Krasicki

NK1715 - Portrait of an Officer by J.F.A. Tischbein (photo: RCE)

Recommendation regarding Krasicki

Recommendation number: 
RC 1.152
Type: 
NK collection
Publishing date: 
20 February 2017
Private owner/art dealer: 
Private individual
Location of loss: 
Outside of The Netherlands

In a letter dated 6 January 2015 the Minister of Education, Culture and Science (hereinafter referred to as the Minister) asked the Restitutions Committee (hereinafter referred to as the Committee) for advice about the application of 23 November 2014 from AA of BB, CC (hereinafter referred to as the Applicant) for restitution of the painting Portrait of an Officer by J.F.A. Tischbein. This work is part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereinafter referred to as the NK collection) with inventory number NK 1715 in the custody of the State of the Netherlands.

Assessment framework

Pursuant to article 2, paragraph 1, of the Decree Establishing the Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War, there is a Committee that is tasked with advising the Minister at the Minister’s request about decisions to be taken regarding applications for the restitution of items of cultural value whose original owner involuntarily lost possession due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime and which are:
a. part of the NK collection or
b. among the other holdings of the Dutch State.
Pursuant to paragraph 4, the Committee advises about applications as referred to in paragraph 1, under a, submitted to the Minister before 30 June 2015 with due regard for government policy in this respect.

The procedure

The Committee conducted an investigation into the facts in response to the Minister’s request for advice. The results of the investigation are recorded in a draft investigatory report dated 7 March 2016. This report was sent to the Applicant with a letter dated 24 March 2016. In the letter the Committee put additional questions to the Applicant. The Applicant responded in e-mails of 30 March, 1 April and 3 April 2016. In addition the Applicant corresponded frequently during the procedure about the progress of the case. The draft report was sent to the Minister on 24 March 2016 for additional information. The Minister responded to this in an e-mail of 29 April 2016 informing the Committee that she did not wish to bring any additional information to the Committee’s attention.
The Committee then had further research conducted in Poland and elsewhere. In a letter of 21 December 2016 the Committee asked the Applicant to respond to some of the results from the additional research. The Applicant responded in e-mails of 25 December 2016 and 4 January 2017. The investigation report was subsequently adopted on 20 February 2017.

Considerations 

1.  The Applicant was born on [..] in DD, a city that during the interwar years belonged to the Polish state and was known as EE in Polish. The Applicant asserts that until 1939 the currently claimed painting belonged to his father, Count Stanisław Tomasz August hr. Krasicki z Siecina h. Rogala (1906-1977). The Committee has no reason to doubt the Applicant’s status as a rightful claimant in the context of this restitution application.

2.  The relevant facts are described in the investigation report dated 20 February 2017. A summary is sufficient in the following considerations.

The Krasicki family

3.  The Applicant is descended from a noble Polish family. A family tree submitted by the Applicant goes back to the mid-eighteenth century. The Applicant’s grandfather was Count August Konstanty Ksawery Hr. Krasicki h. Rogala (1873 Bachórzcu -1946 Cracow). He was married to Izabela Hr. Wodzicka z Granowa h. Leliwa (1882-1966). Six children were born to the marriage, including the Applicant’s father, the Stanislaw Krasicki referred to in consideration 1. Stanislaw was born in Lesko in the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary. Op 12 June 1930 in Lviv he married Jadwiga Maria Ewa hr. Bielska z Olbrachcic h. Jelita (1905-2000). This marriage produced two sons: the Applicant and Andrzej Stanisław Edmund (1933-2011).

