As debates surrounding restitution rage on in the Netherlands, one Dutch museum has reportedly opted to compensate the heirs of a Jewish owner, effectively going against a set of recommendations issued by a 2013 governmental panel.
The Museum de Fundatie in Zwolle, about an hour northeast of Amsterdam, has given the heirs of textile entrepreneur Richard Semmel €200,000 ($241,000) amid claims that the collector sold a painting under duress in 1933 as the Nazis were rising to power. According to the Art Newspaper, which first reported the news on Monday, the work at the center of these claims is Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well (1635), a biblical scene by the well-known Italian Baroque painter Bernardo Strozzi. Through the settlement, the museum will be able to hold on to the work. (Because the Museum de Fundatie is not state-run, the Dutch culture ministry cannot intervene in the settlement.)
In a statement given to the Art Newspaper, the museum said it was “happy that this painful matter has been resolved in a harmonious manner and is grateful to the heirs for enabling visitors to the Museum de Fundatie to enjoy and study the painting.”
ARTnews has reached out to the Museum de Fundatie for further comment.
The Museum de Fundatie’s settlement is significant in that it shows that debate about the Dutch government’s Restitutions Commission and its controversial set of recommendations is far from over. That group of recommendations, issued in 2013, includes a guideline that Dutch museums should not issue compensation in disputes with heirs.
In 2020, the politician Jacob Kohnstamm led a review of the Restitutions Commission’s recommendations. It urged the Commission to become “more empathic” and “less formalistic,” and to stop allowing to museums to prioritize their own interests over claimants’. In response, the Commission said that it would “adapt its working practices such that they are perceived as being less remote.”