News — 11 Oct 2018

The Stedelijk Museum is responsible for the collection of the municipality of Amsterdam, a public collection of around 95,000 works. Our task comprises exhibiting the collection, as well as managing it for future generations, studying and restoring it. These tasks are performed with the utmost care. 

In light of this, in the last few years, the Stedelijk participated in the national research project into the provenance of works of art. In 1998-99, the Netherlands Museum Association (NMV) commissioned museums to launch an initial investigation into art works that entered museum holdings between the years 1940 and 1948.

Bild mit Häusern, Wassily Kandinsky,  c/o Pictoright, Amsterdam 2004
Bild mit Häusern, Wassily Kandinsky, c/o Pictoright, Amsterdam 2004

The investigation focused on work that may have been stolen, sold under duress, confiscated, or came into collections under suspicious circumstances. However, the period 1940-1948 was too narrow, and the NMV commissioned follow-up research into works that had been acquired by museum collections since 1933, and produced before 1945. The Stedelijk also collaborated on this research. For a number of years, the outcomes of the museums’ investigations have been published on www.musealeverwervingen.nl. The Stedelijk, and the Municipality of Amsterdam, which owns the collection, value transparency concerning its art works and, in 2015, produced the exhibition and publication The Stedelijk Museum and the Second World War which explored this topic. (€ 29,95, ISBN 978-90-593-7404-1) and a short documentary film (see video on the right).

Of the almost 4,000 works in the Stedelijk collection that fell within the remit of the research project (acquired since 1933, produced before 1945), 15 works were identified as having a potentially questionable provenance, or may have been wrongfully obtained from their rightful owners in the period 1933 to 1945. This relatively high number is also due to exceptional circumstances: the Stedelijk was the first museum in the Netherlands to have a bunker in the dunes near Castricum to safeguard its collection during the war. Other collectors, and museums such as the Rijksmuseum, Frans Halsmuseum, Museum Boijmans and the Lakenhal, Leiden, also stored work there for safekeeping; in total, the bunker temporarily housed over 500 collections. The inventory lists, which were often handwritten, are incomplete; to protect artworks belonging to Jewish collectors from confiscation, former curator Willem Sandberg removed indications of ownership and destroyed or hid the accompanying documentation. As such, it’s possible that the museum may have no clear records of how and when certain art works were acquired because they were owned by Jewish collectors who entrusted the works for safekeeping, and failed to return after the war. 

The Stedelijk attaches great importance to doing justice to history and does everything in its power to find and contact possible relatives or heirs, and discuss the history and future of these works with them. Anyone who believes that they have a rightful claim to an object is invited to submit a case, jointly with the museum, to the Restitutions Committee, an independent advisory committee set up by the Dutch government. This committee will review the research undertaken by the museum and the claimant, and conducts its own investigation. This may take several years, after which, the committee will give a binding decision. By placing the matter with the Restitutions Committee, both the museum and the claimants agree with the decision of the committee. 

Of the 15 objects, one work has already been submitted to the Restitutions Committee, namely Bild mit Häusern by Wassily Kandinsky, made in 1909. The decision of the Restitutions Committee is expected this Fall.