4.  Before 1918 the riverside village of Lesko in Eastern Galicia was known as ‘Lisko’ and was part of the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary. From the beginning of the nineteenth century the Krasicki family owned Lesko Castle, the local fortress on the River San. The castle was the social and intellectual centre of the region, in which the Applicant’s grandfather was active politically and also became well known as a botanical researcher.
Russian troops - who were fighting against the Habsburg monarchy - passed through Lesko during the First World War (1914-18). The castle was not spared. Russian soldiers plundered the castle’s rooms and destroyed the interior before setting fire to the building. Parts of the valuable contents, the archives and the library had been made safe in good time beforehand, however, and as a result they largely survived. The castle was rebuilt after the Great War by August Krasicki.
In September 1939 the village of Lesko, which meanwhile had become part of the Polish Republic, was once again the victim of the ravages of war. The attack by the Red Army on 17 September in the eastern part of Poland, which had been in a life and death struggle with Nazi Germany in the west since 1 September, was so unexpected and was accompanied by such lawlessness that there was no time to take the valuable art collection and furniture in Lesko Castle to a place of safety, and they fell victim to plundering. August Krasicki, the last Count Krasicki to live in the castle, managed to escape with his family.

5.  Besides the castle in Lesko, the Krasicki family owned mansions in Bachórzec, Dubiecko and Stratyn. The Stratyn estate came into the possession of the Krasicki family through the spouse of Ignacy Adam Hr. Krasicki (1767-1844), who received the property as her dowry on her marriage. It ultimately ended up in the possession of August Krasicki via a number of inheritances.
According to the Polish historian Professor Roman Aftanazy (1914-2004), who compiled and wrote Dzieje rezydencji na dawnych kresach Rzeczypospolitej, an eleven-volume history of 1,500 palaces and mansions in the eastern regions of Poland and their owners, at the Stratyn estate there was allegedly a valuable library and also a collection of some 200 paintings by mainly foreign artists. During the First World War the mansion was supposedly devastated and the collections in it were destroyed, ‘... except for a small number of family portraits that had been moved beforehand to the main residence of the Krasicki family in Lesko’. According to Aftanazy the staff quarters served as a residence after the mansion had been devastated.

6. When the Second World War broke out, Stanislaw and his family, including the Applicant, were living in Stratyn. The Applicant stated the following about the events of 1939.
‘In 1939 my father went to War, my mother and younger brother stayed in the manor at “Stratyn”, when the news come that Russians were invading Poland from the east, my mother was advised by local police to leave as our lives were in danger, we did immediately, leaving everything behind.
It is reasonable to assume that the primary looters were local Ukrainians, who were hostile to all things Polish.Some days after our departure Russians arrived and completed what was left after the Ukrainian looting.Presumably this portrait was then sold or confiscated by that Dutch collaborator from Ukrainians, when germans invaded Russia in 1941 and occupied that part of Poland.’

The claimed painting
7.  The painting Portrait of an Officer by J.F.A. Tischbein is part of the NK collection under inventory number NK 1715. The Origins Unknown Agency (hereinafter referred to as the BHG) has the following provenance for the painting on its website (www.herkomstgezocht.nl):

1944-04-03   

P.N. Menten (collection), Aerdenhout
ICN inventory card; SNK file nos. 435, 865; Bundesarchiv Koblenz B323 no. 575

 

H. Posse
SNK file nos. 435, 865

 

A. Hitler
ICN inventory card; SNK file nos. 435, 865

1944-04-03   

Führer Museum (museum), Linz
Bundesarchiv Koblenz B323 no. 575

The BHG also states:
The provenance data are inconclusive It is not known when and from whom P.N. Menten acquired the painting.
P.N. Menten returned with 'three wagonloads of possessions' from the Polish town of Lemberg, which was occupied by the Germans in 1943. It is therefore possible that this painting has a Polish provenance. P.N. Menten was convicted of war crimes in Poland in 1980.

