During the Second World War, the Nazis plundered, confiscated or purchased vast amounts of art from the Occupied Territories. After liberation, many of these items of cultural value were brought back to their country of origin by the Allies and placed under the administration of national governments, which were tasked with ensuring that these were returned to their rightful owners or their heirs. In the Netherlands, the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK) played a key part in the restitution of art objects. Some of the items of cultural value that were not returned after the war were auctioned off in the 1950s. The remaining works were brought together in the Netherlands Art Property Collection (NK collection), as part of the National Art Collection.
Since the end of the 1990s, the restitution of looted art property has become very topical again, both at home and abroad. In 1998, the Washington Principles on Nazi Confiscated Art were established at an international conference, and the following year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a similar resolution on Looted Jewish Cultural Property. These declarations call for a lenient restitutions policy for property looted during the war, and recommend opting for a form of alternative dispute settlement outside the standard judicial process. The basic principles of these declarations were confirmed more than ten years later in the Terezín Declaration (Czech Republic, 2009).
Established by the Dutch government, the Origins Unknown Committee (also known as the Ekkart Committee, named after its chairman Prof. Dr R.E.O. Ekkart) plays an important role in the Restitutions Committee’s history. From 1997 to 2004, under the supervision of the Ekkart Committee, the Origins Unknown Agency (BHG) investigated the provenance of all objects in the NK collection. At the same time, the government announced a more liberal restitutions policy based on the recommendations of the Ekkart Committee, which, in general, called for a more generous restitutions policy.
In 2001, the government decided to establish an independent advisory committee that would investigate and assess claims to looted items of cultural value. According to the government, this suited a more policy-related approach to the issue of restitution than a strictly judicial one. Thus, pursuant to a decision dated 16 November 2001 by the Secretary of State for OCW, the Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War was established.
Since January 2002, the Restitutions Committee has issued independent advice on individual applications for restitution.
From 1 September 2018 research on the instructions of the Restitutions Committee will be conducted by the Restitution of Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War Expertise Centre, which is part of the NIOD.