Dutch Art Museum Overrides Restitution Panel, Will Pay 200,000 Euros to Heirs of Jewish Man for Painting He Was Forced to Sell by the Nazis
Despite a recommendation not to do so from a government committee, a Dutch museum has decided to pay restitution for a painting in its collection that was looted from a Jewish industrialist in the Nazi era.
The Art Newspaper reported that the Museum de Fundatie in Zwolle, the Netherlands, will pay 200,000 euros ($240,626) to the heirs of Richard Semmel for Bernardo Strozzi’s 1635 painting Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well.
The decision was made despite a ruling made in 2013 by the Dutch government’s Restitutions Committee that the museum did not have to pay restitution, on the basis that the painting “plays a central role” in the museum’s collection and therefore the claimants’ request “does not outweigh the museum’s ownership rights to this work.”
The Committee’s recommendation, however, was criticized in a report issued by a group led by former politician Jacob Kohnstamm, which recommended “humanity, transparency, and goodwill” and rebuked the committee’s argument as to the painting’s importance in the museum’s collection.
The museum then contacted Semmel’s heirs and an agreement on compensation was reached, with the museum saying in a statement that it was “happy that this painful matter has been resolved in a harmonious manner and is grateful to the heirs for enabling visitors to the Museum de Fundatie to enjoy and study the painting.”
Semmel was forced to sell the painting under severe duress in 1933 after the Nazi takeover of his native Germany. He was targeted for antisemitic, political, and financial reasons — as he was a Jew, a member of an opposition, and the wealthy owner of a textile factory.
He fled the country the same year to the Netherlands, which he left in 1939 and ended up in New York. He died penniless there in 1950, leaving as his only heir a family friend named Grete Gross-Eisenstädt. Her grandchildren are the claimants in the Museum de Fundatie case.
The claimants and their lawyer issued a statement saying that they hope the compensation agreement will lead to further oversight of the Restitution Committee’s decisions.