Larsen

NK1412 (Photo: RCE)

Recommendation regarding Larsen

Recommendation number: 
1.70
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
1 July 2009
Period loss of possession: 
1940-1945
Private owner/art dealer: 
Private individual
Location of loss: 
The Netherlands

(case number RC 1.70)

In a letter dated 10 April 2007, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (hereafter referred to as: ‘the Minister’) requested the Restitutions Committee to issue a recommendation regarding twelve works of art. These are paintings by Jan van Goyen, Nicolaes Berchem, Thomas de Keyser and others that were returned to the Netherlands from Germany after World War II, becoming part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereafter referred to as: ‘NK collection’). The works have the following NK inventory numbers: NK 1410, NK 1412, NK 1414, NK 1417, NK 1420, NK 1424, NK 1428, NK 1441, NK 1447, NK 1451, NK 2243 and NK 2463. The claimed works are currently housed in the depot of the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN) and in various museums in the Netherlands.

THE PROCEDURE

In a letter dated 12 March 2007, AA, BB, CC, DD, EE and FF, all resident in the United States, submitted an application to the Minister for the restitution of twelve paintings that were said to have belonged to Hans Ludwig Larsen’s collection. The claim was prompted by a letter sent to J.S. and others in 2007 by the Origins Unknown Agency (hereafter referred to as: ‘BHG’) about paintings from the collection of her grandfather Hans Ludwig Larsen (hereafter referred to as: ‘Larsen’) found in the NK collection.
Following the Minister’s request for a recommendation, the Committee instigated a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were included in a draft investigatory report dated 25 June 2007. This draft report was sent to AA on 5 November 2007 with a request for comments. In a letter written on 25 April 2008, AA stated that she would henceforth be acting on her own behalf and that of BB, CC and DD (and no longer on behalf of EE and FF). Subsequently, the Committee corresponded separately with EE and FF, but the latter informed the Committee in an email of 9 June 2008 that he wished to withdraw as applicant.
In the letter of 25 April 2008 referred to above, AA responded to the draft investigatory report on behalf of BB, CC and DD, giving additional information. In a letter dated 16 June 2008, EE provided information about his status as heir (see consideration 1 for details). The information and documentation supplied by the applicants as well as the results of an additional investigation conducted by the Committee were incorporated into the investigatory report, which was adopted on 1 July 2009. For the facts of the case, the Committee refers to the investigatory report.
The object NK 2463 was also part of an application for restitution concerning the art dealership Firma D. Katz of Dieren (RC 1.90-A). The Committee was obliged to defer its recommendation in the present case until the investigation of NK 2463 was also completed. The applicants were informed about this in the draft investigatory report and in a letter of 28 October 2008. After concluding its investigation, the Committee rejected the claim to NK 2463 regarding the art dealership Firma D. Katz. The Committee refers to the text of the recommendation in RC 1.90-A for its decision in that case. NK 2463 will therefore be included in this recommendation.

CONSIDERATIONS

  1. The applicants request the restitution of twelve paintings that are said to have been part of Larsen’s art collection. Hans Ludwig Larsen (1892-1937) was married to Susanne Menzel (1911-2001). The couple had two children, Harald Eduard (1933-1987) and Ingrid Louise (1935-1985). The applicants AA, BB, CC and DD state that they are Larsen’s grandchildren. Based on statements and legal inheritance documents, the Committee has no reason to doubt their status as Larsen’s heirs. The applicant EE stated that he is a stepson of Larsen’s daughter. In connection with this, the Committee notes that the information EE provided does not indicate that he is an heir of Larsen.

