The heirs of Richard Semmel and Museum de Fundatie have reached an agreement concerning the painting Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well by the Italian artist Bernardo Strozzi, dated 1635. The museum will pay the fair market value to the heirs as full compensation for the persecution-related loss of the painting.
Richard Semmel, an industrialist from Berlin, was forced to sell parts of his beloved art collection in 1934 on his escape first to the Netherlands, later to New York.
He died desolate in New York, cared for by his childhood companion, whom he made his sole heir. Until her death in 1958, she tried in vain to claim seized assets.
In 2011 the heirs to Richard Semmel made claims to the painting with the current owner, the Museum de Fundatie in Zwolle, Netherlands. Both sides agreed to refer this case to the Restitution Commission of the Netherlands.
On April 25, 2013, the Restitution Commission published a binding opinion, according to which the loss due to persecution was recognized, but the museum should retain ownership of the painting, as the balancing of interests, which was the criterion for a binding opinion at the time, spoke in favor of the museum.
The heirs of Richard Semmel then called the ordinary court of Overijssel in Zwolle, which dismissed the claims on June 1, 2014.
Since then, a campaign started for the rules of the Restitution Commission to be repealed and for only the criteria of the Washington Conference of 1998 to be applied; Initiatives have been launched against the Ministry of Culture and Parliament.
As a result of the efforts, an evaluation of the work of the Restitution Commission took place in 2020. On December 7, 2020, the report Striving for Justice published by the Kohnstamm Committee was published and joined the criticism of the decisions of the Restitution Commission.
The Museum de Fundatie embraced the Kohnstamm report and contacted the heirs of Richard Semmel, even before the official adoption of its recommendations by the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, to consult them about a fair and just solution regarding the work Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well by Strozzi.
In accordance with the report of the Kohnstamm Committee and the Washington Principles of 1998 the museum and the heirs discussed the possibility of compensation for the persecution-related loss of the painting. The museum offered to return the painting or to compensate the heirs financially.
The heirs and the museum have now made a joint decision, arrived at after careful consideration and with mutual respect, that the museum will compensate the heirs of Richard Semmel for the persecution-related loss of the painting by paying them the market value, established by an independent evaluation. In consequence, the painting will remain part of the collection of Museum de Fundatie, and the heirs will henceforth recognize the Museum’s right of ownership.
The museum will inform its visitors of the role of Richard Semmel in the provenance of the painting. The museum is happy that this painful matter has been resolved in a harmonious manner and is grateful to the heirs for enabling visitors to Museum de Fundatie to enjoy and study the painting by Bernardo Strozzi in the future.
The heirs and their legal representative hope that this example sets a precedent and that the Centraal Museum Utrecht in particular, in the case of the painting by Jan von Scorel, will also return it to the heirs of Richard Semmel.
In the case there, the incorrect binding opinion of the Restitution Commission had been annulled by the court in 2013.
Contact: LAW FIRM OSSMANN, RA Olaf S. Ossmann, Winterthur, Switzerland