The Koenigs Collection becomes the property of the liquidating bank (1940)

One feature of fiduciary ownership is that it is hidden from third parties. The correspondence about the loan of the Koenigs Collection in the period 1935-1939 was between the museum, in the person of its director, Dirk Hannema, and the collector, and was not conducted through the bank, [1-1-8.pdf] / [1-1-9.pdf]  so it is very possible that the museum only learned the precise details about ownership in 1939, having assumed up until then that the loan came directly from the collector. In any event, the museum and the trustees of its recently formed foundation were taken completely by surprise by the announcement in the summer of 1939 (there is no known correspondence on the subject) that the Koenigs Collection was being offered for sale en bloc. Everyone immediately set to work to find financial backers in order to keep the collection in the Netherlands, and specifically in Museum Boijmans. 

From the manuscript Minute Book of the Museum Boijmans Foundation, which was founded on 17 July 1939, (first) meeting of the Board of Trustees, 26 October 1939. ‘The chairman then announced that the collection of paintings and drawings of Mr F. Koenigs, which has been in the Museum on loan since 1935, will leave next year. This represents an exceptionally great loss for the Museum. The sum of money required for any purchase is so substantial that it will not be easy to retain this collection for Rotterdam. The main question is what can be done to prevent this loss. Mr Hannema gives a brief résumé of the many important pieces in this collection. In addition to the paintings, which are dominated by Hieronymus Bosch and Rubens, there is a unique and exquisite collection of Old Master drawings. The Dutch, German, French and Italian schools are represented in abundance. In particular, the speaker sings the praises of the series of drawings by Peasant Bruegel, by Watteau, Rubens and the 50 sheets by Rembrandt. The Museum has been able to mount many exhibitions in recent years from this lavishly compiled collection. Its loss would be a disaster for Rotterdam. Mr Heldring asks what will happen to the collection. Mr Van der Vorm announces that the American Museums are interested in it. As a whole it is pledged for around 2 million guilders, not including interest. He asks whether the Government can do something in this exceptional case. Dr Schneider considers it to be a matter of national interest that the collection remains here. He will enquire at the Department of Education, Arts and Sciences whether supportmight not be forthcoming. Mr Van Beuningen wonders whether it would not be possible to form a syndicate. One could then, if needs be, sell anything that was not so important for the Museum. In the end it is decided that the Executive Committee will examine this matter further.’ [enCuratorium1939-1965.pdf] #1

By this time negotiations to acquire the Koenigs Collection for Museum Boijmans had been going on for more than two months. The asking price was 2.2m guilders. The art dealer Jacques Goudstikker had been appointed the agent by the bank and the collector. He immediately approached the collector D.G. van Beuningen, who had been a regular customer of his for years and who was also the museum’s chief benefactor. In a letter to him of 29 August 1939, in which he confirmed Van Beuningen’s purchase of a painting by Dieric Bouts, he wrote: ‘In my opinion, your recent purchases have made your collection by far the best in the Netherlands, and the entire country can be proud that something like that is possible within its borders. I would be very happy if I could continue negotiating with you and Dr Hannema over the K. Collection. It is a matter which, to my mind, Museum Boijmans should not let pass by, and there is every chance of that if one does not take the plunge at this critical moment.’ [DGvBmap3.jpg]

The wealthy Rotterdam businessman Daniel George van Beuningen (1877- 1955) was director of the Steenkolen Handelsvereniging (SHV). >MORE He was a leading collector of paintings and the most important benefactor of Museum Boijmans. >MORE He was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Museum Boijmans Foundation from its inception in 1939, whose mission was (and still is) ‘to promote the good fortunes of Museum Boijmans in Rotterdam’. [enCuratorium1939-1965.pdf] Van Beuningen was primarily a collector of paintings. He was less interested in drawings because their sensitivity to light means that they have to be stored in boxes and cannot be hung up for long. Although he had several irons in the fire at the time, he actively supported the efforts to preserve the Koenigs Collection for the museum, and it was thanks to his bold actions that it was saved - in the nick of time.

The bank’s representative at the sale of the collection was Jacques Goudstikker (1897-1940), a Jewish art dealer of Amsterdam whose main client since 1916 was Van Beuningen. >MORE Goudstikker had also acted as his adviser for the purchase of many of the paintings and bronzes from the bankrupt Austrian banker Stephan von Auspitz in 1929. In 1958, those works of art entered Museum Boijmans along with Van Beuningen’s collection, where they now form the core of the collection of Italian paintings.

In 1939 there was ‘a great deal of interest from several parties’, more specifically Americans, but it evidently did not take on firm shape. The negotiations did not make much headway due to the tense situation in Europe, the start of the Second World War in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, and the absence abroad of some of the key figures. Eventually the museum tried to persuade Willem van der Vorm (1873-1957, >MORE), another Rotterdam industrialist and patron of the museum, to buy the Koenigs Collection for the museum. Hannema sent him an urgent letter on 13 March 1940, enclosing the valuation Van der Vorm had asked for, informing him that Koenigs had rung to say that the collection would be shipped to Lisbon (where the major shareholder and bank director Kramarsky had been living since late 1939) within a fortnight, and that Koenigs ‘wanted to do everything possible to keep it here’. [1-1-14.pdf]  Hannema sent the same documents to Van Beuningen eight days later.

