Art dealership Van Lier

Recommendation regarding Van Lier

Recommendation number: 
1.87
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
6 April 2009
Period loss of possession: 
1940-1945
Private owner/art dealer: 
Art dealership
Location of loss: 
The Netherlands

In a letter dated 11 June 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 seven ethnographic objects, which were returned to the Netherlands after the Second World War and are now part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereafter referred to as: ‘the NK collection’) under inventory numbers NK 130, NK 133-A-B, NK 136, NK 137, NK 390, NK 396 and NK 3222. Four of the objects are currently housed in the depot of the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage and three in the depot of the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden.

THE PROCEDURE

On 30 March 2007, B.v.L. (hereafter referred to as: ‘the applicant’) submitted to the Minister an application for the restitution of NK 128, NK 130, NK 133-A-B, NK 136, NK 137, NK 390, NK 396 and NK 3222 (hereafter referred to as: ‘the currently claimed objects’). Given the fact that NK 128 has been missing since 1990, the Minister has not submitted the application for the restitution of this object to the Restitutions Committee. The recommendation of the Committee does not, therefore, concern NK 128, although the applicant asked that this object be included in the investigation due to information that is potentially relevant to the other claimed works.
In response to the Minister’s request for a recommendation, the Committee instituted a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were included in a draft investigatory report dated 12 January 2009. On 29 January 2008, 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 26 February 2008. The report was subsequently altered and adopted on 6 April 2009. For the facts of the case, the Committee refers to this report.

CONSIDERATIONS

    1. The applicant claims to be the grandson of the Amsterdam-based art dealer ‘Carel van Lier’ (hereafter referred to as ‘Van Lier’) and has stated that the currently claimed objects were sold by Van Lier to the ‘Museum für Völkerkunde in Frankfurt am Main’ in Germany (hereafter referred to as: ‘Städtisches Völkermuseum’) on 11 April 1941. Van Lier died in Mühlenberg concentration camp in Germany between 1 and 15 March 1945. Documentation from the archive of the Netherlands Property Administration Institute (NBI) shows that Van Lier left four heirs: his wife E.M.M. (Elisabeth Magdalena Maria) van Lier-van de Velde and his three children E.F.B. de R.-v.L., F.C.v.L. and J.M.v.L. The applicant says he is acting on behalf of the three children. To support this claim, his father, F.C.v.L., has sent an authorisation of representation to the Restitutions Committee. Based on the above, the Committee sees no reason to doubt the status of the applicant as the grandson of Van Lier and as the representative of one or more of Van Lier’s heirs.

    2. The following is a summary of facts in the above-mentioned investigatory report. Van Lier was born in The Hague on 5 September 1897. He came from a Jewish family and had Dutch nationality. In 1924, Van Lier married Elisabeth van de Velde, who was not Jewish, and the couple had three children. On 1 September 1927, Van Lier opened Kunstzaal Van Lier, a one-man business, in Amsterdam. Due to the fact that Van Lier was married to a non-Jewish woman, he enjoyed some degree of protection from the Jewish persecution under the German occupation. However, his art dealership was put under administration (Verwaltung) on 8 July 1942, after which he was most likely unable to continue as an art dealer.

    3. The currently claimed objects were sold by Van Lier on 11 April 1941 as part of a larger sale to the ‘Städtisches Völkermuseum’ in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The sale took place shortly after 12 March 1941, the date on which the regulation came into force that was designed to remove all Jews from business life. Van Lier was arrested by the Germans on 6 April 1943 due to his involvement in the resistance. It is not known when Van Lier first became involved in the resistance movement. After deportation and internment in concentrations camps, Van Lier died in Mühlenberg in March 1945. After the war, Van Lier’s widow continued to run Kunstzaal Van Lier for a few years until she sold it in 1949. It closed down in 1956.

    4. As far as is known, there was no contact after the war between Kunstzaal Van Lier and the Dutch restoration of rights authorities. More specifically, the investigation failed to uncover an administration file at the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK). Based on this information, the Committee concludes that there has not been an earlier request for the restitution of objects formerly in the possession of Kunstzaal Van Lier and therefore deems the applicant’s request to be admissible.

    5. With regard to the ownership of the currently claimed objects, the Committee considers the following. It has been impossible to find out when and from whom Van Lier acquired these objects. Based on the statement from Van Lier’s daughter that he always bought his ethnographical objects in London, Paris, Brussels and Antwerp, it is probable that he bought them from importers who had the objects imported from British, French and Belgian colonies. The applicant has photographs of NK 128 and NK 133-B, taken from a photo album that Van Lier is said to have compiled around 1930. In addition, the Committee has a photograph from the same period, in which Van Lier is holding an ivory hunting horn. The Committee has been unable to determine with any certainty whether this hunting horn is NK 396, although the likeness is so great that they assume this to be the case.

