Schönemann

Recommendation regarding Schönemann

Recommendation number: 
1.81
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
12 October 2009

In a letter dated 14 May 2007, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (hereafter referred to as: ‘the Minister’) requested the Restitutions Committee (hereafter referred to as: ‘the Committee’) to issue a recommendation regarding the application submitted by A.W.M. (hereafter referred to as ‘the applicant’) on 3 April 2007 for the restitution of three works of art in the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereafter referred to as: ‘the NK collection’). According to the applicant, the art dealership of his stepfather Moritz Schönemann involuntarily lost possession of these works during the occupation. The applicant is represented by Imke Gielen, lawyer in Berlin.
The application concerns The archangel Michael and St. Laurence (NK 2082) by an anonymous artist, Landscape with fighting horses and birds (NK 2085) by R.J. Savery and A man-of-war firing a salute: ships in a calm at sunset (NK 2366) by W. van de Velde II. The painting NK 2082 is on loan to the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht, the painting NK 2085 is on loan to Kasteel Doorwerth and NK 2366 is currently housed in the depot of the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage. The last-named painting is also part of another application for restitution (RC 1.90A). The Minister rejected that application in accordance with the Committee’s recommendation on 31 August 2009.

THE PROCEDURE

Together with the application for restitution, the applicant added an investigation report by historian Marian Blumberg of Berlin, dated 29 March 2007. At the Committee’s request, the applicant also provided additional information concerning the ownership and the subsequent loss of possession of the claimed works of art in letters dated 1 August 2008 and 29 October 2008. The Committee instigated a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were included in a draft investigatory report dated 24 November 2008. This draft report was sent to the applicant for comment on 19 December 2008, with the request for more information about the ownership and subsequent loss of possession of the works. The RC also indicated which archives the applicant could still consult. The draft investigatory report was sent to the Minister in a letter dated 19 December 2008 with a request for factual information. On 28 January 2009, the Ministry informed the Committee that no further information would be brought to its attention. The applicant responded to the draft investigatory report in a letter dated 30 March 2009. On 4 May 2009, the Committee again asked the applicant to provide more information about the ownership of the claimed works. In letters dated 22 May and 8 July 2009, the applicant did provide the Committee with some further research details. The investigatory report was subsequently adopted during the meeting of 12 October 2009. For the facts of the case, the Committee refers to the investigatory report.

CONSIDERATIONS

    1. The applicant requests the restitution of three paintings in the Netherlands Art Property Collection in his capacity as heir of his stepfather, Moritz Schönemann (1883-1969), whose art dealership, according to the applicant, involuntarily lost possession of the work as a consequence of the Nazi regime. The applicant is the son from the first marriage of Charlotte Schönemann (1896-2005), Moritz Schönemann’s second wife. In this context, the Committee has taken cognisance of several legal inheritance documents submitted by the applicant, which have not led the Committee to question his status as heir.

    2. The relevant facts are described in the investigatory report of 12 October 2009. The following is a summary. Moritz Schönemann was born on 7 April 1883 in Burgpreppach, Germany. He was of German nationality and Jewish descent. He operated an art dealership on the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin. Schönemann had at least three brothers, Ferdinand, Josef and Martin. Ferdinand dealt in carpets, and, like their brother Moritz, Josef and Martin were also art dealers. After the Nazis had assumed power in Germany, Moritz Schönemann was forced in 1935 by the Reichskulturkammer, the Reich Chamber of Culture, to dissolve his art dealership. In September 1936, he and his first wife fled to the Netherlands, where he set up a new art dealership on 1 October 1936 at Minervalaan 57 II in Amsterdam. According to the registration in the Chamber of Commerce, the art dealership traded under the name ‘M. Schönemann’, and was an ‘art dealership, agency and art broker’.

    3. As evidenced in a statement he gave in July 1954, Moritz Schönemann was in France during the occupation of the Netherlands. According to the applicant, Moritz Schönemann and his wife were travelling in France in 1939 and were caught unawares at the outbreak of the Second World War. They were subsequently incarcerated in various concentration camps in France up until May 1941. After that, the couple went into hiding in France or Monaco and survived the war. It is not known whether the art dealership M. Schönemann was engaged in trading activities in the Netherlands during the war, nor whether the dealership had any trading stock at the start of the German occupation of the Netherlands. No evidence was found in the archives that the art dealership was placed under the administration of a German Verwalter. Documents from the Chamber of Commerce show that the art dealership M. Schönemann officially went into liquidation on 8 February 1943.

    4. Martin Schönemann, a brother of Moritz, was living in Amsterdam in the late 1930s, where he and a trading partner operated an art dealership at Stadionweg under the name ‘Firma Herman Rotschild & Co’ established in March 1938. Martin dissolved this art dealership on 27 August 1940. On the basis of extant documents at the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK), the Committee considers it plausible that in the summer/autumn of 1940, Martin Schönemann was still dealing in art. Martin Schönemann had had a Panamanian passport since late 1938. He left for Switzerland in October 1940. Josef Schönemann, another of Moritz’s brothers, also had an art dealership in Amsterdam in the 1930s, a public limited company with the name ‘Heraldus NV’. Investigation has shown that Josef Schönemann emigrated to the United States in 1937 or thereabouts. The art dealership Heraldus NV was dissolved in October 1940.