8.  The BHG’s provenance does not state who the officer portrayed in NK 1715 is. In his restitution application the Applicant contends that it is one of his ancestors.
‘This painting is in fakt an ancestor, Jan Krasicki, major of cavallery, one of the first recipants of “virtuti Milittari”, highest Polish decoration for valour (…) This decoration is clearly visible in the painting, the light and dark blue ribbon hanging on his brest.’
It emerges from the family tree submitted by the Applicant that this Jan Krasicki (1763-1830) was a brother of the Applicant’s third great-grandfather. The Virtuti Militari is the highest military decoration for bravery in Poland, and it was first awarded in June 1792, just before the Second Partition of Poland. Cavalry Major Jan Krasicki was one of the first soldiers to receive the decoration in 1792.

9.  According to the Applicant the painting used to be in his home in Stratyn.
‘As a child I well remember number of portraits adorning the walls of main dining room in Stratyn.
The portrait was displayed there. My father often pointed it out to me stressing the fact that he was national hero, one of the 1st recipants of “Virtuti Militari”, Poland, highest cross for valour in battle.’
Later he added the following.
‘Jan Krasicki was land owner and Polish “Szlachcic” or nobelman, Polish patriot and fighter for Independence against Russian Tsarist occupation of his native land.
This painting together with other family members was displayed on the walls of our dining room in “Stratyn”. As a background, you should be aware that we as children were brought up to be very patriotically minded, as were all Poles. Poland over the centuries was subject to many foreign invasions and occupations, it never accepted subjugation and ferociously fought for its independence, which was greatly valued. Any citizen who took part in these wars was greatly admired, venerated and honoured. I well remember my father pointing to me Jan’s portrait as one of these brave and noble fighters for independence of which our family should be proud. This always stayed in my memory, although it happened so many years ago.’

10.  The Applicant submitted his restitution application thanks in part to the efforts of the Communi Hereditate, a Polish foundation with the goal of documenting and protecting Polish cultural heritage. This foundation published a report the focus of which is on the painting. This report’s author, Marius Pilusz, describes how he found the painting on the BHG website. Shortly thereafter Pilusz accidentally found a photograph of the interior of Lesko Castle in volume 8 of the series of books by Aftanazy referred to above in consideration 5. On the photograph, which dates from before 1914, it was possible to see a portrait that appeared to be a copy of the currently claimed painting. Further investigation brought Pilusz to the conclusion that the portrait on the wall of Lesko Castle was painted by Joseph Pitschmann (1758-1834), who had lived in Lviv during the 1794-1806 period. Today the Pitschmann portrait is in the National Museum in Warsaw. In his report Pilusz concludes on the grounds of further investigation that the work painted by Pitschmann is a copy of the original by Tischbein.

11.  Further research was conducted in the archive of the National Museum in Warsaw into the portrait by Pitschmann. The name Jan Krasicki is on the back. It can be deduced from the documentation found that this portrait arrived in the National Museum on 31 January 1948 as part of a collection of paintings, packed in nine crates, that came from Cracow. A list of the works concerned is contained in a protocol prepared by the museum. It is stated that the works were ‘from the collection of the Krasickis’.
There is the following description among the works on the list.
Jan Krasicki z Baranowa             Pitschman       oil on canvas   70x60  carved

The archive research also unearthed a 1948 receipt the subject of which is given as ‘30 paintings in accordance with enclosed specification / purchased warehouse’ and states ‘person who submitted request’: ‘Krasicki Ksewery, ul. Sienkiewicza 3a m.4’.
It can be deduced from this that the portrait by Pitschmann was sold by Ksawery Franciszek Krasicki (1911-1999), the Applicant’s uncle, to the National Museum in 1948.

Involvement of Pieter Menten

12.  It is notable that the provenance prepared by the BHG states that the claimed painting came from the possessions of Pieter Menten (1899-1987). As the provenance mentions, in 1980 Menten was convicted of complicity in the mass murder of Jewish inhabitants of the Galician village of Podhorodce on 7 July 1941. Between 1977 and 1979 a three-person investigation committee, chaired by the historian Professor I. Schöffer, investigated Menten on the instructions of the Dutch government. This resulted in a weighty final report, the Menten Report.

