Publication date: 3 March 2021
The sale of a drawing by Rubens, owned by Princess Christina, at an auction in New York caused great indignation and a discussion about the policy for cultural heritage in the Netherlands. This resulted in two advice committees, the Pechtold Committee and the Buma Committee. The latter has issued an interim opinion. If adopted, it could have serious consequences for art collectors and art dealers in the Netherlands.
The Committee Collection Netherlands – also known as the Buma Committee – has issued an interim opinion. It contains the main points of a new vision on the Netherlands Art Collection, i.e. cultural heritage that is vital for the Netherlands.
While the recommendations of the Advisory Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property – the Pechtold Committee – pleaded for more clarity by adopting a more active designation policy, the Buma Committee chooses a diametrically opposite solution. According to the Committee, the current designation procedure with its static list of cultural goods that may not be exported leads to urgency designations when a cultural good is put on the international market. This is an ad hoc policy and should be replaced by a structural solution.
Therefore, the Committee suggests to drop the list and introduce a standard check for the export of all cultural property instead, as, for example, in the United Kingdom. In fact, this means a general ban on the export of ancient and modern works of art, as I said before. Expanding the designation criteria of ‘irreplaceable’ and ‘indispensable’ to include the public interest does neither contribute to more freedom of disposition for the owners of cultural goods nor to more room for the art trade.
This also applies to the proposal to extend the purchase period for art objects from six weeks to six months. The only interest served is that of the State, which has more time to secure financing. But the international auction in which the work of art fit in is over, with all the consequences for the price the owner could have obtained for his property. In addition, another work of art could be on the market during the six months, as a result of which the purchase may still fall through. And then there is also the question whether someone will be prepared to take the risk that the work of art he buys may not be exported from the Netherlands.
Although it is, in principle, a good idea to have designations made by an expert committee that is independent of politics, politics is not the only thing from which this committee should be independent. The way in which the current list was compiled by ‘independent’ experts clearly demonstrates this. After all, it partly consists of cultural goods that could be found in museums on loan at the time of the compilation. That way, museums safeguarded their own collections at the expense of the rights of the lenders.
Where a cultural object must be in the Netherlands for at least 50 years before it is designated, against the wish of the owner, as protected cultural property, the Buma Committee wants to shorten this period to five years. Here, too, the rights of the owners are further violated.
Though it is proposed to increase the budget of the National Acquisition Fund to € 100 million every four years, this is still insufficient in view of the prices on the art market. In addition, € 15 million of this budget are reserved for the insurance of international loans. In practice, each year, thus only € 12.5 million are available for museum acquisitions in general and € 8.75 million to keep cultural property in the Netherlands. This budget would have been exhausted after the purchase of the drawing by Rubens that started this discussion.
In brief: the Buma Committee does not provide sufficient financial means to meet its ambitious objectives. This makes the proposed far-reaching interventions in the free movement of art objects not very effective. It would be better to hold on to the old system with a static list, of which the preservation can be financed. This also provides more security for art dealers and collectors.
Russell Advocaten has been specializing in art and law for many years. We closely monitor the developments concerning the protection of cultural objects and keep you updated of them via our website and LinkedIn. Do you have any questions about the import or export of artworks or do you need legal advice in an art and law matter? Please contact Paul W.L. Russell, LL.M. (firstname.lastname@example.org or 020-301 55 55).
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