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CHRISTIE'S: INTRODUCTION TO THE GUTMANN SALE CATALOGUE
In the old Jewish Museum in Berlin, the portrait of Eugen Gutmann, the distinguished German banker and art collector, hung between those of Albert Einstein and Walther Rathenau. I first met Eugen's granddaughter Lili in 1997. She was then 78 years old, and lived in a tiny, modestly furnished apartment in Florence. On the wall was a portrait of her mother and, on a side table, a small bronze of one of the family's West Highland terriers, poignant reminders of her happy childhood in Holland. Life had dealt her a series of devastating blows, but she was filled with vigour, still working as a fashion journalist, and her energy and sense of fun were captivating. Together we made a documentary film Making a Killing about what had befallen her family and their art collection when the Nazis came to power, and how she and her brother Bernard had spent so many years trying to trace and recover what was taken. There were still many paintings, tapestries, china and other objets d'art missing, and the film followed the search for one of the pictures, Degas' Landscape with Smokestacks, which had been looted from Paris where her father had sent it for safekeeping in 1939.
Lili's grandparents were prominent members of Berlin society. In 1872, at the age of 32, Eugen Gutmann had founded the Dresdner Bank which became one of the leading financial institutions in Germany. The third child of thirteen siblings, Eugen had seven children with his wife Sophie Magnus, a talented painter and singer of Scottish origin who had studied in Dresden with the renowned singer Marcella Sempricht. The Gutmanns were well-known for their hospitality, entertaining diplomats, industrialists and artists. Their daughter Lili, a famous beauty, married Luca Orsini Baroni, the Italian Ambassador to Berlin. Her sister, Toinon, another beauty, married Baron von Essen, the Swedish Ambassador to Berlin. The Gutmann children grew up in a cultured world surrounded by beautiful objects. Eugen was a devotee of opera and the house at Rauchstrasse 10 was filled with music and his celebrated art collection. In 1912 Otto von Falke published a catalogue of the Eugen Gutmann collection which included rare and magnificent Renaissance silver and gold pieces, maiolica, bronzes and miniatures.
Fritz, the youngest son, went to London before the First World War as managing director of the British branch of the Dresdner bank. When war broke out in 1914, he was interned in the Isle of Man and just before the war ended he was able to emigrate to Amsterdam where he founded the Dutch branch of the bank. In 1913 he had married Louise von Landau and they had two children, Bernard and Lili. The family lived in an elegant 18th century home, Huize Bosbeek, in Heemstede, just outside Amsterdam, and Bernard and Lili enjoyed an enchanted childhood. Lili remembers that "it always was a very international way of life. My parents used to have people from America or from England or from France. And then the Gutmann family always had a soft spot for art and for artists." Fritz, who had been appointed the family custodian of the Eugen Gutmann collection, continued to collect, acquiring an impressive series of Old Master and Impressionist paintings, which included works by Cranach, Memling, Botticelli, Guardi, Renoir and Degas.
In 1938 Lili married and moved to Italy. At the outbreak of war Bernard was living in England after graduating from Cambridge. Fritz and Louise Gutmann were alone in Heemstede. Although Eugen Gutmann had converted to Protestantism in the late 19th century and both Fritz and Louise had been baptised, this was to be no protection against Hitler's avarice and murderous brutality. Even before the invasion of Holland in May 1940, Hitler had sent scouts into the country and the Gutmann art collection was placed on the list of those to be targeted. Fritz and Louise were classified as Jews and forced to wear the yellow star. Both their property and their lives were now at risk.
In 1941 the leading Nazi art dealer, Karl Haberstock, paid his first visit to the Gutmanns to "buy" their art collection. Fritz had no choice but to agree to a forced sale. The alternatives were made abundantly clear. He sold some of the art, but refused to part with his father's collection which was held in trust for the family. Over the next two years, there were more visits and more threats. Fritz became desperate to find a way to leave Holland. In spring 1943, through their diplomatic connections, the Gutmanns negotiated a safe passage to Italy. In Florence, Lili made preparations to welcome her parents, and went to the station to meet their train. But the train never came. Weeks later she learned her parents had instead been taken to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt. In May 1944 Fritz Gutmann was beaten to death, still refusing to sign over the family collection. In June her mother was deported to Auschwitz where she perished.