13.  Among other things, the following can be deduced from this report. Shortly after the First World War Menten established himself as a businessman in Poland, first in Danzig and Warsaw, and finally in Lviv. In parallel with his normal activities, Menten developed into an art and antiques dealer. He was advised in these matters by his brother Dirk Menten. After the invasion of Poland by the Red Army in September 1939 Menten fled to Cracow via Lviv. He was to continue living there until he left Poland at the beginning of 1943. Menten continued his activities as an art buyer from Cracow. The German conquest of Eastern Galicia and its subsequent annexation by the General Government (the central part of Poland occupied by the Nazis) enabled Menten to travel to Lviv again in order to expand his art holdings among other things. The good relationship that Menten had meanwhile established with Dr Eberhard Schöngarth, commander of the security police and the security service (SD) in the General Government, was most useful to Menten at this point. During this period Menten also acted as an SS Hauptscharführer (equivalent to a company sergeant major) in an Einsatzgruppe zur besonderen Verwendung (task force for special tasks) which was under the command of the aforementioned Schöngarth. It was during this period that Menten was involved in the execution of many Jews in the village of Podhorodce and very probably also in the nearby Urycz.

14.  Menten’s acquisition of art during the 1941-43 period is well documented. In geographical terms Menten did not limit himself to Lviv. He also went to Kiev and Riga for instance. However, there is no precise overview of the art and other objects that Menten acquired during this period.
In January 1943 Menten was compelled by order of Heinrich Himmler to leave the General Government. The Mentens returned to the Netherlands and settled in Aerdenhout. The couple left Poland with eleven pieces of luggage and four German railway wagons full of art and valuable objects. An overview prepared by the Haarlem Customs & Excise Inspector on 9 February 1943 of the goods that Menten brought with him from Cracow mentions 87 paintings, but they are not referred to by name.
On 3 April 1944 Pieter Menten sold the claimed painting to the Sonderauftrag Linz (Special Mission Linz) for a sum of NLG 3,000, as BHG states in its provenance. During its own investigation the Committee found information that confirms this transaction. The painting was returned to the Netherlands after the war.
Finally it should be mentioned that during the investigation a photograph of the present NK 1715 was found in the Netherlands Art Property Foundation archive. On the back of the photograph is the note ‘F. Tischbein / D. Menten’. It is not known who made this note.

Assessment of the claim: ownership

15.  The restitution application concerns an item of cultural value from the NK collection and it was submitted to the Minister before 30 June 2015. The means that the Committee must advise the Minister about the application giving due regard to government policy in this respect.
On the grounds of the eighth recommendation of the Ekkart Committee in 2001, there may be restitution if the right of ownership has been established as being very plausible and there are no indications to the contrary. The explanatory notes to this recommendation include the following.
‘It is clear that conclusive proof of ownership and of the correctness of the course of events relating to the loss of possession described by former owners is often difficult to provide, in part because in many cases the documentary evidence concerned was lost as a result of conditions during the war. It is necessary when assessing the burden of proof that the benefit of the doubt should be on the side of the private individual and not on that of the State.…’

16.  The following is important in regard to assessing the ownership issue:
a) It is known that on 3 April 1944 Menten sold the claimed painting to the Sonderauftrag Linz for a sum of NLG 3,000. It is still unknown how Menten acquired the painting. It is perfectly possible that Menten acquired the painting in Poland and took it with him to the Netherlands in 1943.
b) It is also known that the person portrayed in the painting is Jan Krasicki (1763-1830), a brother of the Applicant’s grandfather, who received the Virtuti Militari in 1792. This decoration can be seen in the painting.
c) There is also a portrait of this Jan Krasicki by Joseph Pitschmann, which is considered by Pilusz to be a copy of the portrait by Tischbein. In 1948 the portrait by Pitschmann was sold to the National Museum by Ksawery Krasicki, the Applicant’s uncle, and it is still there. The portrait by Pitschmann can be seen on a photograph, dating from before 1914, of the interior of the castle in Lesko.
d) According to Aftanazy the Stratyn mansion was supposedly devastated during the First World War and the collections in it were destroyed, ‘... except for a small number of family portraits that had been moved beforehand to the main residence of the Krasicki family in Lesko’. 