The Koenigs Collection had still not been sold when the Lisser & Rosenkranz bank went into voluntary liquidation on 2 April 1940 (probably, as a Jewish concern, so as to avoid German interference if the Netherlands was occupied). Koenigs had announced that he would not be repaying the loan, so the bank became the full owner of the collection on 2 April 1940, as Koenigs immediately informed the museum by letter. [1-1-15.pdf]  On the basis of the agreements (see p. 6) [E-4.pdf] the bank was entitled to sell the entire collection and charge Koenigs for any difference (sale of the surety). The bank accordingly cancelled the loan to the museum by letter that same day, and asked the director to pack the Koenigs Collection up and prepare it for shipment. [1-1-16.pdf] The museum replied that it was packing the drawings in a responsible manner, and that they could be collected by a shipping agent on 16 April. [1-1-18.pdf] Their destination was still Lisbon, to which the major shareholder and two bank directors had moved in 1939 on their way to the United States.

According to W.O. Koenigs, the collector’s youngest child (a former banker, former chairman of the Rembrandt Association and former trustee of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Foundation), his father had no intention of buying back the title to the collection because he did not have the funds to do so after having put together another collection. He regarded the first one (the Koenigs Collection) as complete and already in the most suitable location: Museum Boijmans.

The bank’s sale of the Koenigs Collection to D.G. van Beuningen (1940)

On 2 April 1940 the bank accepted the collection of drawings and 47 paintings in settlement of Koenigs’s debt. [E-4.pdf] / [E-5.pdf]  A week later, on 9 April 1940, the bank sold the drawings and 12 paintings (eight by Rubens and four by Bosch) to Van Beuningen, [F-1.jpg] preventing shipment abroad and allowing the collection to remain in the museum.

From the Minute Book of the Museum Boijmans Foundation, meeting of the Board of Trustees, 18 April 1940. ‘The minutes of the previous meeting were read out and approved. The Chairman then announces that the Koenigs Collection, which has been on loan to the Museum since 1935 and which has been discussed on several occasions by the Board of Trustees of the Museum Boijmans Foundation, has now been preserved for Rotterdam. Mr Hannema relates that a request was received on 2 April that preparations be made for dispatching the entire collection to Lisbon. The Museum there had already agreed to take the collection into safekeeping. On 5 April, at half past eight in the morning, there had been a meeting at the museum between Messrs Koenigs, Van der Vorm and Van Beuningen. That afternoon Mr Van Beuningen went to Amsterdam to discuss the matter with the banking firm of Lisser & Rosenkranz, which had become the owner of the entire collection. Mr Van B. then made an offer, but it was not accepted. A second urgent letter arrived on 8 April. Everything would be collected in a few days. On the morning of 9 April there was a meeting in Mr Van Beuningen’s office with Mr Goudstikker, who acted as the representative of the firm of Lisser & Rosenkranz. The result was that the transaction was finalised that afternoon. The purchase comprises the entire collection of drawings, without exception, the four paintings by Hieronymus Bosch as well as eight by Rubens, among them the superb landscape from the former Northbrook Collection. Mr Van Hasselt, speaking for the Rembrandt Association, wishes Museum Boijmans and the initiators luck. It is an achievement that far transcends any local interest.’ [enCuratorium1939-1965.pdf] #2


The collapse of the art market had reduced the purchase price to below the 2.5m-guilder insured value of 1935 and the 2.25m-guilder valuation of March 1940. [E-4.pdf] The stipulated sale en bloc naturally acted to reduce the price as well. Van Beuningen was business-like, and offered less than half the asking price of 2.2m guilders. The bank’s sale of the collection to him for 1m therefore did not meet its full claim against Koenigs of around 1.8m guilders. In order to pay off his remaining liability of 844,557 guilders Koenigs also transferred full ownership to the bank on 2 April 1940 of 35 of the 47 paintings on loan to Museum Boijmans. [E-5.pdf][E-6.pdf] The bank then sold them on to the Goudstikker gallery, which picked them up from the museum on 19 April 1940. [1-1-20.pdf]

It is clear from a letter he wrote on 17 April that Franz Koenigs was happy with the bank’s sale of his collection to Van Beuningen, because it meant that it could be retained for the country in its entirety, and in the museum that he had selected himself, where it had been preserved for an indefinite period since 1935. ‘We are also delighted that the collection has remained in Holland, and of course we prefer to see it in Museum Boijmans. In order to express our sentiments I have sent you by hand of Mr Lütjens two drawings by Carpaccio from the Oppenheimer Collection for Museum Boijmans. They may perhaps help fill the gap I have always felt in the sequence of the Venetian drawings.’ [1-3-1.pdf] Koenigs had bought the drawings at an auction at Christie’s in London on 10 July 1936. [enCuratorium1939-1965.pdf] #4