At the end of the war Bernard and Lili returned to Holland to find that their home at Heemstede had been stripped bare and that they were practically destitute. They registered their losses with the Dutch authorities and set about looking for their lost heritage. In Germany and Austria, the Allied forces had found over 2,000 caches of looted art works containing hundreds of thousands of objects seized from all over Europe. These were gathered together and returned to the countries from which they came.
In Holland a restitution commission, the Stichting Nederlands Kunstbezit (SNK), was set up whose responsibility it was to return the looted possessions to their rightful owners. Bernard and Lili made long lists of looted objects and filled out hundreds of official claims forms. At first the SNK refused to return the property sold to Haberstock, claiming the sales were voluntary and that Fritz Gutmann had not been under any immediate threat. Bernard and Lili took their case to court, and in 1952 the court ruled against the SNK. But in line with another newly minted Dutch policy, Bernard and Lili were forced to pay in order to recover their own property, on the grounds that the sale proceeds had been paid over to Fritz. In fact the money had been placed in an account controlled by a Nazi administrator who absconded with it. Nevertheless, the Dutch authorities paid no heed. Between 1954 and 1960 Bernard and Lili recovered a number of objects, but despite many sacrifices, could not afford to recover the rest.
Other looted paintings and works of art which were not found by the Allied forces remained missing. Over the next 50 years Bernard (now Goodman) and Lili searched assiduously for them throughout the world. When Bernard died in 1994 his family found stacks of auction catalogues, dating back decades, piled into suitcases, along with bundles of correspondence with Interpol, governments, lawyers, art experts, dealers and auction houses on every continent whom Bernard had notified of the losses. Bernard had rarely mentioned his quest to his two sons, Nick and Simon, but following his death, moved by what they had learned, they decided to continue his search.
In 1996, after months combing libraries and bookshops, Simon found an illustration of the family's missing Degas pastel. It turned out to be in a private collection in Chicago. Nick led the family's efforts and made a claim for restitution. But this was rejected by the then owner, a wealthy American businessman. The film, Making A Killing, ends with a court case to resolve the claim due to open in Chicago a few weeks later in summer 1998. It was a David and Goliath tale, the family with few resources but fighting for what they believed was theirs by right, the owner, one of the wealthiest men in the United States, using powerful lawyers who rejected not just the claim but the facts of what had taken place. After completing the film, I sent the owner a copy. He rang me up, moved and convinced by what he'd seen. "I want to settle", he said, "can you arrange it?". The ensuing negotiations between the two sides resulted in the ownership being split. The picture was donated to the Art Institute of Chicago which bought the Gutmann family's half share. It hangs there today with a plaque denoting its Gutmann history for all time. Nick's determination was also to result in other missing paintings being traced and settlements reached.
The case of the Degas marked a turning point and helped bring the whole subject under the international spotlight. In December 1998 the US State Department convened a conference in Washington DC of forty-four nations who endorsed a series of principles for identifying and resolving cases of Nazi looted art. Weeks later I was asked to set up a body based in Europe to represent families and assist them in searching for their looted legacies. In March 1999 the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, a non-profit making body, was formally established in London.
Lili Gutmann and I had become friends and we remained in close touch. At the beginning of 2000 she asked if we would help the Gutmann family recover looted property which remained in the possession of the Dutch state. Since late 1998 Nick Goodman had urged the government to return any looted works of art and in 1999 lodged a claim for their return. The Commission for Looted Art embarked on lengthy discussions to find what the government still held. As time progressed, it turned out there was more than anyone had ever known. The numbers grew from three to nine to twenty-three to forty, with more emerging all the time. Simultaneously the Commission negotiated for a change in Dutch restitution policy.
In April 2001 the Ekkart Committee, an official advisory body to the Dutch government, recommended several fundamental policy changes, remarking that previous policy had been "callous" and "extremely cold and unjust". The Commission for Looted Art then proposed to the Dutch government that an independent committee be established without delay with the power to decide outstanding cases and ensure justice be done. In late autumn 2001 the Polak Committee was founded and the first case it heard was the Gutmann's.
