Claim of ownership by a granddaughter of the collector

The entire Koenigs Collection has been claimed since 1997 by Mrs C.F. (Christine) Koenigs (b. 1952), a granddaughter of the collector, who states that she is also acting for ‘the Koenigs heirs’ (see, inter alia, the interview with her in Vrij Nederland of 5 November 2005). She has since submitted claims to the State of the Netherlands, the City of Rotterdam, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Foundation and several foreign museums regarding parts of the Koenigs Collection and the paintings sold in 1940 (see List of claims). For further information see her Official Koenigs Site and weblog.

When the Koenigs drawings were returned from the former German Democratic Republic and Ukraine in 1987 and 2004, Mrs C.F. Koenigs submitted claims to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science in 1997 and 2004 relating respectively to 28 paintings and 37 drawings and 139 drawings and 3 prints. >MORE She also claims ownership of the 307 unrecovered drawings in Moscow, which are claimed by the State of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands Ministry of Education, Culture and Science submitted the first two claims to the Advisory Committee on the Assessment for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War, better known as the Restitutions Committee, which was set up in January 2002. This independent committee examines and assesses individual requests for the restitution of cultural assets lost during the Second World War, based on the relaxed restitutions policy dating from 2000. This covers claims to works of art of which the original owners involuntarily lost possession due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. Although the remit of the Restitutions Committee concerns works of art owned by the state, Article 2, Paragraph 2 of the advisory committee establishing decree >MORE also makes it possible for private individuals and non-governmental bodies to submit disputes relating to works of art that are not owned by the State of the Netherlands to the adjudication of the Restitutions Committee through the Minister of Education, Culture and Science for a binding recommendation. >MORE

On 3 November 2003 the Restitutions Committee advised the State Secretary of Education, Culture and Science to reject the claims for restitution submitted by Mrs C.F. Koenigs (case number RC 1.6).

The committee judged (p. 5, point 15) ‘that Koenigs’s loss of property was not due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime but was related solely to economic conditions in Germany’, and observed: ‘The threat of war on all sides at the time of the negotiations and the actual sale of the collection does not detract from the foregoing’. >SOURCE

The claim was rejected by the State Secretary of Education, Culture and Science on the basis of the closely argued negative advice from the Restitutions Committee. >MORE In January 2007 the Council of State decided on appeal that no administrative law procedure was open to Mrs C.F. Koenigs, thereby reversing an earlier judgement by the Amsterdam district court. The consequence is that those who disagree with the decisions on restitution claims must have recourse to the civil courts. >MORE / MORE The request for advice concerning Mrs C.F. Koenigs’s subsequent claim to the drawings and prints which the State of the Netherlands received from Ukraine in 2004, as well as a request to reopen consideration of the earlier claim on the basis of alleged new facts (nova) are still under consideration (case number RC 1.35). In replying to a complaint by Mrs C.F. Koenigs, the National Ombudsman is of the opinion (judgement 8 November 2010) that the Minister of Education, Culture and Science must leave it to the Restitutions Committee how Mrs C.F. Koenigs’s nova should be dealt with and in which procedure they should be involved. >MORE It is expected that the minister will follow this recommendation. The National Ombudsman expresses no opinion about the ownership of the collection, leaving that to the courts, and concludes that the State has not acted in a partisan fashion in the restitution procedures and is not acting improperly by conducting itself as the owner.

Mrs C.F. Koenigs’s claim to the drawings and paintings owned by the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Foundation, which make up the bulk of the Koenigs Collection, amounting to around 2,000 drawings and 8 paintings, had already been rejected by the trustees of the foundation in 1997. A proposal put forward by Mrs C.F. Koenigs in December 2006 to jointly submit a request for a binding recommendation to the Restitutions Committee was rejected by the trustees of the foundation in 2007. Mrs C.F. Koenigs has so far not had recourse to the civil courts, so the trustees of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Foundation consider the matter closed for the time being.

In December 2006 Mrs C.F. Koenigs submitted a request for restitution to the City of Rotterdam for the four drawings and four paintings from the Koenigs Collection that were acquired for the museum with the collection of D.G. van Beuningen from the latter’s heirs. She proposed asking the Minister of Education, Culture and Science to jointly submit the matter to the Restitutions Committee for its binding recommendation, which was rejected by the Burgomaster and Aldermen of Rotterdam in 2007 with reference to the committee’s advice of 2003. This matter is now being dealt with as a result of a complaint lodged by Mrs C.F. Koenigs with the Municipal Ombudsman of Rotterdam.

The claim that Mrs C.F. Koenigs submitted to The Courtauld Institute of Art in London in 2000 in relation to three paintings by Rubens from the collection of F.W. Koenigs was rejected by the British Spoliation Advisory Panel in 2007, in part because of the following consideration.

