National Gallery of Victoria Returns Van Gogh to Heirs of Jewish Industrialist

Vincent van Gogh, Head of Man (1886) Via: Artdaily
Vincent van Gogh, Head of Man (1886) Via: Artdaily

The National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, has agreed to return Vincent van Gogh’s 1886 Head of a Man to the heirs of the Jewish industrialist Richard Semmel, after studying the context of its sale in 1933. The piece had been in the museum’s collection for over 70 years.

In the 1920s, Semmel was a wealthy Berlin collector. Threatened by Nazis after Hitler seized power in 1933, he fled to the Netherlands, where he auctioned his collection. He eventually moved to New York in 1941.

The National Gallery of Victoria’s decision is in accord with the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-confiscated Art and the Terezin Declaration and can be considered a victory for Simmel’s heirs, who haven’t been so successful of late.

According to Bloomberg, last May the Dutch Restitution Committee dismissed the family’s claim for two Old Masters ­paintings–Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well by Bernardo Strozzi and Madonna and Child with Wild Roses by Jan van Score–stating “that the heirs’ interest in the two paintings ‘carries less weight’ than the museums’.” They also pointed out that the claimants were not biologically related to Semmel and had never seen the paintings.

A third claim for Dune Landscape with Deer Hunt by Gerrit Claesz was turned down, as the Semmels’ ownership of the work could not be proven.

However, the committee said that River View With Mooring by Maerten Fransz van der Huls should be returned. The committed had already ruled in favor of the Semmel heirs in 2009, when they recommended the restitution of Thomas de Keyser’s Portrait of a Man.


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