Heppner

Recommendation regarding Heppner

Recommendation number: 
1.79
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
9 March 2009

In a letter dated 4 May 2007, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (hereafter referred to as: the Minister) requested the Restitutions Committee to issue a recommendation regarding the application for restitution of the painting Paintress and servant in a studio by J. Voorhout I. After its return to the Netherlands after World War II, this work of art became part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereafter referred to as: the NK collection) under inventory number NK 1973. NK 1973 is currently housed in the depot of the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage in Rijswijk.

THE PROCEDURE

In a letter dated 23 March 2007, M.B. (A.) H. (hereafter referred to as: the applicant) submitted an application for restitution of NK 1973 to the Minister. The reason for the claim was a publication on the website of the Origins Unknown Agency (hereafter referred to as: BHG) which stated that Albert Heppner owned NK 1973 during World War II. The applicant’s claim originally included a second work, the painting Wooded landscape with herd near a pond by J.S. van Ruysdael (previously: NK 2653). In a letter dated 4 May 2007, the Minister informed the applicant that the restitution of this work was not possible, the reason being that it had already been returned to a third party, on the recommendation of the Restitutions Committee (RC 1.41).
On the basis of the Minister’s request for a recommendation regarding NK 1973, the Committee instigated a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were included in a draft investigatory report dated 6 October 2008. This draft report was sent to the Ministry and the applicant on 30 October 2008, with a request for additional information or comments. The applicant responded to the draft report in letters dated 17 November 2008 and 2 December 2008. He also provided additional documentation regarding the Heppner family’s life during the war. The report was subsequently adopted during the meeting of 9 March 2009. For the facts of the case, the Committee refers to the investigatory report.
During the procedure, the applicant was represented before the Committee by M.H. Stötzel, a lawyer based in Marburg (Germany).

CONSIDERATIONS

    1. The applicant stated that: ‘[he is] the only son and the direct heir of the late Dr. Albert Heppner’s estate, including his artwork respectively the assets from his company A. Heppner art dealers’. The Committee sees no evidence in the inheritance documents submitted, in particular the certificate of inheritance concerning Albert Heffner and his widow’s will, to question the applicant’s status as the son and heir of Albert Heppner.

    2. The following is a summary of the facts in the investigatory report of 9 March 2009. Albert Heppner (hereafter referred to as: Heppner) was born in Berlin on 28 September 1900 and was of Jewish descent. He married Irene Marianne Krämer in 1927. On account of their Jewish background, the couple emigrated to the Netherlands in 1933. Heppner established an art dealership ‘A. Heppner’ in Amsterdam. According to the applicant, Heppner and his family attempted to escape to the United States after the German invasion, to no avail. The applicant states that Heppner’s ‘business activities legally ended in 1940’ because of anti-Jewish measures taken by the Nazis, but that he continued dealing illegally in art on a small scale.

    3. With the help of two men acting as fronts, Heppner is said to have then set up the ‘aryan’ art dealership ‘Wicoram’ in Amsterdam, apparently operating behind the scenes in a leading position. According to the applicant, ‘Wicoram’ sold paintings belonging to Heppner between 1941 and 1944. After another, likewise unsuccessful, attempt to flee the country, Heppner and his family went into hiding in August 1942, where they remained until the end of the war. In November 1942, the firm ‘A. Heppner’ was placed under the administration of a Verwalter and liquidated. Heppner died shortly after the war. His widow and son then emigrated to the United States. ‘Wicoram’ was disbanded on 1 January 1965. It is not known who the legal successors of this firm were.

    4. The applicant stated that the currently claimed painting NK 1973 was part of ‘the Heppner-collection at the time, when A. Heppner had to face severe threatenings and persecution measurements and had to bear massif losses by confiscation’. On the basis of a collection of 178 ‘art catalogue cards, detailing Albert Heppner’s inventory, 1933-1941’ in the Jewish Museum of Maryland in the United States, the applicant states that Heppner had this painting in his possession and sold it to an unknown buyer on 15 July 1941.

