Recommendation regarding Cassirer
In a letter dated 22 May 2007, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (hereafter referred to as: ‘OCW’) asked the Restitutions Committee to issue a recommendation regarding the application of 27 February 2007 by the É. in Switzerland (hereafter referred to as: ‘the applicant’) for the restitution of the watercolour View of Salzburg by Rudolph von Alt, which has been part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereafter referred to as: ‘the NK collection’) since its recovery after the Second World War and is registered under the inventory number NK 2897. The applicant is represented by her lawyer, Imke Gielen, Germany. The work is currently part of the National Print Collection in Amsterdam.
In the request for restitution, the applicant enclosed a report by the historian M. Blumberg concerning the life of Max Cassirer, who, according to the applicant, was the original owner of the watercolour. In response to the request for a recommendation, the Committee instituted a fact‑finding investigation, the results of which were summarised in a draft investigatory report dated 12 January 2009. On 28 January 2009, the draft investigatory report was sent to both the Minister and the applicant, providing them with the opportunity to add more information. The applicant replied in writing on 27 February 2009. The report was subsequently adopted on 6 April 2009. For the facts of the case, the Committee refers to this report.
The applicant is requesting restitution of the watercolour View of Salzburg by Rudolph von Alt in its capacity as heir to Max Cassirer (hereafter referred to as: ‘Cassirer’). Cassirer (1857-1943) and his wife had two children, Kurt (1883-1975) and Edith (1885-1982). In her will, Edith Cassirer nominated the applicant as her sole heir. Kurt Cassirer nominated his sons, Reinhart (Henry) and Thomas Cassirer, as his heirs. They have transferred their share of Max Cassirer’s estate to the applicant. In this context, the Committee has taken cognisance of several documents pertaining to the law of inheritance. These documents have given the Committee no reason to doubt the applicants’ status as the rightful heir.
The relevant facts are described in the investigatory report of 6 April 2009. The following is a summary. Cassirer was born of Jewish descent on 18 October 1857 in Schwientochlowitz, then part of Prussia. His family occupied a prominent position in (art) trade and science. Cassirer himself was a successful businessman in Danzig and Berlin. He owned a considerable art collection, which was housed in his residence on the Kaiserallee in Berlin. In order to escape the anti-Jewish measures implemented by the Nazis, he emigrated to Switzerland in 1939. He died in England in 1943.
The investigation has shown that when he left Berlin in 1939, Cassirer stored his possessions, including his art collection, with a number of transport companies in Berlin. In August 1941, the Nazis withdrew Cassirer’s nationality and confiscated all his possessions. The Finanzambt Moabit-West [Moabit-West tax office] gave the Hans W. Lange auction house in Berlin the task of auctioning a proportion of the possessions Cassirer had stored before he left. The applicant contends that the currently claimed watercolour was among the auctioned items. She has provided various documents as evidence of this. The Committee has taken cognisance of a valuation of the work made on 15 January 1942 as well as the auction catalogue, in which the watercolour is listed as lot number 221 with the following description:
Rudolf von Alt
221 Motiv aus Salzburg. Links von Bäumen überragte Parkmauer mit Wappen. Im Hintergrunde die Domtürme und die Veste Hohensalzburg. Figurenstaffage. Unten rechts bezeichnet: R. Alt 873. Aquarell, H. 13,5 cm, Br. 17,6 cm.
[Rudolf von Alt
221 Scene from Salzburg. On the left, a park wall with crest surmounted by trees. In the background, the cathedral towers and the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Decorative human figures. Signature bottom right: R. Alt 873. Watercolour, height 13.5 cm, width 17.6 cm]
The auction took place on 12 and 13 May 1942 with the proceeds going to the Gestapo. According to the extant ‘Abrechnung über den Auktionsbeitrag Cassierer’ [settlement of Cassirer auction amount], the watercolour fetched RM 1,800. The work ended up in Hitler’s collection, which was intended for the future Führermuseum.
The claimed work was recovered from Munich in 1952 and returned to the Netherlands on the basis of information regarding the provenance of the work that later turned out to be incorrect (see under 6). There was no contact after the war between Cassirer’s heirs and the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK) with regard to restitution of the 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.
Based on the investigation, the Committee concludes that it is highly likely that the watercolour owned by Cassirer and auctioned in 1942 is identical to the currently claimed work NK 2897. The description of the work in the auction catalogue, as quoted in section 3, is identical to the picture of the work NK 2897. In addition, the Committee has taken cognisance of the SNK inventory card for the work NK 2897, on which the markings and labels on the rear of the work at the time of its recovery are described. The inventory card includes mention of a label from the Finanzamt, which also confirms that the work was auctioned by order of Finanzamt Moabit-West.
The investigation also uncovered archival information that suggests that the work had another provenance. This information related to an SNK internal declaration form from 1946, on which an SNK employee has indicated that the watercolour was originally owned by the art dealership Goudstikker/Miedl (previously J. Goudstikker NV, operated by Alois Miedl) and sold voluntarily in May 1942 to the Lange auction house in Berlin. However, research into the administration of the art dealership Goudstikker/Miedl has failed to provide any information to confirm this. Based, in part, on the documentation mentioned in section 3, which unequivocally points to Cassirer as the original owner, the Committee assumes that the SNK’s provenance details are a mistake. Given that the provenance details in the Federal Archive in Koblenz concerning the work are presumably based on the SNK internal declaration form, the Committee assumes that the information in this archive concerning the original ownership and loss of possession of the watercolour are similarly erroneous.
Pursuant to current national policy in respect of the restitution of items of cultural value, the Committee can only recommend restitution if there is a convincing case regarding the right of ownership and if the original owner relinquished possession involuntarily as a consequence of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime.
The Committee concludes that the conditions for restitution have been met and deems it highly likely that the watercolour NK 2897 belonged to Cassirer until mid-1941, after which the work was confiscated and sold by the Nazis. As a result, loss of possession was involuntary. The Committee deems the application for restitution of the claimed painting admissible.
The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to return the watercolour NK 2897 to the heirs of Max Cassirer.
Adopted at the meeting of 6 April 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)