The legal heirs of the late Jewish art dealer Nathan Katz have filed a claim against Dutch museums for the return of 227 paintings which the Dutch state has permanently loaned to public museums.
Digital Journal, 21 September 2007
On Friday, the Dutch Art Collections Institute (ICN) confirmed it had sent a confidential letter about the claim to the museums involved. ICN controls all paintings that came into the possession of the Dutch state after World War II. Among the paintings currently being claimed are seven works now on display in the Museum De Lakenhal and five from the Frans Hals Musuem in Haarlem. It concerns prestigious works of art by painters Gerrit Dou, Nicolaes Berchem and Jacob Ruysdael amongst others.
On Friday, Minister Ronald Plasterk of Education, Culture and Science requested advice about the Katz claim from the Dutch Restitution Committee. This committee deals with works of art stolen during or immediately after World War II. The investigation will probably last several months.
The collection came into the possession of the Netherlands after the Dutch state took the paintings from Germany in 1945. The paintings had been taken to Germany in 1940 when art dealer Nathan Katz was forced to sell a large collection of paintings to Alois Miedl, who was responsible for building an art collection for Adolf Hitler’s Fuehrer Museum.
In 1945, the Dutch Art Collection Foundation, SNK, was asked to look after the paintings and if possible return them to their legal heirs. Katz, who had fled to Switzerland in 1941 and survived the war, also filed a claim for the return of his paintings. But SNK rejected the claim, saying it was unfounded.
It is the second time the heirs of a Jewish art dealer have filed a claim to the Dutch state concerning such a collection of art. In 2006, the Netherlands returned 202 paintings repossessed by the Dutch state after the Nazis took them from the late Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker. The decision to return the paintings came after several years of legal proceedings against the Dutch state by the Goudstikker heirs, during which both sides lost and appealed their cases.
The decision to return a substantial amount of the total number of paintings claimed by the Goudstikker heirs was ultimately a political one. In what was clearly an attempt to prevent others from making new claims on works of art unilaterally taken by the Dutch in 1945, the Dutch government stressed in 2006 that the Goudstikker heirs did not have any legal right to the paintings. The decision to return the paintings was made on moral grounds only, government officials added.