  2. The relevant facts are described in the investigatory report dated 1 July 2009. The following is a summary. Larsen and his wife were Jewish, hailing from Germany and Austria, respectively. The Larsen couple lived in the Netherlands, at any rate from 1930 on. Larsen owned a business dealing in chemicals, known by the name of Wijnhoff, Van Gulpen & Larsen N.V., abbreviated as Wijgula. He also owned a private art collection. Larsen died in 1937. In his last will dated 16 March 1937, Larsen appointed his children as his heirs, a third part of each child’s inheritance being encumbered with usufruct, which he bequeathed to his wife Susanne Menzel (hereafter referred to as: ‘Menzel’). Furthermore, in said will, Larsen named Mr GG, Mr HH (who died in 1944, and who was later replaced by Mr II in 1945), Mr JJ, Dr KK and Mr LL as executors of his will (hereafter referred to as ‘the executors’). Menzel and her children acquired Dutch nationality in 1939, and due to the threat posed by the Nazi regime in Germany, the family moved to the United States in that same year. Before leaving, Menzel loaned thirty-one paintings and a sculpture from the estate to Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden (hereafter referred to as: ‘De Lakenhal’). Among these were the twelve works now claimed by the applicants.

  3. The documentation about the ownership and loss of possession of the paintings in question is complete. The Committee deems the identification of the claimed works of art to be conclusive. After the German invasion, the parts of Larsen’s estate that were still in the Netherlands, including the works loaned to De Lakenhal, were considered enemy property by the occupying authorities, after which they were placed under the administration of Mr M.H.H. Franssen, a ‘Verwalter’ appointed by the Germans. In late 1942, Franssen had the artworks that had been given on loan to the De Lakenhal collected with a view to having them sold at public auction. Before this took place, however, twelve artworks were purchased privately by one of Adolf Hitler’s buyers, Dr E. Göpel, on 14 January 1943. Initially, the sales price for these twelve paintings was the same as the assessed value of NLG 126,500, but this was later unilaterally reduced by the occupying forces to NLG 75,000. The remaining artworks went under the hammer on 25 January 1943. Nine of the currently claimed paintings are part of the group purchased by Hitler, and three are part of the group sold at auction. Judging from an annotated auction catalogue of 25 January 1943, the buyers paid a total of NLG 17,275 for these three artworks that were auctioned off (NLG 8,500 for NK 1447, NLG 7,800 for NK 1451 and NLG 975 for NK 2243). Although no currency is specified in the investigation details, the Committee considers it highly likely that all sums given here are in Dutch guilders.

  4. As for the question whether the Committee can recommend restitution, it is important to know whether loss of possession of the claimed paintings was involuntary due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. The Committee concludes that the works were removed from the executors’ control by placing them under the administration of a Verwalter appointed by the Germans, who then had them sold at auction. However, before the auction, a number of these artworks were purchased at Hitler’s behest at a purchase price below the assessed value. The Committee concludes that this procedure constitutes involuntary loss of possession.

  5. The proceeds of the sale to Hitler and those of the auctioned works were added to Larsen’s estate by the Verwalter who administered it. After the war, the Verwalter stated the following with regard to this:

    Vermogen LARSEN was groot ongeveer 1.600.000 gulden, het heeft onder mijn beheer een belangrijke aanwas ondergaan. Ik heb het vermogen tot aan de bevrijding onder mijn beheer gehouden en dit niet aan de Treuhand overgedragen. (...) Alle belanghebbenden hebben hun vermogen met aanwas en renten terugontvangen.

    [The Larsen estate totalled roughly NLG 1,600,000. Under my stewardship it experienced significant growth. I administered the estate until the Liberation and did not transfer it to Treuhand. (...) All interested parties got their property back with increased value and interest.]

    During the war, the Verwalter transferred the daily administration to the office of H.J. Vooren in The Hague, concerning which a post-war report, probably drawn up by the Political Investigation Section, states:

    Niet afgewikkeld is het beheer over het (..) privé-vermogen van H.L. Larsen, dat plusminus f 1.600.000,-- groot was. De afwikkeling daarvan werd opzettelijk tegengegaan door het kantoor H.J. Vooren, Korte Vijverberg 2A, ’s-Gravenhage, waar dit vermogen, ook gedurende het beheer van Franssen, in administratie was. Zodoende kon worden verhinderd, dat dit aanzienlijk vermogen in Duitse handen kwam.