17.  In addition to the facts referred to in points a) to d) above, the statements by the Applicant, as quoted in considerations 8 and 9, are also important. The Applicant, who was born in 1931, has made emphatic and detailed statements about the painting, the person portrayed in it and his family history. These statements do not contradict the known facts. The Committee attaches great significance to these statements. In addition the claimed painting is linked to the Applicant’s family history in a unique way. The painting depicts an ancestor of the Applicant who was awarded the highest military decoration in Poland. According to the Applicant his father frequently pointed this out to him with pride. It is without doubt plausible that such a painting was among the family’s possessions. This special importance of the painting to the family’s history also reinforces the Applicant’s statement that he remembers the painting from his childhood.

18.  As referred to in consideration 10, Pilusz concludes that the work painted by Pitschmann is a copy of the original by Tischbein. The Committee is inclined to agree with Pilusz on this point. The paintings are after all virtually identical. It was furthermore not unusual for noble Polish families to have several versions of a family portrait, which could be hung in different mansions. This, however, gives rise to the question of whether the Applicant is not recalling the claimed painting by Tischbein but the painting by Pitschmann. Besides the physical resemblance between the two paintings, a role is also played by the fact that there is more information about the painting by Pitschmann, on the grounds of which the painting can be placed among the possessions of the Krasicki family, than about the painting by Tischbein. It is known, for instance, that it was in Lesko, in any event before 1914, and in 1948 was sold by Ksawery Krasicki to the National Museum in Warsaw, where it still is. It is plausible that the painting remained in the family’s possession during the intervening period.
The Committee considers it more plausible, though, that the Applicant does indeed recall the painting by Tischbein. The Applicant did after all state this and, after the possibility of an error was pointed out to him, did not retract this statement. In addition the painting by Pitschmann was in Lesko, in any event before 1914. Although this obviously does not mean that it could not have been moved to Stratyn thereafter, there are also no reasons for assuming that this happened.

19.  The aforegoing leads to the conclusion that it can be considered highly likely that the claimed painting is from the possessions of the Krasicki family.

Assessment of the claim: loss of possession

20.  The next issue is whether the loss of possession of the painting was involuntary as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. The Applicant assumes that after the invasion by the Soviet army in 1939, in the first instance Stratyn was looted by ‘local Ukrainians’ and that the plundering was continued by the Red Army, which arrived a few days thereafter. The painting was supposedly also removed at that time and ultimately ended up in the hands of Menten.
This explanation by the Applicant is an assumption. During the Committee’s investigation no documentation or other evidence was found to support this assumption. Such a scenario is not implausible, but there are also other conceivable scenarios.

21.  The Committee considers it plausible that possession was lost during the period immediately after the Applicant and his family fled Stratyn and that this loss of possession was involuntary. It is after all not readily imaginable that the family would voluntarily let go of a painting like this, which had and has such special significance for the family. The Applicant, who was born in 1931, has furthermore stated that the painting hung on the wall in Stratyn. The Committee therefore considers it plausible that the Applicant’s family lost possession of the painting involuntarily in around September 1939. This corresponds with the Applicant’s statement.

22.  Trying to establish in 2017 in what way and through whose actions possession of the painting in Stratyn was actually lost at the end of September 1939 is almost impossible. The Committee therefore gives regard to the following facts in its assessment of the restitution application.

