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Following comprehensive research, National Gallery of Victoria to return its "yes-no" Vincent van Gogh portrait
Head of a man c.1886. Oil on canvas, 33.0 x 40.0 cm.
MELBOURNE.- In December 2013, the NGV received a request from the claimants for the return of Head of a man. The claimants provided detailed documentation to support the claim including background on Richard Semmel and the circumstances that led to the forced sale of the work in 1933. Following comprehensive research and consultation the NGV has determined that the claim is valid and the claimants are therefore the rightful owners of Head of a man.

Following comprehensive research based on detailed documentation provided by the claimants’ legal representative and the NGV’s own research and consultation, the NGV recognises that the claim for Head of a man put forward by Richard Semmel’s heirs is valid.

The NGV acknowledges that the painting was auctioned by Richard Semmel as part of a forced sale in 1933 and the claimants are the heirs and therefore rightful owners of the work.

Taking into account the research and evidence provided about the work’s history prior to its purchase by the NGV in 1940, and the NGV’s commitment to honouring the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-confiscated Art and the Terezin Declaration, we consider it appropriate to restitute the painting to Richard Semmel’s heirs.

The NGV takes its responsibilities seriously in regard to determining the history of ownership of works of art, including the period from 1933 to 1945 when systematic looting, the confiscation of artworks, and persecutory anti-Semitic policies occurred under Nazi rule. Given this, we are encouraged that the NGV’s own research and provenance research website have resulted in the discovery of the connection with Richard Semmel and facilitated the restitution of Head of a man.

As well as being guided by international law and the Washington Conference Principles to arrive at this decision, we also see this as a moral issue, on which it is important to take a strong position.

The NGV has been the custodian of Head of a man for over 70 years. It is now appropriate to play an active role in this next phase of the work’s history by restituting the work to its rightful owners.

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