Return of the painting “Blumenstilleben (Still life with Flowers)” by Lovis Corinth


The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium have included in their collection a painting entitled "Blumenstilleben (Still life with Flowers)" by German painter Lovis Corinth (1858-1925); it was donated by the "Service for Economic Recovery" in 1951, with the intention to publicise it so that the family from whom it was stolen during the Second World War would come forward.

The painting appears on the museum's website with the following description, "Private collection, plundered by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in Belgium, recuperated by Leo Van Puyvelde after the liberation of Brussels, transferred to the Economic Recovery Service and assigned in 1951 to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels". [1]

Until 2020, it was also exhibited in a room at the museum and was only returned to storage due to a reorganisation. 

At the end of 2016, the Museums received a letter from a German lawyer mandated by the descendants of Gustav and Emma Mayer, requesting a provenance study on the painting based on the "Washington Principles on Nazi-confiscated Art". The letter contained annexes identifying the painting and describing its provenance.

The family left Germany for England (via Belgium) before the war and the crate containing this and other paintings was stolen from a warehouse in Brussels by the occupying forces. 

Between 1998 and 2001, an official commission (under the aegis of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister), chaired by Lucien Buysse, met to research the property stolen from Jewish families during the Second World War, in accordance with the recommendation of the Washington Conference (1998). This was followed by a "compensation" commission, which submitted its report in 2008 and dealt with 5,210 spoliation claims. No applications were made to this commission by the Mayer family. The family only applied to the West German authorities and, at the end of the 1960s, received compensation of DM 120,000 for all the property that had disappeared, of which DM 60,000 was for the paintings, including the Corinth which was valued at DM 7,000.

In legal terms, Belgium applies the "just and fair solution" principle laid down by the Washington Conference. The Restitution Committee, for its part, systematically applied the principle that compensation for spoliation could not be applied twice, regardless of whether the compensation was issued by Germany or Belgium.

In a letter to the RMFAB, the lawyer's office mandated by the Mayer family confirmed that the German authorities would demand the reimbursement of the €4,090.34 that the Mayer family had already received as compensation. The refund will be requested once the painting has been returned to the Mayer family. This will avoid double compensation (damages and restitution).

The Secretary of State, Thomas Dermine, sent a letter (see annex) to the lawyer's office to confirm his agreement with the return of the painting "Blumenstilleben (Still life with Flowers)" by German painter Lovis Corinth to the Mayer family. "I am delighted that this painting will be returned to the family from which it was stolen," said Thomas Dermine, Secretary of State for Scientific Policy. "It is undoubtedly a small gesture, but it makes up for a cowardly act of spoliation and as such demonstrates, as with many other small gestures, that we must never stop believing in the triumph of justice."