When the Koenigs Collection was sold to Van Beuningen, the seller (the bank) did not stipulate that nothing could be sold from it or that the entire collection should be donated to the museum. The buyer did agree that for the time being it would continue to be presented as the F. Koenigs Collection. This emerges from the bank’s letter of 9 April 1940 to Van Beuningen. ‘We have noted with gratitude from your undertaking to that effect that the above-mentioned collection of drawings and paintings will continue to be known under its existing name of the F. Koenigs Collection for as long as it remains in the museum.’ [1-1-18.pdf] The bank wrote the museum director a letter the same day with a very similar passage but without the limitation to the time the collection remained in the museum. ‘The undertaking given to us by Mr D.G. van Beuningen, namely that the present name of the collection of drawings and paintings will be retained, also meets the wishes of Mr Koenigs’. [1-1-18.pdf] The undertaking to keep the name was confirmed by Hannema in a letter to Koenigs of 12 April 1940. ‘However, I want to assure you that the collection to which your name will continue to be attached will be looked after with the greatest of care in the future as well. I therefore hope most sincerely that the ties between Museum Boijmans, the Koenigs Collection and both of you will continue.’ [1-1-19.pdf] In 1942, a year after the collector’s death, his widow Anna Koenigs-von Kalckreuth (1890-1946) wrote to Hannema: ‘I am happy about everything that has remained in Museum Boijmans and the Netherlands, because my husband always wanted his collection to remain in our country. I found the lines you have written about my husband as a collector most characteristic of him and of his way of collecting.’ [1-1-23.pdf]

Sadly, Franz Koenigs died in an accident at Cologne Station on 6 May 1941 on his way to visit one of his sisters who was living in the parental home in Sinzig-am-Rhein. He fell while trying to jump aboard a departing train and broke his spine, and died on his way to hospital.


Van Beuningen sells 20% of the Koenigs Collection to the Germans and donates 80% to the museum foundation (1940)

In December 1940 D.G. van Beuningen donated the Koenigs Collection, four paintings by Bosch and five oil sketches by Rubens to the Museum Boijmans Foundation. He only did so after selling part of it (528 drawings, amounting to roughly 20% of the total, including all the German drawings but two) for 1.4m guilders on 3 December 1940 to Dr Hans Posse, Hitler’s ‘Special Envoy for Linz’. Van Beuningen kept three paintings by Rubens for himself and had them collected from the museum on 27 June 1940. The City of Rotterdam acquired them in 1958 as part of the Van Beuningen Collection, and they returned to the museum.

Hans Posse (1879-1942) was the director of Dresden’s Staatliche Gemäldegalerie from 1913 to 1942, >MORE and was given the secret mission of acquiring works of art for Hitler’s planned Führer-Museum in Linz. >MORE Van Beuningen was not personally involved in the negotiations in the summer and autumn of 1940. He left that to his German-born son-in-law Lucas Peterich. The prices were based on valuations by Prof. Max J. Friedländer. [2-2-2.pdf] Frits Lugt wrote in 1956: ‘It should be realised that the experts enlisted by the Germans managed to protect Dutch interests with their very high appraisals and valuations’. >SOURCE

This sale of a portion of the drawings collection to the German occupier was prohibited by Dutch legislation (Decrees A1, A6, E133 and H251) and thus null and void. >MORE / [Koenigscat1989voorw.pdf] Although apparently voluntary, in the longer term the transaction would have been inevitable, because the Nazis would have insisted on acquiring the drawings for the Führer- Museum, especially the German ones, and Van Beuningen risked having them confiscated as private property without financial compensation. As a businessman he decided to make the best of a bad job, partly because he had other irons in the fire as well. In the first place he had his eye on some very expensive ‘Vermeers’ (which later turned out to be forgeries by Van Meegeren), and secondly he had bought the painting The Three Marys at the Tomb by Jan and Hubert van Eyck for 2.2m guilders from the Cook Collection in London at almost the same time as his purchase of the Koenigs Collection. >MORE He bought the painting on 30 April 1940 and it arrived just before the German attack on Rotterdam, but it survived the air raid. It too, was acquired for Museum Boijmans in 1958 as part of the Van Beuningen Collection.

The 528 drawings that the Germans had bought from Van Beuningen were sent to Dresden in the spring of 1941 in four crates that were collected from Museum Boijmans on 5 March. [2-2-3.pdf] Hans Posse sent an acknowledgement of receipt from Dresden on 26 May. [2-2-3.pdf] After the occupation by Soviet troops in 1945 the crates with the drawings were shipped off to Moscow together with the contents of the Dresden museums.  [enCuratorium1939-1965.pdf] #6, #7

Next: The state recovers drawings sold illegally (1945-)