Extraordinary find of missing work from NK collection

A while ago, Harold Crama contacted the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. He had a small work of art in his possession and on closer inspection suspected it had something to do with the NK-collection. He asked the Agency for advice. It turned out to be a pastel chalk drawing by A.P. Vermeulen, NK2790-C, part of a series, and declared missing by a borrower in 2006.

When he heard about the artwork's background, the NK collection, the restitution policy and the Provenance Research Intensification programme, he did not hesitate for a moment and brought it to the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, and back to the NK collection. It makes for an extraordinary story. How did the work come to be in his possession, and how did it find its way back?

Twee mensen die een tekening vasthouden
Mr and Mrs Crama in CC NL, with the pastel chalk drawing of the watermill in Leiden, by A.P. Vermeulen

"A beautiful and evocative Dutch image"

“About six years ago, we were planning to emigrate to Chile, where my wife comes from. We went looking for all sorts of typically Dutch things to decorate our new home in Chile, things that would remind us of the places we have a special connection with, such as Leiden, Amsterdam and Vianen. We regularly bought items in charity shops and on the Marktplaats classified advertising site. One of them was a chalk drawing of a watermill in Leiden, a beautiful and evocative Dutch image, which I bought it for about 25 euros."

“Everything we bought went straight to the attic, to stay there in storage until we were to move. That took longer than planned, and the pandemic also meant we had to put off emigrating. When we were finally able to start packing, the painting of the windmill resurfaced. I hadn't really looked at it that closely when I first bought it. But when I inspected the back of the painting, I discovered three stickers: one saying 'Baden-Baden' in German and the other two mentioning a transfer of the object; it also bore an NK number. That roused my curiosity. I used to be a police officer, and once an investigator always an investigator."

Twee mensen die een tekening in een lade leggen
Harold Crama (l) and Head of Art Collections Pieternel Fleskens (r) place the artwork in the depot

Missing artwork

An internet search brought me to various sites about looted art and World War II. That's also how I got to wo2.cultureerfgoed.nl, and there was the same NK number. It turned out to be a work that went missing after being loaned. Of course, I immediately contacted the Cultural Heritage Agency and returned the work, so now it is back in the NK collection."

"It amazes me that an item like this could just disappear; as a police officer, I try to imagine how something like that could happen. Perhaps it hung somewhere on loan for a long time, moved around with people a few times, got lost, became part of an inheritance and then ended up being unsuspectingly sold and bought on the market. It's a shame I can't remember where I bought it and from whom, as then you could do some investigating. But I’m glad we discovered it in time, otherwise the Leiden watermill would now be hanging on a wall in Chile while it really belongs somewhere else."