‘35. [...] it must be borne in mind that it is an intrinsic part of the claimant’s case (see paragraph 9 above), that it was Koenigs’ intention in 1939 and 1940 that about two-thirds of his collection would remain in the Museum, where it was then on loan; and that the smaller part would be sold to discharge the loan owed to the Bank, which she legitimately points out was about a third of the then estimated value of the collection. Consequently, it is hard to see why she or any other descendants of Koenigs have any moral claim at all. There is no evidence that he ever intended to leave these drawings and paintings to his heirs. If anyone suffered here it was one of two other parties. Either the Bank suffered because Goudstikker  did not pay it the money that it was owed and, therefore, its assets were reduced; or the Museum suffered because otherwise it would have acquired more of Koenigs’ art collection. In these circumstances the Panel cannot see what moral claim the claimant has to the paintings.’ >MORE

There are differing opinions within the Koenigs family regarding the above actions by Mrs C.F. Koenigs aimed at recovering parts of the collection. In July 1997 Mr W.O. Koenigs (1926-2009) and his sister Mrs A.K.M. Boerlage-Koenigs (1922-2004), children of the collector, dissociated themselves from the actions of their niece (who is the daughter of their elder brother) and have denied her the right to act in the name of the Koenigs family. >SOURCE /[BulletinVRnr2zomer1997.JPG] Mrs C.F. Koenigs claims to represent five of the thirteen other heirs, whose names were communicated in confidence to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in 2010. In her claim procedure against the State of the Netherlands in 2003 (case number RC 1.6) she acted only for herself and for her mother, Mrs A.C. Koenigs-Hers. >SOURCE On 24 March 2003 Mr W.O. Koenigs asked the Restitutions Committee to reject the request for restitution of the Koenigs Collection. >SOURCE

Until his death in December 2009 Mr W.O. Koenigs actively supported the claim of the State of the Netherlands to the missing drawings in Moscow (and elsewhere), and at the same time felt that the descendants of Franz Koenigs could not lay claim to the collection because his father had parted with it voluntarily and because of the economic situation prior to the Second World War. In the autumn of 2006 Mr W.O. Koenigs repeated and explained his standpoint in an interview with Frank Kuitenbrouwer in NRC Handelsblad >SOURCE  and in a letter to the directors of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and to the ministries of Education, Culture and Science, and Foreign Affairs  [enWOKoenigsbriefSept06.pdf]

‘My father was a businessman. His initial success made him rich, providing him with the funds with which to amass a collection. However, there are risks to doing business, and he took them deliberately. In the process he gambled, and partly lost. However, he won, because his world-famous, homogeneous collection has remained largely intact despite all the financial and political ups and downs, and found a place while he was still alive in the museum where he wished it to be. [...] There is no question of a claim by the Koenigs family, at most by the individual Christine Koenigs, one of my father’s 14 grandchildren and only eligible to inherit a very small percentage. The actions of my niece Christine and the associated misinformation that has circulated in the media in recent years are solely to the detriment of F.W. Koenigs, collector of a homogeneous collection. That inner consistency was essential to him. As a true collector his aim was not so much to satisfy his own taste, but completeness.’ [enWOKoenigsbriefSept06.pdf]

Franz Wilhelm Koenigs (1881-1941)

In conclusion

On 28 March 1941, when the transactions around the ownership of the collection and its constituent parts had been completed, and not long before the collector’s sudden death, Dr Jan G. van Gelder (1903-1980), who was curator of the Museum Boijmans printroom from 1924 to 1940 and became Acting Director of the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD) in The Hague on 1 December 1940, wrote to Franz Koenigs in his new capacity:

‘My dear Mr Koenigs. Today we received the catalogue of your Collection from Dr Lütjens. I thank you most warmly for this welcome gift, which later generations will also admire as an important document on the subject of collecting in our country. We are delighted to preserve this memento of that wonderful period that is now behind us.’ [D-228.pdf]

Almost 70 years later, on 17 January 2009, during ‘The day of the collector’ in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Koenigs’s son, Mr W.O. Koenigs, closed his address titled ‘What compelled a private individual to collect drawings’ with the words:

‘We are left with the hope and the expectation that one day the collection will once again be on display, complete, in Museum Boijmans, as my father wished. To know that his collection, which he cherished and assembled with such passion is now housed with care and devotion in the new, climatologically controlled printroom, with the opportunity that many people can enjoy the greater part of his unique collection of drawings, as was once customary in Haarlem, that, above all, would have gladdened my father. I express the hope that all who hold art dear can enjoy the drawings in peace and quiet, perhaps in combination with the paintings." [enWOKlezing17jan09.pdf] 

Rotterdam, December 2010

This document and its hyperlinks to sources and further information in the literature and on the internet will be modified and expanded as necessary.

Text: Albert Elen

Translation: Michael Hoyle