Legally Speaking


Dutch Golden Age Painting Found in Australian Storeroom

Dutch Golden Age Painting Found in Australian Storeroom

Many of us fantasise about uncovering an item of unimaginable value in our attic. Perhaps this old doll is worth something? Maybe this book could sell for a good figure? Does this painting have a famous signature? A great find could help with the bills or even pay off the mortgage. But what if your spring-clean uncovered a Dutch Master? In Australia this month, one lucky person did just that.

The painting, ‘Still Life’, currently attributed to Gerrit Willemsz, was recently stumbled upon during a restoration project on a property in New South Wales. The Woodford Academy, managed by the National Trust of Australia, is one of the oldest colonial buildings in the Blue Mountains. It’s just the kind of place one imagines holding a secret like this.

That’s not to say the finding was expected. Estimated to be worth millions, ‘Still Life’ depicts a hedonistic table setting typically associated with the Dutch Golden Age. One that National Trust collections manager Rebecca Pinchin heralds as ‘one in a million’.

How Did a Dutch Master End up in an Australian Storeroom?

Thought to have been purchased for $30 AU dollars by Alfred Fairfax in the late eighteenth century, ‘Still Life’ was possibly acquired as part of the fashionable (and retrospectively inspired) trend of buying up Dutch Masters. Alfred, the nephew of James Fairfax, founder of The Sydney Morning Herald, is thought to have brought the painting to Woodford, where it sat undiscovered for the next century or so.

Eightieth Anniversary of Bilateral Ties 

Coincidentally, the find came one week after The Netherlands and Australia celebrated the 80th anniversary of bilateral agreements between the two countries. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison penned a statement to mark the occasion. ‘From the Duyfken’s exploration of Australia in 1606 to the contribution made by generations of the thousands of men and women of Dutch heritage to this country, Australia and the Netherlands share enduring bonds of friendship and family.’

Eight decades of agreements are significant, but Morrison touched on the actual length of the relationship when he mentioned the Duyfken. Chartered by Willem Janszoon, The Duyfken left The Netherlands in 1603. As part of a fleet of twelve ships commandeered by Steven van der Hagen, it was headed for the East Indies.

When the fleet departed Java, Janszoon split off to head south, searching for more trading partners. Although believing what he saw to be the southerly most part of New Guinea, when he sighted land, it was, in fact, Australia. Indeed, The first European to touch foot on Australian soil was not English but Dutch.

Landing at the place in Queensland now known as Weipa, Janszoon found the surrounds muddy and the people (understandably) inhospitable. He decided to high-tail it out of there, unknowingly changing the course of history.

Janszoon may have failed to establish the trade relationship he sought out, but since then, things have changed. ‘The strong trade relationship between The Netherlands and Australia is the foundation for our collaboration in other areas, such as the green economy and cybersecurity. Through our growing engagement with multilateral fora, we will work together to advance our mutual economic prosperity and stability,’ said Morrison.

The Dutch Diaspora

While relations between the two countries have always remained positive, the most significant period was during and immediately after the Second World War. Not only were Australia and The Netherlands allies, but post-war, Dutch people migrated to the Land Down Under in their droves.

The evidence of cultural exchange is seen in immigration patterns and the hallmark of Dutch culture – art. Dutch Masters turn up in Australian storerooms, and Australian masterpieces are found in Dutch galleries, too.

It’s a little known fact that the only museum in Europe dedicated to contemporary Aboriginal art from Australia can be found in Utrecht. The AAMU Museum of contemporary Aboriginal art is recognised by the government of Australia as an essential platform for Australian cultural heritage in Europe.

Today, 240,000 Australian residents claim Dutch ancestry. That’s a lot of bitterballen at the barbeque. Forming one of the largest groups of the Dutch diaspora outside of Europe, a few of those residents undoubtedly spent the last fortnight searching for a Golden Age painting in the attic.

# Note: Featured is the painting ‘Still Life’. Credit: National Trust of Australia

Do you stand to inherit from a Dutch estate? Allow us to assist you. Dutch Probate provides a legal trinity of expertise, representation and fieldwork to assist emigrants and expats of Dutch descent. To find out more, please visit our website. Alternatively, you can email or telephone +31(0)85-0604243 (select 0).

Will Britain Change its Succession Laws?

Will Britain Change its Succession Laws?

You may think society has progressed in the last thousand years, but if Britain’s succession laws are anything to go by, not much has changed. Indeed it’s 2022, yet the inheritance of aristocratic titles and estates still excludes daughters. Jane Austen, never short on witty social commentary, famously wrote, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ Pride and Prejudice, written in the late seventeen hundreds was a deep dive into the archaic laws that governed the British aristocracy, and yet to date, the same rules remain.

The Downtown Abbey Law 

Known colloquially as ‘The Downtown Abbey Law’, for the television program’s storyline of three sisters passed over in the line of succession, Primogeniture is still in place. Introduced by the Normans in 1066, the law decreed land pass to the eldest son. Who would believe, however, that a bid to cement the power of Norman Barons over one thousand years ago would still hold today?

Call For Change

Although Primogeniture laws only affect a niche and privileged section of British society, they symbolise an archaic set of values. How much longer can we accept laws that discriminate based on gender, you may ask? Recently, aristocrats have been breaking rank.

