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Art export licences suspended

Publication date 27 January 2020

Minister Van Engelshoven has reacted to the report of Pechtold Committee. The government wants to tighten its hold on the art market and privately owned art, while it is still unclear whether and how private owners will be compensated for this.


The Pechtold Committee made several proposals, on the one hand to keep important cultural property in the Netherlands and on the other hand to compensate the private owners thereof. Meanwhile, the Minister for Culture, Education and Science Van Engelshoven has reacted to these proposals. What do art dealers, auction houses and private owners of works of art have to take into account?

Designation policy

The most important instrument to keep privately owned cultural heritage in the Netherlands is the designation as indispensable and irreplaceable cultural property. In practice, this means that cultural goods are placed on a list of objects that are not allowed to leave the Netherlands. This list is rather static.

Currently, the new objects are only designated if they are in danger of being taken outside the Netherlands. This reserved designation policy has been ceased with immediate effect. This will undoubtedly be detrimental to the Dutch art trade as the designation criteria in the Heritage Act are in fact very broadly formulated.

A new advisory committee has to ensure greater clarity, but it will take some time before the new designation criteria are drawn up and can be applied. Until then there will be extra uncertainty for the Dutch art trade and for owners of cultural goods. The latter will probably wait to sell before there is more clarity about the interpretation of the new designation criteria.

Export licence

Until the standing advisory committee is in place, ad hoc committees will assess applications for the export of works of art. In practice, this means that export procedures, especially for art in the more expensive segment, will take even longer. This will be highly detrimental to Dutch art dealers. It will make it more difficult for them to serve an international market. After all, in order to avoid the risk of designation, private owners of art will take the works of art they intend to sell abroad and have them sold by foreign art dealers. Or they will wait with the sale until there is more clarity about the new designation criteria.

National Acquisition Fund

The National Acquisition Fund will not be filled in excess of the EUR 50 million planned for 2020. This means in practice that it will not be possible to keep the real masterpieces for the Netherlands. In view of the prices on the international art market and the obligation to buy cultural objects at the prevailing price on the international art market, this ‘war chest’ is too small. The proposal of shared ownership of works of art will not lead to a major change in this respect. The only consequences of this policy, therefore, are unnecessary export delays and needless litigation.

Compensation for owners?

The Minister has not yet made any concrete commitments about the compensation and support of owners of designated cultural property. It is still a case of “engaging in conversation”, “exploring” and a reference to already existing favourable arrangements for art owners.


The government wants to tighten its hold on the art market and privately owned art, while it is still unclear whether and how private owners will be compensated for this. It would have been better if there had first been clarity about the designation criteria and compensation arrangements before the government can intervene so radically in the property rights of art owners.

More information

Do you want to learn more about the new designation policy for cultural property? Follow our blogs on the Heritage Act. Or do you need legal assistance in issues involving art? Please contact us via the form below or contact Paul W.L. Russell, LL.M. ( or 020-301 55 55).

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