Stolen Art in Utrecht Museums?

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More art stolen from Jewish families found in Dutch museums including Wassily Kandinskis Watercolour No. 2.

It has been reported that Dutch museums have at least 170 works of art in their collections which may have been stolen from their Jewish owners during World War II, according to research by the Dutch Museums Association.

In total 42 different museums, including the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam appear to have stolen art in their collections, according to a list of all potentially stolen works identified to date.

Only the Rijksmuseum has not yet completed its investigation. The probe into potential stolen art was started in 2009 when the Museums Association asked museums in the Netherlands to investigate the provenance of their collections after earlier research suggested just a few works of art were wrongly held.

Between 1933 and 1945 many Jewish collectors and dealers were forced to sell their works of art by the Nazi occupiers. Other paintings were simply confiscated or stolen and many ended up in museum collections after the war ended.

The most famous case of stolen art in the Netherlands is that of the Goudstikker collection, sold for a bargain price to the Nazi occupiers. In 2006, the collection was finally returned to the heirs of Jacques Goudstikker, a prominent Dutch art collector, who died while trying to reach exile ahead of the Nazi invasion. Goudstikker left his collection in the hands of his staff, who sold the stock of at least 1,113 paintings for just 2.5 million guilders to German art dealer Alois Miedl and Field Marshal Hermann Goering.

After the war, the paintings ended up at museums around the world. In 2006, the Dutch authorities agreed to return 202 pieces to Goudstikker’s heirs. A number of sketches by Jan Toorop, thought to have come from the Goudstikker collection and now in the hands of the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague and the Stedelijk museum, are included on the website’s list of potentially stolen art.Their website states that the rightful owners or possible heirs of works of art with dubious provenance can present a claim to a special committee set up to assess claims.

Problematic art in Utrecht

Problematic art in Utrecht could only be found at the Centraal Museum with The Annunciation to the Shepherds and a Portrait of the Van Wijkersloot Family

Whilst at Museum Catharijneconvent, doubt has been cast over the provenance of Portrait of a Parson in a Japanese Robe and Lazarus and the Rich Man

The Geldmuseum reported that it had acquired tens of thousands of coins and medals in the period since 1933. It is almost impossible to trace the provenance of them. The museum investigated wherever possible, checking its inventory and correspondence records as well as the Koninklijk Penningkabinet (Royal Medal Cabinet) lists of donations. The museum noticed no irregularities. NBI (Netherlands property custodian) gave 62 coins to Koninklijk Penningkabinet in 1947, and 37 in 1967. It is possible that these included objects that had been taken from Jews. Unfortunately, this can never be clearly established for certain since they are not uniquely identifiable objects.

For various legitimate reasons, the rest of Utrechts museums declined to take part in the survey.

As most of the Anatomisch Museum’s collection consists exclusively of anatomical specimens, most of which were made at its own institute declined to take part in the survey.

The Museum voor het Kruideniersbedrijf declined to take part in the investigation since none of the objects in its collection is individually identifiable.

Museum Maluku declined to take part in the investigation since its collection comprises objects given since the 1980s by individuals now living in the Netherlands who have been involved with the recent history of the Moluccan Islands.

Museum Speelklok declined to take part in the investigation since none of the objects in its collection has individually identifiable characteristics.

Het Spoorwegmuseum declined to take part in the investigation since its objects originated from the Dutch rail company’s collection.

The Universiteitsmuseum Utrecht declined to take part in the investigation since its collection consists of academic heritage which has always been property of the government.

The Volksbuurtmuseum Wijk C declined to take part in the investigation since none of the objects in its collection has individually identifiable characteristics.

The Nederlands Waterleidingmuseum declined to take part in the investigation since its collection consists of objects relating to and obtained from water supply companies.

This investigation has been going on since 2009.

The investigation into Museum Acquisitions from 1933 onwards began in 2009. It focused specifically on art in Dutch museums. The aim was to look at museum collections in connection with the theft, confiscation and sale of objects under duress between 1933 and 1945 and asked did the museums acquire objects after 1933 whose provenance suggests they may have been stolen, confiscated or sold under duress or linked to other suspicious circumstances between 1933 and the end of the Second World War.

This was a follow-up into the investigation into Museum Acquisitions held in 1998-1999.

There was of course a need for this investigation because during the Second World War a huge amount of art was stolen, much of which had been owned by Jews.

Altogether, 163 museums took part in the investigation. More…

While responsibility for accurate reporting lay with the Committee for Museum Acquisitions from 1933 onwards, the museums did their own investigating. Museum staff were employed to sort through their registration systems.

Where it seems likely that an artwork was obtained from its owner by theft, confiscation or sale under duress, the museum attempts to contact the relatives or heirs of the owner.

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Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins is Welsh and lives in England. He is a writer. A Europhile and Remainer, he is a regular visitor to Utrecht and has set his crime novel series in the city.

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