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Dutch Gov’t Panel Rejects Restitution Claims – Heirs Outraged

June 8, 2013
"Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well" by Bernardo Strozzi is to remain in the collection of the Museum de Fundatie in Heino, the Netherlands. The Dutch Restitutions Committee ruled that a claim by the heirs of Richard Semmel, a Jewish industrialist persecuted by the Nazis, "carries less weight" than the museum's interest in the work.

“Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well” by Bernardo Strozzi is to remain in the collection of the Museum de Fundatie in Heino, the Netherlands. The Dutch Restitutions Committee ruled that a claim by the heirs of Richard Semmel, a Jewish industrialist persecuted by the Nazis, “carries less weight” than the museum’s interest in the work.

According to Catherine Hickley at Bloomberg News, a Dutch government panel has declined to restitute three of four paintings to the heirs of Richard Semmel, a Jewish industrialist persecuted by the Nazis and the heirs are “outraged.”  The four works are: Stag Hunt in the Dunes by Gerrit Claesz Bleker in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, Madonna and Child with Wild Roses by Jan van Scorel in the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well by Bernardo Strozzi in Museum de Fundatie in Heino/Wijhe and The Landing Stage by Maerten Fransz van der Hulst in the Groninger Museum’s collection (only the fourth work will be restituted). According to the article:

Madonna and Child with Wild Roses by Jan van Scorel

Madonna and Child with Wild Roses by Jan van Scorel

The Dutch Restitutions Committee dismissed claims by Semmel’s heirs for three of four paintings they say he sold at auction in 1933 after fleeing Nazi Germany. Though the committee found that Semmel sold three works under duress as a result of persecution, it said in an e-mailed statement that the heirs’ interest in two “carries less weight” than the museums’.

The claimants are the granddaughters of Grete Gross-Eisenstaedt, an old family friend who became Semmel’s companion in New York after his wife died, according to Ossmann. Semmel, who had no children, left his estate to Gross-Eisenstaedt. Her granddaughters live in South Africa, Ossmann said.

“The committee finds that the grandchildren of Semmel’s heir’s interest in restitution carries less weight” than the museums’ interest, the Restitutions Committee said in a statement sent by e-mail. “These grandchildren are not related to Richard Semmel, never knew him and have no recollections of the paintings.”

“The decision runs counter to existing inheritance law,” Olaf Ossmann, the Winterthur, Switzerland-based lawyer for the heirs said in a statement. “These decisions give museums support for rejecting restitution claims. This cannot be summarized as ‘fair and just.”’

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