At the end of August 1939 Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union concluded a non-aggression treaty (Molotov – Von Ribbentrop Pact). Agreements were made in a secret clause in this treaty about a new Partition of Poland between the two states and about other border changes in Eastern Europe. A week after the treaty was signed Germany entered Poland from the west on 1 September 1939. This resulted on 3 September 1939 in a declaration of war by the United Kingdom and France against Germany and thus the start of the Second World War. On 17 September 1939 the Soviet Union entered Poland from the east. Soviet troops met German troops and celebrated their cooperation with a parade in Brest-Litovsk (the place where the two countries had made peace in 1918).
Stratyn was in the eastern part of Poland that had been allocated to the Soviet Union and which, after its conquest by the Red Army, was to become part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. According to the Applicant’s statement, the noble Krasicki family felt the need to flee from the Red Army. History has proved them right. Twenty-two thousand Polish soldiers and intellectuals were massacred in Katyn Forest. Nearly three hundred thousand Polish nationals were deported by the Gulag from the eastern provinces between 1939 and 1941. Stalin was already guilty of gruesome mass murders and Hitler would thereafter be a match for him. The family’s flight, which meant giving up possession of Stratyn and therefore the painting, was a response to the prevailing lawlessness. Mansions belonging to the Polish nobility were plundered, for example, be it by local Ukrainians or Russian soldiers.
The Ukraine was conquered by the German army in the summer of 1941. Pieter Menten surfaced in Galicia as an SS-Hauptscharführer and also during this period as an art dealer. On 3 April 1944 he sold the painting concerned to the Sonderauftrag Linz for the collection of the future Führer Museum. Menten’s activities were enabled by the German occupation. It is not clear how he acquired the painting. It is demonstrable, however, that he did not just appropriate artworks from persecuted Jewish owners but from Polish nobility too.
Viewed together, these facts support the conclusion that possession of the painting was lost involuntarily as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime, namely to its Soviet ally in 1939 and directly from 1941.

23.  The only remaining issue is who should be designated as rightful claimants in the event of restitution. According to Aftanazy the Applicant’s grandfather, August Krasicki, was the last owner of both Lesko and Stratyn, until September 1939. This is confirmed by a letter from Ksawery Krasicki, the Applicant’s uncle, dated 16 February 1964, in which he writes as follows. ‘The last owner of Stratyn was my father, and my brother Stanislaw lived there and managed the estate.’

24.  The Applicant stated the following after this letter was presented to him by the Committee:
‘I remember well that amongst the grown up in conversation Stratyn was refered as "Stratyn byl majatek Stasia". Translated "Stratyn was Stas property", Stanislaw was my father and Stas was dimunitive of his name. In any event, assuming that August [grandfather] was the owner, it doesnt follow that that fixtures and fittings also belonged to him’.

The Applicant has furthermore pointed out that if Stratyn and its contents had been the property of August Krasicki, August Krasicki would obviously have hung the painting by Tischbein in Lesko, where he lived. Yet according to the Applicant, the painting by Pitschmann hung in Lesko.

25.  Although the Applicant made an emphatic and detailed statement about this point too, in this case the Committee cannot concur. After all Ksawery Krasicki, a direct descendant, stated that August Krasicki was the last owner of Stratyn. It is therefore predisposedly plausible that he was also the owner of the contents, including the currently claimed painting. In the absence of convincing evidence to the contrary, in regard to which the Committee considers the Applicant’s statement concerning this point to be insufficient, in the Committee’s opinion August Krasicki must be designated as the last owner of the currently claimed painting. The result of this is that the Committee will advise the Minister to restitute NK 1715 to the heirs of August Krasicki.

Conclusion 

The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister of Education, Culture and Science to restitute the painting Portrait of an Officer by J.F.A. Tischbein (NK 1715) to the heirs of Count August Konstanty Ksawery Hr. Krasicki h. Rogala (1873-1946).

Adopted on 20 February 2017 by A. Hammerstein (Chair), J.Th.M. Bank, J.H.W. Koster, P.J.N. van Os, H.M. Verrijn Stuart, G.N. Verschoor and I.C. van der Vlies (Vice-Chair) and signed by the Chair and the Secretary.

(A. Hammerstein, Chair)                               (M.C.J. Kooij, Secretary)