    [The administration of the (..) private estate of H.L. Larsen, which was worth approx. NLG 1,600,000, was not settled. This was deliberately thwarted by the office of H.J. Vooren, Korte Vijverberg 2A, The Hague, where this estate was also administered under the stewardship of Franssen. This prevented this sizable estate from falling into German hands.]

  6. While the Committee found no accounts of the executors of the estate during its investigation evidencing the receipt and the total sales proceeds, it did find letters from the executors from which this information can be inferred. After the war, in a declaration to the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK), the executors indicated that the money received for the paintings during the war had been kept and had not fallen into German hands. In a letter to the SNK dated 28 December 1946, the executors wrote:

    De desbetreffende gelden zijn door een toevallige omstandigheid gered, zoodat wij in dit geval niet behoeven te volstaan met een cessie van vorderingen op het een of andere roofinstituut der Duitsche bezetting.

    [The relevant moneys were opportunely saved, so that, in this case, we do not need to limit ourselves to an assignment of claims against some German looting body.]

    In this letter, the executors specified sums that correspond to the sales proceeds named in consideration 3. They said on this subject:

    Ontvangen van het Rijkscommissariaat voor de Dr. Goepel overgenomen schilderijen (..) f 75.000,-- (..). Opbrengst in de veiling (..) N. Berchem (..) f 8.500,-- (..) Vermeer van Haarlem (..) f 3.400,--.

    [Received from the Rijkscommissariaat (Reichs commissionership) for the paintings acquired by Dr Goepel (…) NLG 75,000 (..). Proceeds of the auction (..) N. Berchem (..) NLG 8,500 (..) Vermeer van Haarlem (..) NLG 3,400].

    The works they refer to as ‘N. Berchem’ and ‘Vermeer van Haarlem’ are consistent with NK 1447 and NK 1451, respectively. These are two of the three works now claimed that were among those in the auction in 1943. At that point, the current NK 2243 was not under discussion and was not identified as former property of Larsen until much later. In their letter accompanying the ‘Vermeer van Haarlem’, the executors recorded far lower proceeds than the sales sum given in the annotated auction catalogue of 1943 (NLG 3,400 instead of NLG 7,800). The reason for this is not known. Furthermore, in connection with the two auctioned works, they included an item auction costs of NLG 1,844.50 (15.5 %) as well as an item valuation costs, probably associated with this same auction, which amounted to NLG 2,070.

  7. With reference to considerations 3, 5 and 6, taken together, the Committee is convinced that after the war, the executors received the proceeds of the sale of the twelve claimed artworks, in favour of Larsen’s estate.

  8. According to correspondence available to the Committee, after the war, the executors first sought to regain possession of the works recovered from Germany that were formerly owned by Larsen. This concerned eleven of the twelve works now claimed (the current NK 2243 has only recently been identified as having belonged to Larsen). In the period from 1945 to 1947, the executors contacted the SNK on several occasions regarding these eleven works. In the letter to the SNK of 28 December 1946 mentioned in consideration 6, the executors stated the following:

    Al deze schilderijen waren bekend als te behooren tot een z.g. Joodsche verzameling, en zijn door Uw goede zorgen, waarvoor wij U uiterst dankbaar zijn, uit Duitschland teruggebracht. Wij verzoeken in onze rechten tegenover deze schilderijen te worden hersteld onder aanbod onzerzijds om terug te betalen aan den rechthebbende al hetgeen aan de boedel voor deze schilderijen is ten goede gekomen.

    [All these paintings are known to have belonged to what is known as a Jewish collection, which, thanks to your great care, for which we are very grateful, have been returned from Germany. We request restoration of our rights to these paintings in return for an offer on our part to recompense the rightful person for all that the paintings from this estate have accrued.]