    6. The date on which Van Lier sold the currently claimed objects is known to have been 11 April 1941. The applicant has provided a copy of a receipt sent to Kunstzaal Van Lier from the ‘Institut für Stadtgeschichte’ in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, which records the sale of 61 items of ethnography by Kunstzaal Van Lier to the ‘Städt-Völkermuseum’ (referring to the above ‘Städtisches Völkermuseum’) in Frankfurt am Main on 11 April 1941. The currently claimed objects are included in this receipt and it can be assumed, therefore, that they were part of the sale. After the war, they were identified on what was known as the Koblenz list as ‘Van Liers, Amsterdam an das Völkerkundemuseum, Frankfurt’ [Van Liers, Amsterdam to the Völkerkundemuseum, Frankfurt] and were returned to the Netherlands with a number of other objects from Van Lier. As far as is known, the currently claimed objects are the only pieces from this larger group of objects that are still part of the NK collection.

    7. Based on the information mentioned in considerations 5 and 6 above, the Committee feels that sufficient evidence has been presented to suggest that Van Lier was the previous owner of the currently claimed objects and that he lost possession through their sale. Following from this, the Committee also feels that the objects should be regarded as old trading stock, given that Van Lier bought (and sold) them before Kunstzaal Van Lier was put under administration on 8 July 1942.

    8. According to the applicant, the question is how free a Jewish art dealer would have felt when approached in person by the curator of a German museum. The applicant feels that it is striking in this respect that the sale included at least one statuette (NK 128, which is not part of the recommendation) that was amongst the very first in Van Lier’s collection. At the same time, the applicant has stated that the prices that Van Lier received from the sale would appear to be in line with the market value at that time.

    9. The Committee also investigated whether there are any indications to suggest that it was highly likely that this is a case of involuntary loss of possession as stipulated in Recommendations for the Art Trade 4, 5 and 6 issued by the Ekkart Committee. In the absence of claim forms indicating involuntary loss of possession – which is the case here – the required high degree of probability can also be assumed if the applicants can prove that the sale was the result of theft, confiscation or coercion.

    10. In this context, the Committee feels that the currently claimed paintings were sold by Van Lier himself and that there is no evidence that this sale was the result of any direct threat or coercion on the part of the Nazi authorities. While it is true that Van Lier sold the objects to a German buyer during the occupation, there is no evidence of coercion on the part of that buyer, the ‘Städtisches Völkermuseum’ in Frankfurt am Main. Furthermore, information regarding the proceeds Van Lier received from the sale is also indicative of a fair transaction.

    11. The Committee is of the opinion that the loss of possession as indicated in consideration 10 cannot be construed as theft, confiscation or coercion. The Committee also feels that the applicant’s opinion with regard to the general circumstances that influenced the way in which Van Lier traded, as stated in consideration 8, is insufficient to arrive at any other conclusion with respect to the sale.

    12. However, the Committee feels that there is sufficient cause for another judgement with regard to one object, NK 396, an ivory hunting horn. In a family portrait of Van Lier from around 1930, he is blowing this horn. For the family, this photograph provides a salient image of their forefather and of an art object that was of unique value to him, thus giving the object an emotional value to the family. In accordance with Recommendation for Art Trade 3 issued by the Ekkart Committee, requests for restitution are handled according to the standards for private art property if there are indications to suggest that a work of art did not belong to the art dealer’s trading stock but to his private collection. This relates to objects that, according to the Ekkart Committee, ‘were part of his private collection or the decoration of his home before the war’, whereby a certain amount of leniency can be exercised with regard to the relevant evidence. The Committee feels that this recommendation provides a sufficient foundation to assess NK 396 in accordance with the more lenient standards for private art possession in the context of this claim. Given that, pursuant to these standards, private sales by Jewish subjects in the Netherlands after 10 May 1940 were, in principle, considered involuntary, the Committee feels that the loss of NK 396 by Van Lier can be considered involuntary and that, as such, the hunting horn should be returned to the family.

    CONCLUSION

      The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to reject the request for restitution of the objects NK 130, NK 133-A-B, NK 136, NK 137, NK 390, and NK 3222.

      The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to return NK 396 to the heirs of Carel van Lier.

      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. David, chair)      (E. Campfens, secretary)