    5. In 1961, via his lawyer, Moritz Schönemann enquired with the Netherlands Property Administration Institute (NBI) about objects of art, carpets and gobelins which the German authorities were said to have confiscated at his address. However, it was not specified which objects were missing. The NBI referred the lawyer to a forerunner of the NIOD, in connection with archive records held there of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), a looting unit that was active during the occupation. No further correspondence was found. The Committee’s research in the ERR archives did not reveal any further information.

    6. During provenance research of the claimed works at the Federal Archive in Koblenz, various records were found that provided insight into the period during which the works were traded, such as particulars concerning the buyer and the sums for which they were purchased. For instance, the archive contains an overview of works returned to the Netherlands after the war which includes the currently claimed works. The provenance of the works NK 2082 and NK 2085 is given as: ‘1940 von Schönemann an / Dienststelle Dr. Mühlmann’ [1940 from Schönemann to / Dienststelle Mühlmann] (next to NK 2085 is an insertion ‘für hfl. 3.850,’ [for NLG 3,850]). The following is said about the provenance of the painting NK 2366: ‘von Schönemann an Dr. / Plietzsch, den Haag / 17.12.1942 von dort für / RM 40.000,- an A. Neuerburg, / Hamburg’ [‘from Schönemann to Dr / Plietzsch, The Hague / 17 December 1942 from there for / RM 40,000 to A. Neuerburg, / Hamburg’]. It can be concluded from so-called Property Cards in the same archive for the works NK 2082 and NK 2366 that this concerned a certain Schönemann from Amsterdam. The card belonging to NK 2366 notes that the work came from an ‘art dealer Schönemann’ of Amsterdam. No initials are specified in conjunction with the surname ‘Schönemann’.

    7. The claimed works are also mentioned in correspondence provided by the applicant between the Wiedergutmachungskammer (Chamber of Reparation) of the Landesgericht (District Court) of Berlin and the Oberfinanzdirektion München (regional finance office in Munich) in the 1960s, concerning the property of Martin Schönemann and his wife. According to the regional finance office in Munich, the three works did not belong to the couple but to ‘einer Kunsthandlung Schönemann in Amsterdam’ [an art dealership Schönemann in Amsterdam]. The office also noted that: ‘Die Kunsthandlung Schönemann verkaufte sie 1940 und 1942 über eine deutsche Dienststelle in Den Haag nach Deutschland.’ [The art dealership Schönemann sold them in 1940 and 1942 through a German agency in The Hague to Germany.] This probably refers to the Dienststelle Mühlmann, as given in the overview of returned works (consideration 6).

    8. Information about the works was also found in the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK) archive. These are internal declaration forms drawn up by the SNK itself, on which it is noted that the works were originally the property of ‘Schönemann’, with the addition of the place name Amsterdam in the case of the works NK 2082 and NK 2366. All three works were said to have been sold voluntarily. No evidence was found in the archive that Moritz Schönemann reported the loss of the three currently claimed works to the SNK after the war, nor does the archive contain any declarations made by Martin or Josef Schönemann concerning these claimed works.

    9. Under the Decree establishing the Restitutions Committee of 16 November 2001, the Committee’s task is to advise the Minister for OCW on decisions to be taken concerning applications for the restitution of items of cultural value of which the original owners involuntarily lost possession due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. The Committee can only recommend restitution if ‘the title thereto has been proved with a high degree of probability and there are no indications to the contrary’. The Committee refers to the Ekkart Committee’s eighth recommendation concerning the private ownership of works of art, which also applies to art dealerships and is part of restitution policy.

    10. On the basis of the investigation, the Committee regards it as uncertain whether the claimed paintings were traded by art dealership M. Schönemann (Moritz) during the occupation. While the investigation makes a plausible case for the fact that one of the three brothers Schönemann – or their art dealerships – sold the works to employees of the Dienststelle Mühlmann, it has not been made clear which art dealer/art dealership was involved in the transactions. Contrary to what the Origins Unknown Agency assumed, the investigation did not show that the transactions were conducted by a Schönemann art dealership with the initial ‘M’. The Committee regards the applicant’s contention that Moritz Schönemann was the only brother who did business under the name ‘Schönemann’, and therefore that the documentation concerning the sales relates exclusively to the latter’s art dealership, as unconvincing. Experience has shown that trade names and surnames of art dealers in documents from the war and in post-war archives were often mixed up. Contrary to the applicant’s opinion, the Committee regards it as unlikely that art dealership M. Schönemann was involved in the transactions seeing as at the time these were conducted, Moritz was in France. Nor has it been made plausible that paintings were sold from stock by a third party.

    11. Moreover, the Committee considers the following. Even if the art dealership M. Schönemann had sold the works during the occupation, it would still be far from clear whether the art dealership actually owned the works at that point. As indicated in consideration 2, the art dealership was also active as an agency, trading works belonging to others. The provenance history of the three paintings is anything but conclusive: no documents were found from which it can be concluded when and from whom art dealership M. Schönemann purchased the works. In connection with this, the applicant was unable to provide documentation showing what the art dealership’s property consisted of, such as auction details, proofs of purchase or stock records. Nor did the Committee’s investigation reveal any relevant information.

    12. In view of the above, the Committee advises the Minister to reject the application for restitution of the paintings NK 2082, NK 2085 and NK 2366.

    CONCLUSION

      The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to reject A.W.M.’s application for the restitution of the paintings NK 2082, NK 2085 and NK 2366.

      Adopted at the meeting of 12 October 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)