    In reply to this letter, the SNK declared that it was prepared to transfer to the executors the recovered works that were part of Larsen’s estate, in return for payment of the proceeds of the works purchased at Hitler’s behest and the two works sold at auction, plus the costs of recovery and management. The SNK did not allow the deduction of the valuation costs quoted by the executors, which were (probably) incurred in connection with the auction in 1943. Then, in 1947, the executors had the works in question valuated, and then informed the SNK in a letter dated 23 July 1947 that, on reflection, they did not wish to take up the offer made to them:

    Executeurs in de nalatenschap Larsen zijn na herhaalde overweging tot de slotsom gekomen, dat zij beter doen te berusten in de plaats gehad hebbende vervreemding der schilderijen en derhalve af te zien van rechtsherstel.

    [The executors of the Larsen estate have come to the conclusion after repeated deliberation that they can better resign themselves to the alienation of the paintings and therefore abandon their claim for restitution.]

    In 1949, the SNK sent a following letter requesting information from the executors about one of the paintings that had belonged to Larsen, the current NK 2463. In their reply, the executors said that they had already:

    van rechtsherstel inzake de verschillende schilderijen, die wij oorspronkelijk gereclameerd hadden (..), afzagen.

    [abandoned their claim for restitution concerning the various paintings that we originally claimed]

    The SNK then stamped this letter ‘vroeg. eigen. claimt niet’ [‘former owner is not making a claim.]

  9. Larsen’s heirs, his son and daughter, had lived in the United States with their mother Susanne Menzel (Larsen’s widow) since 1939. Susanne Menzel married again, to Frank Brower (hereafter referred to as: ‘Brower’). After the war, Menzel and Brower visited the Netherlands to settle Larsen’s estate. A report sent in by the applicants (‘Larsen Family Account’) contains the following passage about Menzel and Brower’s efforts: Together they embarked on a long effort to regain control of the Larsen estate. Old correspondence left by Frank [Brower] indicates that by 1948 he was able to restore control over the shipping business and subsequently began working to energize and stabilize the business. According to Frank, who was fluent in Dutch, the Executors did not manage the business properly, and it took him many years of hands-on effort to stabilize the business and to arrange for its sale around 1956. According to the applicants, Larsen’s estate was probably settled in mid-1956. The Committee believes that this date may be related to the fact that that was the year in which Larsen’s children reached the age of majority.

  10. With regard to the admissibility of the applicants, the Committee considers the following. In their letter of 25 April 2008, the applicants said about the executor who corresponded with the SNK on behalf of the other executors ‘that the executor, Mr. JJ was not authorized to make decisions on restitution efforts in 1945-1947’. According to the applicants, the heirs were not consulted after the war about the executors’ decision to abandon the possibility of buying back the artworks. As the applicants stated in their letter of 25 April 2008:

    No evidence has been discovered of any JJ’s prior consultation either with the HH's, or with the Larsen heirs, before writing to the SNK in July 1947 to abandon restitution efforts.

    The Committee also found no evidence in correspondence from that period showing that the family had been involved in the executors’ decision. It is possible that the above-mentioned contact Menzel and Brower had with the executors after the war was focused on Larsen’s business.

  11. While the Committee considers that waiving restitution upon payment of the sale price received during the war may, from a pragmatic point of view, have been a deliberate choice on the part of the executors, it is certainly possible that the heirs (or, given that they were minors, their legal representative/representatives) would have decided otherwise on account of their emotional attachment to the paintings in their deceased father’s collection. The Committee considers that by today’s standards, the heirs should have been consulted about the decision to give up the works. The Committee is therefore of the opinion that the choice of the executors concerning eleven of the twelve claimed works does not stand in the way of the current application for restitution. The twelfth claimed painting, NK 2243, has only recently been identified as being the former property of Larsen and there are no indications that there were any contacts between the SNK and the executors about this work. With reference to the first recommendation of the Ekkart Committee regarding private art property, the Committee therefore concludes that this case cannot be considered to have been settled in the past and therefore deems the applicants’ request admissible.

