Outline of the Essay
The Getty Research Institute holds the records of the G. Cramer Oude Kunst gallery in The Hague, Netherlands, which was active from 1938 until approximately 2007. The gallery’s correspondence and financial files from the time of World War II document dealings with Nazi agents and other art dealers known for engagement in trade with the Nazis. The gallery records are believed to be complete. The owner of the gallery, Gustav Cramer (1881–1961), came from a family of Jewish art dealers in Kassel, Germany. After World War I, he moved to Berlin, where he worked at the renowned Van Diemen gallery, in charge of the Old Masters section, and in 1933 he opened his own gallery there. After being expelled from the Reichskammer der bildenden Künste (Reich Chamber of Visual Arts) owing to anti-Semitic laws, he moved to the Netherlands and reopened the gallery in The Hague in 1938.
With the occupation of the Netherlands in 1940, German authorities in The Hague advised Cramer to protect himself and his family from deportation by registering the gallery under the name of his son, Hans Max Cramer, who, according to Nazi racial laws, was not considered Jewish.
The incorporation of the Netherlands into the economy of the Third Reich in May of 1940 brought prosperity to the Dutch art market. Lynn Nicholas describes this development in her groundbreaking book The Rape of Europa: “German government officials suddenly had access to millions of guilders in occupation money . . . all exchange restrictions were lifted on the reichsmark so that buying in Holland did not consume precious foreign currency,” and, due to limitations imposed on monetary transfers outside of Nazi-controlled territories, “art soon became a major factor in the economy as everyone with cash, from black marketers to Hitler, sought to invest in safe assets.” The art trade in the Netherlands picked up rapidly. Between 1940 and 1943, prices soared, not only for paintings by renowned Old Masters and the Romantic School but also for lesser quality artworks. Art dealers, auctioneers, museum directors, and private buyers from Germany flooded the art market in the Netherlands with cash and were soon joined by Dutch collectors, dealers, and auction houses. Several agents acted on behalf of Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring, and other high-ranking Nazi officials to make purchases through German and Dutch art dealers representing private sellers who frequently preferred their transactions with the Nazis to remain anonymous.
One of the high-level Nazi agents was Erhard Göpel, who acted on behalf of the Reich Commissioner for the Occupied Dutch Territories in The Hague, where he was in charge of the Special Board for Exchange of Cultural Objects. Göpel was commissioned to explore the Dutch art market by Hans Posse, director of the Dresden Gemäldegalerie and, from 1939 until his death in 1942, in charge of purchases for Hitler’s planned art museum in Linz, Austria, the Sonderauftrag Linz
Cramer’s wartime correspondence and financial files detail several transactions in which he acted as an agent between private sellers and Posse and Göpel as well as Walter Andreas Hofer, who was Göring’s chief confidential operator and curator at Göring’s private art collection, Carinhall.
Cramer also engaged in business dealings with the German art dealers Karl Haberstock, Hans W. Lange, Julius Böhler, Vitale Bloch, and Heinz Steinmeyer, among others, who were all involved in sales intended for the Linz museum and to other Nazi officials
The search for Cramer’s name in the database for the Linz Collection retrieves records for twenty-eight paintings.
Zuralski-Yeager compares Cramer gallery files on sales of paintings by Nicolaes Maes and Jan Steen to Nazi agents with data currently available online through the Linz Collection database. This is intended to explore the research potential of Cramer’s archive for a critical review of the inventory cards and to establish its significance for provenance research of artworks looted by the Nazis. After addressing the Maes and Steen paintings, a few additional examples of the gallery’s wartime invoices are discussed, providing additional evidence of the Cramer archive’s significance and research potential.
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Getty Research Journal, no. 11 (2019): 197–212