More looted art to be returned to rightful owners

The Dutch government aims to return as much as possible of the art looted by the Nazis during the Second World War to its rightful owners. To this end, the way in which applications for restitution are assessed has already been adjusted in response to a recommendation by the Council for Culture and the Kohnstamm Committee. The basic principle remains the same, however: wherever possible, items must be returned to the individuals to whom they rightfully belong. Systematic investigation of their provenance should help ensure this. If the original owners or their heirs cannot be found, so-called “heirless art” looted from Jewish owners and now in the possession of the State will be returned to the Jewish community. Adopting a proposal tabled by Ingrid van Engelshoven, Minister of Education, Culture and Science, the Cabinet has now agreed to take a number of further steps to make national restitution policy more effective and accessible.

This policy enables the return of items of cultural value to the original owners or their heirs, specifically those looted, stolen, confiscated, sold under duress or otherwise expropriated involuntarily prior to and during the Second World War.

“We must continue our efforts to return items lost involuntarily or acquired illegally around the time of the Second World War to the right people,” says Van Engelshoven. “We will achieve this through systematic research and better communication. And when we really don’t know who the owner is, I am happy to say that we will then look at how we can return art looted from Jewish owners to the Jewish community. This is an important step forward in our thinking around restitution policy.”

Systematic provenance research

Systematic provenance research is to be resumed. This means that the provenance of all works still in the so-called Netherlands Art Property Collection (NK Collection) of cultural items returned to the Dutch state after the war will be re-examined. This effort will determine whether there are any new clues as to their provenance or original ownership. The aim is to return the items to the original owners or their heirs. As custodian of the NK Collection, the Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE) will carry out this research and will also actively approach possible rightful owners. In so doing, it will build upon the extensive provenance research previously undertaken by the Origins Unknown Agency. The RCE’s work is intended to complement the research that is already conducted by the Expertise Centre for the Restitution of Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Better communication

With a new helpdesk and better access to all available information, Van Engelshoven also wants to make it easier to submit an application for restitution. Good and active communication about the policy and works which may have been looted will contribute towards this goal. As of 2022, the RCE will therefore be expanding its heritage helpdesk function to include information and advice on restitution. As well as people with questions about restitution applications, collection managers seeking advice about the relevant procedures will be able to contact the helpdesk.

In addition, access to the available information about possible looted art is being centralized. From now on, full details of the NK Collection can be found on the National Collection website at This portal is to be further expanded and improved over the coming years.

Transfer of heirless art

If the original owners or heirs cannot be found, items of cultural value looted from Jewish owners and now in the possession of the State will be returned to the Jewish community. This is another basic principle of the strengthened restitution policy. The key requirement is that provenance research must first be carried out in order to determine whether an item belongs to anyone. But if the original owner or their heirs cannot be found, then arrangements will be made in consultation with the Jewish community to transfer this heirless art to a Jewish heritage institution. By taking this step, the minister is acting in accordance with the spirit and the substance of the 1998 Washington Principles, Article 9 of which states that a “just and fair” solution should be found for heirless art.