  12. The Committee discussed whether, in connection with the proceeds from the sale received at the time, a payment obligation should be imposed in return for the restitution of the claimed works. In this context, the Committee refers to the fourth recommendation of the Ekkart Committee of April 2001, which stipulates that an obligation for repayment only applies if and to the extent that the then seller or his or her heirs actually obtained the free disposal of the proceeds. In their letter of 25 April 2008, the applicants declared that the proceeds of the sold works did not accrue to the family in the United States. As stated in consideration 7, investigation has shown that the sales proceeds came under the control of the executors of Larsen’s estate.

  13. The Committee is of the opinion that, given the fact that the executors as appointed by Larsen in his will received the proceeds of the sale, these did fall to the property of the heirs, and it must therefore be concluded that the heirs obtained free disposal of the sale proceeds. As to what occurred after the war with regard to the settlement of Larsen’s estate, the Committee considers this a matter that goes beyond its policy framework. For that reason alone, the applicants’ defence that the family in the US did not receive the sales proceeds cannot succeed. On those grounds, the Committee believes that repayment of the sales proceeds is legitimate in return for restitution of the claimed artworks.

  14. This repayment should, in principle, consist of the sales prices received at the time, adjusted according to the general price index. As the sales amounts can no longer be retrieved in all cases, repayment will, in those cases, have to be made up of the assessed values quoted in connection with the auction in 1943, adjusted according to the general price index. Based on the assessed values and sales sums for the twelve claimed works in 1943, and taking into consideration the non-payment of part of the purchase price with regard to the transaction with Göpel and the costs incurred for valuation and auction in 1943, a total of NLG 66,768.25 went to Larsen’s estate. Adjustment using the general price index leads to a sum rounded to EUR 325,000, which amount the Committee will state in its conclusion.[1] The Ekkart Committee’s seventh and eighth Final Recommendations of 14 December 2004 shall apply here.

CONCLUSION

The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to grant the application for restitution by the applicants and to return the artworks NK 1410, NK 1412, NK 1414, NK 1417, NK 1420, NK 1424, NK 1428, NK 1441, NK 1447, NK 1451, NK 2243 and NK 2463 to the persons entitled to the said works. In addition, the Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to impose a payment obligation to the amount of EUR 325,000 in return for the restitution.

Adopted at the meeting of 1 July 2009 by W.J.M. Davids (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.

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

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[1] The calculation is as follows (with reference to considerations 3, 6 and 8). The total assessed value of the works sold at Hitler’s behest before the 1943 auction was NLG 126,500. After the sale, the buyer unilaterally reduced this to NLG 75,000, so that in the end, the buyer paid 59.29% of the assessed value (75,000/126,000). Nine of the claimed works come under this group. Adding up the individual assessed values for these 9 works gives a sum of NLG 97,500, and of this, the sum of NLG 57,807.75 (NLG 97,5000 x 59.29%) based on the 59.29% calculated above was received for the sale to Hitler. The (probable) individual sales prices of the 3 remaining works in the claim are known from the annotated auction catalogue of 1943, viz.: NLG 8,500, NLG 3,400 – the (lower) sum specified by the executors is adhered to here – and NLG 975, a total of NLG 12,875. Added together, the proceeds of the sale to Hitler and those of the auction come to NLG 70,682.75, in favour of Larsen’s estate in 1943. This sum pertains to the 12 claimed artworks. From the calculated sum, the Committee subtracts auction costs of NLG 1,844.50 and valuation costs of NLG 2,070, which were probably incurred in connection with the 1943 auction and which will have kept the final proceeds down. The sum that will ultimately have been received from the sales is therefore set at NLG 66,768.25. An adjustment of NLG 66,768.25 in 1943 gives a sum of EUR 324,795.75. The following consumer price index series were used for this adjustment: 1900 = 100; 1940 = 153; 1950 = 312; 2008 = 2,493. These figures were supplied by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) on 29 April 2009. The multiplication factor that can be determined from these figures is 10.72 (2,493/232.50), where 232.50 is the average price index figure for the years 1940-1950). The associated indexation sum is NLG 715,755.64, which corresponds to EUR 324,795.75, at the exchange rate of EUR 1 = NLG 2.20371.