    5. The card system referred to in consideration 4 contains an index card concerning the currently claimed painting on which is written, probably in Heppner’s handwriting, ‘Prov.: Mr. Schretlen, A’dam, 29-4-‘41’, which seem to suggest that Heppner (art dealers) acquired the painting on the said date from art dealer M.J. Schretlen at Herengracht 390 in Amsterdam. Photo documentation at the Netherlands Institute for Art History also shows that the painting was in the hands of ‘Ksth. Dr. A. Heppner, A’dam’ in 1941.

    6. The card referred to in consideration 5 also contains the entry ‘K. 15-7-‘41’, which seems to suggest that the painting was sold on 15 July 1941. The card does not name the buyer, but information from the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK) suggests that this was a Dutch art collector, A.C.J.A. Stoecker of Amsterdam. On an SNK declaration form completed after the war, Stoecker gave the provenance of the painting as: ‘Dr. Heppner’.

    7. Heppner may have sold the painting through the art dealership ‘Wicoram’, which had been established shortly beforehand (in June 1941), though it is equally likely that he sold it directly. The card mentioned in consideration 5 gives what appears to be a sales price, written in code, though neither the amount nor what happened to this sum is known. The card also gives another amount, NLG 2,800, but what this refers to is likewise unknown.

    8. The results of the investigation show that Stoecker sold the work at some point and that eventually, after several successive transactions, it was purchased by a German buyer in 1944 for the Führermuseum which was to be established in Linz (Austria). After the war, the painting was returned to the Netherlands.

    9. Heppner’s business activities in 1941 and later should, in the applicant’s view, be regarded as ‘a simple matter of an attempt to just survive the deadly menace, since he and his family could not escape from Holland any more’. According to the applicant, any profits Heppner made through the sale of the paintings in the years after 1940 he had to use to finance his escape attempts and to meet the cost of living in hiding, as well as to provide for ‘the bare necessities during these years’. This, therefore, also applies to the currently claimed painting sold in 1941, according to the applicant.

    10. As far as is known, Heppner (or the Heppner family) did not report the claimed painting to the SNK as missing after the war and there was no correspondence with the family about a possible restitution after the work was returned to the Netherlands. The family did, however, report the loss of several other paintings, which were said to have been seized in or around November 1941.

    11. Regarding the ownership of NK 1973, the Committee considers the following. Available archival records provide sufficient basis to assume that Heppner bought the claimed painting on 29 April 1941 and then sold it again on 15 July 1941, either directly or through ‘Wicoram’. The card in Heppner’s catalogue referred to in considerations 5 and 6 gives these dates. Moreover, other information concerning the provenance history of the work of art to which the Committee has access also points to Heppner. The Committee therefore deems it sufficiently plausible that Heppner did possess this work and that it passed out of his possession through sale. Following on from this, the Committee finds that the claimed painting should be regarded as old trading stock, seeing as Heppner bought it before the Verwalter referred to in consideration 3 was placed in charge of art dealership ‘A. Heppner’. Pursuant to current restitution policy in respect of the trading of art, restitution is only possible for goods that belonged to old trading stock.

    12. The Committee then investigated whether there was any evidence making it very likely that loss of possession was involuntary, as referred to in the Ekkart Committee’s Recommendations for the Art Trade 4, 5 and 6. In the absence of declaration forms indicating involuntary loss of possession, as in the case of Heppner, the required high degree of probability can also be assumed if the applicants can prove it was a case of theft, confiscation or coercion.

    13. With regard to Heppner’s loss of possession, the Committee finds that this case involves a sale by the owner, directly or with the help of front men of the art dealership ‘Wicoram’, to a Dutch art collector, while with regard to this sale, no evidence was found of any direct threat or a sale under duress by the Nazis. The Committee finds that both the purchase of the work during the war (in 1941) and the sale less than three months later is in line with normal art dealing practice, which centres on the sale of trading stock and where works of art often change hands after short periods. The Committee is of the opinion that losing possession of a work in this way does not imply that the loss was involuntary or that it took place as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. The applicant’s viewpoint as cited in consideration 9 does not, in the Committee’s opinion, suffice to review its position with regard to this sale.

    CONCLUSION

      The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to reject the application for the restitution of painting Paintress and servant in a studio by J. Voorhout I (NK 1973).

      Adopted at the meeting of 9 March 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. David, chair)   (E. Campfens, secretary)