Dutch Restitutions Committee rejects Stettiner claim

Institute of Art and Law 17 April 2015
By Alexander Herman

Last month, the Dutch Restitutions Committee published its recommendation regarding a claim brought forward by the heirs of the three Stettiner siblings who ran the Stettiner Gallery in Paris until it was closed during the Second World War. The claim involved a portrait by Salomon Koninck (1609-1656) entitled Old Man with Beard, which currently forms part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (the famous ‘NK’ collection comprised of nearly 4,000 artworks with provenance linked to the War) and is being kept at the country’s Cultural Heritage Agency.

The painting’s ownership history is something of a mystery. Certain points are clear. It had formed part of an exhibition at a gallery in Dieren, a town in the eastern Netherlands, over the summer of 1939. Then in early August 1940, the gallery owner, Firma Katz, sold the painting to Alois Miedl, a notorious German art dealer established in the Netherlands, who had recently (and under highly illegal circumstances) taken over the Goudstikker Gallery in Amsterdam with the support of Hermann Göring. Miedl then sold the work on to one of the buyers for Hitler’s planned Führermuseum in Linz.

After the War, the painting was recuperated by the Allies (the celebrated Monuments Men) and restituted. Only that the return, as was typical of the policy at the time, was not to any particular individual, but to the Dutch state. It has remained in state custody ever since.

What does any of this have to do with the Stettiner heirs? Well, the heirs’ claim was that the painting had been in the collection of the Stettiner Gallery in Paris before the War. It was then sent to Katz’s gallery in Dieren as a loan for the exhibition. But instead of sending it back to Paris after the exhibition (by which point, the War had begun), Katz held onto it. The only proof of the loan came from the catalogue of the 1939 exhibition at Katz’s gallery. The listing referred to the piece with the following provenance: ‘Former Coll.: Collection, Russia / Stettiner, Paris’.

Unfortunately, the Restitutions Committee did not find sufficient factual evidence to back up this claim. For the Committee, the mere reference in the 1939 catalogue wasn’t enough to demonstrate that the work had remained the property of the Stettiner Gallery or any of the Stettiner siblings. The use of the word ‘former’ was critical: perhaps it had been sold to Katz at some earlier point? The truth may never be known.

For the present purposes, there was no convincing evidence to support the claimant’s position that the work had been loaned. And so, following the recommendation, the Koninck will remain in the Dutch state collection.

The Stettiner heirs were represented before the Committee by the Mondex Corporation of Toronto, Canada.
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