In 1998, the Netherlands endorsed the Washington Principles – the guidelines for dealing correctly and rigorously with the identification and restitution of looted art. However, important steps had already been taken previously, which led to the current restitution policy in the Netherlands.
Immediately after World War II, efforts were made in the Netherlands and Germany to trace as many cultural objects as possible which might have been looted, including paintings, books, judaica, archives and musical instruments. A large amount of looted possessions were destroyed or lost, while others were never found and have since been scattered around the world. But thousands of objects were tracked down and recovered.
After liberation, owners or their heirs could request restitution of their former possessions from the Dutch Art Property Foundation, which managed the recovered cultural artefacts. However, they were often unable to prove which items had been stolen from them. Strict requirements made the restitution process slow and laborious, and many recovered artworks ultimately remained under the administration of the Dutch State. Those works currently make up what is called the Netherlands Art Property Collection (NK Collection).
Since the end of the 1990s, there has been renewed interest internationally in the problem of restituting art looted by the Nazis. In 1998, the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science decided to investigate the origins of the individual works in the NK Collection and the Origins Unknown Agency was set up for this purpose. In 2001, the Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War (Restitutions Committee) was established to give independent advice and make recommendations regarding individual requests for restitution. Dutch museums have also investigated possible cases of looted art in their collections and they have published the results.
Fact-finding investigations of individual claims were carried out by the Restitutions Committee until 2018. Since September 2018, that research is carried out by the Expert Centre Restitution.
• The Cultural Heritage Agency has published a file on restitution policy.The file explains how to submit a request for restitution or a joint request for an investigation, how such a procedure is carried out and what the requirements are.
• All the objects in the NK Collection have been investigated as to their provenance and published on the website of Origins Unknown. On this website, you can also search for information on artworks that were never found by the Netherlands Art Property Foundation.
• A number of Dutch museums have done research on the provenance of artworks in their collections. The website on this research, Museum Acquisitions since 1933, provides information on the results, including an overview of artworks with possibly suspicious provenance.
• The Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War (Restitutions Committee), established by the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science in 2001, advises on individual requests for restitution.