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In 2000, acting on its own volition, the City of Rotterdam returned the painting Woman Seated on the Grass at the Edge of a Meadow and Reading by Nicolaas van der Waay (1855-1936) 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 whereabouts or identity of the rightful heirs to this painting, which was recorded under incorrect artists’ names as ‘H. v.d. Waait, Woman reading in a meadow’ and ‘Woman reading by v.d. Waart’.
The City of Rotterdam asked Bonke to carry out additional research, which led to a report in April 2000 in which the work of art was identified and its exact provenance established.
The provenance research shows that painting belonged to Mr I.H. Leefsma (1879-1943) of Amsterdam, and that it and 64 other objects were handed in without his permission to the city’s ‘robber bank’, Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co. (Liro), in 1942 by a member of the Dutch Nazi movement who had been appointed the administrator of Leefsma’s company on 8 December 1941. The Liro then sold the picture to the Dienststelle Mühlmann, a department that answered directly to Seyss-Inquart, the Nazi Reichskommisar of the Netherlands. The art historian Eduard Plietzsch, a freelance assistant at the Dienststelle Mühlmann, offered to sell the painting and three drawings (two by Bauer and one by Breitner, all three with different provenances) in a letter of 7 July 1943 to Dr D. Hannema, director of Museum Boijmans. He accepted the offer and bought all four works.
Leefsma and his wife died in March 1943 in Sobibor concentration camp. In 1937 they had named the Vereniging De Joodse Invalide as their sole heir. That society had already tried to discover the whereabouts of several works of art from the Leefsma Collection in 1951, including this painting, but without success.
On the basis of Bonke’s report, the Burgomaster and Aldermen of Rotterdam decided on 20 June 2000 to return the painting to the rightful heirs.
Translation: Michael Hoyle