Guideline on Museum Acquisitions 1940-1948
In line with a protocol drawn up by the American Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), the Committee on Museum Acquisitions published in 1999 a guideline to help Dutch museums when dealing with works of art of dubious origin, particularly objects that changed hands or were acquired during of immediately after the Second World War. The guideline explains what stance museums should take, not only on objects that already form part of their collections, but also on future acquisitions and loans, from both Dutch and foreign sources. As far as future acquisitions are concerned, the guideline may be seen as a practical supplement to the ICOM-Code of Professional Ethics (1987):
- article 3.1: ‘Objects acquired should be (…) accompanied by evidence of a valid legal title.’
- article 3.2: ‘A museum should not acquire, whether by purchase, gift, bequest or exchange, any object unless the governing body and the responsible officer are satisfied that the museum can acquire a valid title to the specimen or object in question (…)’
- article 3.2: ‘If appropriate and feasible, the same tests … should be applied in determining whether or not to accept loans for exhibitions or other purposes.’
Guideline on museum acquisitions 1940-1948
The guideline relates to all objects that changed hands between 1940 and 1948. These dates are only intended as a rough indication and should not be interpreted strictly. It may be that unlawful actions to which the guideline would apply took place before 1940 or after 1948.
The guideline relates to all objects whose original owners were forced to surrender them against their will. The phrase ‘against their will’ covers not only situations in which owners refused to cooperate in being deprived of their property, but also to cases in which owners did cooperate, but only under coercion, threats or improper influence by the Nazi regime or the occupying forces.
The guideline does not cover claims in respect of which measures have already been taken or some form of restitution has already been made. However, individual cases should only be reviewed if new facts have emerged that shed a fresh light on redress made in the past.
If an actual of alleged title holder lays claim to an object, its is possible that legally speaking their claim has lapsed. The wording of the guideline on claims has however been chosen so as to allow the possibility of deviating from a strict legal interpretation in exceptional of particularly poignant cases, in order to meet the imperatives of decency and moral integrity.
If a museum is not itself the owner of all of part of a collection, but manages it for a third party (for instance the state), the measures outlined in the guideline should be taken in close consultation with that third party.
I Existing collections
- The museum has an obligation to investigate the provenance of all the objects it owns, especially those objects that changed hands or were acquired between 1940 and 1948.
- The results of this investigation shall be recorded in respect of each object. This record shall be available for inspection by all interested parties on request, unless compelling circumstances dictate that certain information be withheld.
- If reasonable doubt exists about the provenance of an object as regards the period in question, the museum shall institute a thorough investigation to obtain as much relevant information as possible.
- The museum shall report all cases in which reasonable doubt exists concerning provenance to the Cultural Heritage Inspectorate.
- If it emerges that any part of an object’s provenance indicates an unlawful or dubious action of acquisition in the period in question, the museum shall, having regard to the specific circumstances of the case, take the necessary steps to reach a reasonable and fair decision about ownership rights.
- If the original owner or owners, or their successors in title are unknown, the museum shall make every reasonable effort to discover their identity.
- In the case of a claim laid by third parties to objects that changes hands or were acquired in the period in question, the museum shall, after reporting the claim to the Cultural Heritage Inspectorate, institute a thorough investigation and pronounce judgement in accordance with the provisions of 1.5.
- The museum has an obligation to investigate the provenance of objects that it proposes to acquire by purchase, loan, donation, bequest or otherwise, seeking especially to establish whether the objects in question changed hands between 1940 and 1948.
- The results of this investigation shall be recorded in respect of each newly acquired object.
- If reasonable doubt exists about the provenance of an object that the museum seeks to acquire, as regards the period in question, the museum shall institute a thorough investigation to obtain as much relevant information as possible.
- In the event that uncertainty about the object’s provenance remains and reasonable doubt moreover exists as to its location or ownership between 1940 and 1948, the museum shall not acquire the object, explaining to the party offering it the reasons for this decision.
- The museum shall strive not to accept as a temporary loan any object whose provenance is dubious as regards the period in question, and in respect of which no restitution of legal rights has been made within the meaning of the provisions under 1.5.
- In the case of applications for the loan of objects whose provenance is dubious as regards the period in question, the museum shall inform the party applying for the loan of this fact.
At present the Cultural Heritage Inspectorate has been designated as centre of expertise and advisory body.
Cultural Heritage Inspectorate
2514 ap The Hague
t: +31 70 3028120, f: +31 70 3651914