Speaking with The Evening Standard, Lord Monson suggested the laws were cruel. After losing his only son in tragic circumstances and with a sole daughter remaining, almost 600 years of succession will end when he and his brother die. He is one of the many voices speaking out against the discriminatory law. When asked why other aristocrats disagreed, ‘It’s not easy. However, to make omelettes you have to break eggs,’ he said.

Lady Kitty Spencer, Earl Spencer’s eldest child and not entitled to her father’s estate, has also spoken out. ‘Primogeniture can be a tricky topic because as times are changing, attitudes are as well,’ she told Town and Country Magazine.


Who Gets the Crown?

The hallmark of British aristocracy may be tradition, but even traditions change. Recently, Queen Elizabeth made a change that many didn’t see coming. The Succession to the Crown Act, passed in 2013, abolishes the law that decrees a male inherits the throne. Indeed, if the Queen makes an exception for her own family, women of the British aristocracy should be allowed the same.

The hallmark of British aristocracy may be tradition, but even traditions change.

Progress in Parliament 

In 2019, change seemed imminent. Philip Davies, the Conservative MP for Shipley, introduced the Hereditary Titles (Female Succession) Bill to Parliament. However, at the last moment, it failed to pass.

Still, a vocal minority continues to voice their dissent. In March, 2020, The Earl of Shrewsbury spoke out. ‘Maybe the Government, with their appetite for diversity and equality, should take the lead and support a private member’s bill. Indeed, should the minister indicate her support for this initiative, I will move the matter forward to try to secure a question for short debate in order to gauge the opinion of the House before moving forward,’ he said.


What Would Jane Do?

Jane Austen – long-held as English literature’s first feminist, saw male inheritance as an old fashioned concept. What if someone told her that almost 250 years later, the same laws would still be in place? If this line from Pride and Prejudice is anything to go by, I have a feeling she would have encouraged us to press on. ‘There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.’

Surely, following The Succession to the Crown Act, the Queen invites the aristocracy to follow suit. After one thousand years, perhaps it’s finally time for a change. 

Do you stand to inherit from a Dutch estate? Allow us to assist you. Dutch Probate provides a legal trinity of expertise, representation and fieldwork to assist emigrants and expats of Dutch descent. To find out more, please visit our website. Alternatively, you can email or telephone +31(0)85-0604243 (select 0).

Inheritance Closing the Australian Wealth Gap 

Inheritance Closing the Australian Wealth Gap 

You may think rich families get richer when their offspring receive an inheritance. Surprisingly, a recent report from the Australian Productivity Commission suggests this is only part of the picture.

The Productivity Commission, an independent research body advising the Australian Government, recently released a report on wealth transfer. The report is one of the first to examine the economic impact of wealth distributed through inheritance. The Government hopes to determine the effects of wealth inequality, mitigating the widening wealth gap.

Increase in Australian Inheritance 

Australians are becoming more affluent. As property value booms, so does the relative wealth of the generation who own houses. With falling fertility rates, older Australians have less offspring to distribute these assets to.

Unsurprisingly, the Productivity Commission found that the elderly, typically fiscally cautious, delay drawing down on this wealth. Saving for a ‘rainy day’ has seen an astronomical increase in personal wealth. This, combined with untouched and growing Superannuation (pension), has produced the wealthiest generation of Australians in history.

Struggling Australians Receive Bigger Boost

Inheritance is relative. If you’re already well-off, wealth transferred from your parents after death will have less impact than if you were struggling at the time of the windfall. Productivity Commissioner, Lisa Gropp, suggests that, ‘the less well‑off get a much bigger boost from wealth transfers.’

In recent years, inheritance represented 90 per cent of all inter-generational wealth transfers. The average windfall – AU$125,000. With private wealth re-distributed at such a scale and many Australians as sole beneficiaries, the report suggests this will close the wealth gap in Australia, not widen it.

The Timing of Inheritance Matters

The Commissioner is wary of claims that inheritance is the only important factor in wealth transfer. She suggests it’s the time in life one receives a windfall, that has the greater outcome. ‘But while inheritances weigh on economic mobility — by increasing the likelihood that wealthy parents have wealthy children — the effect is moderated by the lateness in life at which they are received,’ Gropp says.

It’s all very well to receive a hefty inheritance, but if you’re in retirement, this boost may not have a significant impact. Much better, she suggests, to receive inter-generational wealth when you’re making employment and family decisions.

Commission Predicts Huge Wealth Transfer

Over AU$120 billion was passed on between Australian families in 2018, but that figure is set to quadruple in the coming decade. ‘Nevertheless, absent a significant change in how wealth transfers are distributed or saved in the future… they are unlikely to significantly worsen wealth inequality in Australia in the coming decades,’ says Gropp.

The sheer magnitude of wealth soon available and continued frugality will undoubtedly increase personal wealth. However, receiving this wealth later in life may not help as much as it could. Perhaps it’s time for Australians to contemplate what that means.

Do you stand to inherit from a Dutch estate? Allow us to assist you. Dutch Probate provides a legal trinity of expertise, representation and fieldwork to assist emigrants and expats of Dutch descent. To find out more, please visit our website. Alternatively, you can email or telephone +31(0)85-0604243 (select 0).