carried out by BHG and other documents found in the archives that uncertainty exists surrounding the provenance name L. Rubens. Two internal registration forms were found in the archives of the Netherlands Art Property Foundation. With regard to provenance, one of the forms states art dealership Rubens, while the other states art dealership Delaunoy in Amsterdam. The Committee has been unable to determine which statement is correct and has therefore concluded that there is insufficient evidence to indicate that this object was part of art dealership Rubens’ trading stock. The Committee is of the opinion that art dealership Rubens’ ownership of this object is not very likely and that the application does not, therefore, meet the conditions for restitution.

Conclusion

The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to reject the applications for restitution of NK 182, NK 194 A-F, NK 208 A-B, NK 230 A-E, NK 339 A-F, NK 417, NK 418, NK 421 A-B, NK 422 A-D, NK 449 and NK 453.

Adopted at the meeting of 6 May 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.

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

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[1] NK-422 A-D are only named in the claim letter sent by A.H.M.. However, the Committee informed the other two applicants in writing on 19 July 2007 that they assumed that their claims also concern these objects. [2] 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.