De Telegraaf: Amsterdam will return looted art more quickly

[THIS IS AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THE ORIGINAL DUTCH ARTICLE "Amsterdam gaat roofkunst sneller teruggeven" PUBLISHED ON DE TELEGRAAF ON FEBRUARY 19, 2021]. (https://www.telegraaf.nl/nieuws/1192159181/amsterdam-gaat-roofkunst-sneller-teruggeven)


By MIKE MULLER

19 Feb. 2021 in INTERIOR

AMSTERDAM - The municipality of Amsterdam will use a different method to return 'looted art' in possession of the city to the Jewish heirs. According to the Amsterdam city council, giving back as much art as possible to the rightful (heirs of) owners is “the least we can do for the victims of the Nazi regime,” says culture alderman Touria Meliani (GL).

The municipality of Amstardam owns an extensive art collection that is managed by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Amsterdam Museum and the Amsterdam City Archives. Extensive research has been conducted into the provenance of the objects in this collection. In a number of works it became clear that in the period 1933-1945 they may have been involuntarily lost from the possession of the former owners. The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam has 15 works of art, the Amsterdam Museum has 7 works and the Amsterdam City Archives has 8 works.


Restitution

The city approached the former owners or their heirs, which led to a restitution application in four cases. A special committee assessed whether restitution was necessary on the basis of criteria. Two works were therefore returned: the painting 'Portrait of Joan Huydecoper after Bartholomeus van der Helst' from the Amsterdam Museum and the drawing 'Judenviertel in Amsterdam' by Max Liebermann from the City Archives.

In recent years, discussions have arisen as to whether the assessment frameworks used for testing are correct. At the end of 2020, the Kohnstamm Committee argued for a review of the current Dutch restitution policy. According to the committee, the current assessment framework is not in the service of remedying injustice that has been done to victims.


First municipality

The Committee considered it incorrect in principle to include the aspect 'importance of the work for the owner' in the weighing of interests. The municipality of Amsterdam is the first municipality to adopt this conclusion and before the national government has expressed its opinion. The city council believes that the new assessment framework should not only apply to new restitution cases, but also to current and settled cases, “and will of course be responsible for any consequences,” says Alderman Meliani.

This means good news for the heirs - two Americans and one Dutch - of Robert Lewenstein and a foster child of Irma Klein. This Jewish couple, who later divorced, acquired the painting Bild mit häusern (1909) by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky through the inheritance of their mother (in law) Hedwig Lewenstein-Weijermann, who died in that year . Three years later, on October 9, 1940, the painting was sold by auction at the Amsterdam auction house of Frederik Muller & Co. It is now worth many millions, while at the time it came into the possession of the municipality for a mere 160 guilders, nowadays about 1600 euros.


The municipality of Amstardam owns an extensive art collection that is managed by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Amsterdam Museum and the Amsterdam City Archives. Extensive research has been conducted into the provenance of the objects in this collection. In a number of works it became clear that in the period 1933-1945 they may have been involuntarily lost from the possession of the former owners. The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam has 15 works of art, the Amsterdam Museum has 7 works and the Amsterdam City Archives has 8 works.


Restitution

The city approached the former owners or their heirs, which led to a restitution application in four cases. A special committee assessed whether restitution was necessary on the basis of criteria. Two works were therefore returned: the painting 'Portrait of Joan Huydecoper after Bartholomeus van der Helst' from the Amsterdam Museum and the drawing 'Judenviertel in Amsterdam' by Max Liebermann from the City Archives.

In recent years, discussions have arisen as to whether the assessment frameworks used for testing are correct. At the end of 2020, the Kohnstamm Committee argued for a review of the current Dutch restitution policy. According to the committee, the current assessment framework is not in the service of remedying injustice that has been done to victims.


First municipality

The Committee considered it incorrect in principle to include the aspect 'importance of the work for the owner' in the weighing of interests. The municipality of Amsterdam is the first municipality to adopt this conclusion and before the national government has expressed its opinion. The city council believes that the new assessment framework should not only apply to new restitution cases, but also to current and settled cases, “and will of course be responsible for any consequences,” says Alderman Meliani.

This means good news for the heirs - two Americans and one Dutch - of Robert Lewenstein and a foster child of Irma Klein. This Jewish couple, who later divorced, acquired the painting Bild mit häusern (1909) by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky through the inheritance of their mother (in law) Hedwig Lewenstein-Weijermann, who died in that year . Three years later, on October 9, 1940, the painting was sold by auction at the Amsterdam auction house of Frederik Muller & Co. It is now worth many millions, while at the time it came into the possession of the municipality for a mere 160 guilders, nowadays about 1600 euros.


Legal battle

For years, there has been a legal battle between the heirs of Lewenstein and the municipality of Amsterdam. Although the municipality was ruled in the right by the court and was not obliged to return it, the municipality of Amsterdam now wants to make a new assessment based on the new assessment framework. "The Board will contact the applicants to jointly go to the restitution committee as soon as there is a new assessment framework," said alderman Touria Meliani. This also applies to another restitution request that is still being processed. This concerns two silver salt vessels by Johannes Lutma, which are now in the Amsterdam Museum.


Client died

Prof. Dr Axel Hagedorn, who provides legal assistance to the Lewenstein family, is pleased with the step taken by the municipality. “We are pleased that things are moving forward. The appeal will be filed next month, which we are not going to postpone because we think the advice from 2018 is incorrect. The municipality must now do everything in its power to return it quickly. The committee does not need to reconsider this, because with the first request it lasted from 2013 to 2018. In addition, one of my clients, who attached so much value to the artwork, recently passed away. The others are also elderly. Waiting a long time again would not be correct from that point of view. It is important that the weighing of interests is off the table and it was decisive for the restitution committee in 2018. ”


Recognition of Injustice

According to the Amsterdam Alderman for Culture, the suffering caused to Jewish citizens in particular during the Second World War is unprecedented and irreversible. “Property, rights, dignity and in many cases life have been taken away from Jewish citizens. Insofar as anything can be recovered from the great injustice that has been done to them, we as a society have a moral obligation to act accordingly. This certainly applies to the many works of art that were in the possession of Jewish citizens and were looted by Nazis or in some other way lost from the owners. The return of these works of art can mean a lot to the victims and is of great importance for the recognition of the injustice that has been done to them. ”

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