In 2000, acting on its own volition, the City of Rotterdam returned the black chalk drawing Standing Young Country Woman by George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923) to the rightful heirs.
In 1998 the city had asked the historian Dr A.J. Bonke to carry out archival research into the provenance of the acquisitions made by the city’s museums in the period 1940 to 1948 in the framework of the Museum Acquisitions 1940-1948 research project organised by the Netherlands Museums Association (NMV).
The city’s policy is that works of art that were unlawfully removed from the possession of Jewish owners during the Second World War and entered municipal museums should be returned to the rightful owner or heir in accordance with the criterion of ‘minimum reasonable doubt’. These were works of art to which the original owner had lost title during the war as a result of forced sale or theft.
After completing his research in 1998 Bonke came to the conclusion that the Dutch archives could not resolve the issue of provenance in every case. In addition, the research had not yet established the identity of the rightful heirs to the watercolour by Breitner.
It had been stolen, and was bought in 1943 by Dr D. Hannema, director of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen at the time, from Eduard Plietzsch of the Dienststelle Mühlmann, together with two drawings by Marius Bauer and a painting by Nicolaas van der Waay.
Bonke’s research showed that the watercolour belonged to Mr E. de Vries, who was in America when the war broke out and had left his possessions with De Gruyter & Co., a firmof furniture removers. After the proclamation of the second Liro decree in 1942, De Gruyter surrendered De Vries’s possessions to the Lippman en Rosenthal & Co. ‘robber bank’ (Liro).
The search for E. de Vries’s heirs continued at the Rotterdam City Archives, which traced them through the Amsterdam register of births, deaths and marriages.
Translation: Michael Hoyle