In May 2002 we received a fax from the Minister of Culture that the Committee had recommended the return of 233 objects. They included china and glass, textiles and porcelain, mirrors and lampstands, objects which had been part of the very fabric of the family's life at Heemstede. Although the family had been in continuous contact with the Dutch authorities since 1945, they had never been notified that the state held so many of their possessions.
When Lili went to the warehouse in the Netherlands last September to see for the first time the objects which were being returned, she remembered each and every one of them. She recalled where every table and chair had stood, where each picture had hung in the family home. Each object formed a part of the cherished landscape of her family's life, whose meaning continues to transcend time and space.
The untiring efforts of the Gutmann family, Lili, Bernard, Nick and Simon, over the decades since the war have paved the way for many others. They have helped change the moral climate, so that other families are also seeing their heritage at last restored to them. The pain and the damage of the Nazi years cannot be undone, but the sense of dignity restored when justice is done is immeasurable.
Explanation of terms
Stichting Nederlandsch Kunstbezit (SNK)
After World War Two, the Stichting Nederlandsch Kunstbezit was assigned the task of recuperating artworks from abroad (primarily from Germany). The SNK - as a special department of the Nederlands Beheers Instituut (NBI) - then managed these works of art in the Netherlands and it saw to their possible return to their rightful owners. The SNK was discontinued in 1950 and was succeeded by the Bureau Herstelbetalings- en Recuperatiegoederen (Hergo). Both the SNK's and the NBI's archives can be examined by the parties involved in at the Algemeen Rijksarchief, The Hague.
Nederlands Kunstbezit-collectie (NK-collection)
The NK collection consists of the remaining works of art recuperated after the war, particularly from Germany. This collection is in the State's custody and is part of the Instituut Collectie Nederland (ICN). This institute is part of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences. Paintings by artists born before 1875 in the ICN's collection have been publicised in Old Master Paintings, An Illustrated Summary Catalogue, Zwolle/The Hague 1992.
Instituut Collectie Nederland (Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage)
The Instituut Collectie Nederland manages the Dutch State's art collection. This organisation succeeded the Dienst voor 's Rijks Verspreide Kunstvoorwerpen (DRVK), the Dienst Verspreide Rijkscollecties (DVR) and the Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst (RBK).
The Ekkart Committee supervises the provenance research into the objects in the NK-collection and also makes recommendations to the Dutch government. Furthermore, the Ekkart committee monitors the methods and quality of the Herkomst Gezocht agency's research.
On 2 October 1997, the Secretary of State for Education, Culture and Sciences ordered the execution of a pilot study into the provenances of objects in the NK-collection. Its purpose was to ascertain for which objects from the ICN collection the registration forms did not provide information concerning former owners and to find out whether the information present could be added to with data from sources including Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, the SNK archive and the archive of the Nederlands Instituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie (NIOD). The results were published in Herkomst Gezocht, rapport van het proefonderzoek naar de herkomst van de onder beheer van het Rijk gebleven uit Duitland gerecupereerde kunstwerken, in April 1998. The research was continued on the merits of this pilot study. This led to the Herkomst Gezocht project.
Herkomst Gezocht (Origins Unknown)
The Herkomst Gezocht agency was founded in September 1998. Its assignment is to investigate who owned the works currently in the NK collection prior to/and or during World War Two. This is done on the basis of research at several archives and at the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie. Herkomst Gezocht's research is supervised by the Ekkart committee. Once a year, the results are published in a interim report. The website is www.herkomstgezocht.nl
The Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications, in short the Restitution Committee, was set up by the Secretary of State for Education, Culture & Science. The Restitution Committee started its activities on 1 January 2002. It was set up to deal with the independent assessment of claims on artworks which were involuntarily lost as an immediate result of the activities of the Nazi regime. The committee is chaired by mr J.M. Polak.
We would like to thank Herkomst Gezocht for providing the above explanation of terms and to enable Christie's to publish the provenances as researched by the agency.