Goudstikker's List

In May 1940, the Jewish artdealer Jacques Goudstikkerfled Amsterdam, along withhis wife, Desirée, and theirone-year-old son, Edo, justahead of advancing Nazitroops. They carried nothingbut the clothes they werewearing, a few pieces ofjewelry, the cash Goudstikkerhad on hand—and a notebooklisting 1,300 inventoried artobjects from his celebratedAmsterdam gallery, including1,113 paintings by suchmasters as Rembrandt,Rubens, Jan Steen, van Goghand Titian.

After boarding a shipthat was to transport themto safety, Goudstikker diedunexpectedly: restless inthe crowded hold overnight,he went for a walk on deck,tripped into an uncoveredhatch and broke his neck.His family continued theirjourney, winding up inAmerica. Fortunately, theytook his list of paintings withthem. When Desirée returnedto Amsterdam after the warto claim the artworks and thefamily’s other possessions,she discovered that everythingwas gone. Goudstikker’sgallery, and his collection,had been looted by the Nazis.About 300 of the pictureswere recovered by the Alliesafter the war and returnedto the Dutch state, whichthen turned them over to theNetherlands’ major museums.

 

Desirée’s attempts toretrieve the artworks werestymied by the institutions,which wanted to keep them,and by the courts. BothDesirée and Edo died in 1996.It was the Dutch journalistPieter den Hollander who,in 1997, contacted Mareivon Saher, Edo’s widow, afterlearning about theGoudstikker story while investigatingrestitution policies.Von Saher then filed a legalclaim seeking the returnof the paintings, but it wasn’tuntil 2006 that the court,under pressure from a newDutch restitution committeeled by the art historian andactivist Rudi Ekkert, handed202 paintings over to her.

The 2006 settlementmay have given the familysome sense of vindication,but the Goudstikker case hashardly receded from view.Indeed, the paintings arestill making headlines as thesubject of legal claims, asthey crop up at art fairs andat auction and travel tomuseums. Around 35 importantworks, loaned by thefamily and private collectors,are featured in “Reclaimed:Paintings from the Collectionof Jacques Goudstikker,”on view through September 7at the Bruce Museum, inGreenwich, Connecticut.Organized in cooperationwith the family, the show willtravel in 2009 to the JewishMuseum in New York. “I’m justthrilled that by doing theexhibition we keep JacquesGoudstikker’s legacy alive,”says von Saher.

After the verdict, vonSaher and her two daughtersselected a number of worksthey wished to keep forpersonal reasons and put therest up for sale at auction andthrough private dealers. “Wehad to pay our lawyers’ fees,”explains the 64-year-old vonSaher, who lives in Greenwich.

In 2006 the 202 paintingswere reportedly worthan estimated €56 million to€84 million ($79 million to$110 million). Sales proceedsso far fall short of thosenumbers. This is hardlysurprising, since the estimateincluded the pictures retainedby the family, potentiallythe most valuable of thetrove, and only a portion ofthe remainder has been sold.

Last year, Christie’soffered 128 of the works—chosen with the assistanceof Nicholas Hall, the internationalhead of the firm’s OldMaster and British picturesdepartment—in a seriesof auctions: one each in NewYork, London and Amsterdam.Only 87 lots sold, for acombined $20.78 million—just above their low presaleestimate of $19.2 million.Hall says the results are“respectable,” since manypaintings sold much higherthan their estimates.

No other auctions areplanned at the moment.The von Sahers, however,are continuing to offer someworks privately, mostlythrough the London OldMasters dealer SimonDickinson. Dickinson broughtJan Steen’s Sacrificeof Iphigenia, 1671, one ofGoudstikker’s most significantpaintings, to TEFAFMaastricht this past March.The picture, which had hungin the Rijksmuseum inAmsterdam after 1945, wasa star of the show, whereit sold for €8 million ($12 million).“It’s certainly one ofthe greatest Dutch 17thcenturypictures we have everhandled,” says the dealer.

The Steen is on viewin the Bruce show, along withSalomon von Ruysdaels1649 River Landscape with aFerryboat, which also oncehung in the Rijksmuseum;Jan van Goyens View of OudeMaas near Dordrecht, 1651;and Jan van der Heydensundated View of NyenrodeCastle on the Vecht. Alsofeatured is Jan Antonisz vanRavesteyns 1623 Portrait of aLady, the cover image for theChristie’s Goudstikker auctionin New York, which sold tothe London dealer Johnny vanHaeften for $712,000.

Goudstikker’s legacyis that of “ a tastemaker whochanged collecting,” saysPeter C. Sutton, the directorof the Bruce and the show’sorganizer. “Prior toGoudstikker, few dealers inHolland offered anything butDutch and Flemish paintings.”

A man of famedcharisma, Goudstikker wasa prominent figure in NorthernEuropean society. He startedas an assistant in his father’sgallery, later founding hisown, in a canal house at 458Herengracht. This was theprewar destination foranyone in the market forDutch masters and ItalianRenaissance paintings.Goudstikker’s clients includedthe Dutch sugar magnateJ. W. Edwin vom Rath and theAmerican financier AndrewMellon. He organized travelingexhibitions of gallery works toScandinavia and the U.S. Thedealer also sold works directlyto the Metropolitan Museumof Art, in New York, and evento a museum in Kansas, at atime when few European dealersmade such internationaltransactions. He plied hisclients with what Sutton characterizesas “the most variedstock of any dealer in Hollandat that time, [with] somethingfor everyone’s pocketbook.He collected artists whohadn’t yet caught on but whowould subsequently be appreciatedand collected widely.”

If his legacy continuestoday, so does the wranglingover his collection. The 2006settlement did not pleaseeveryone in the Netherlands.Medy van der Laan, thendeputy culture minister, saidduring a press conferencethat although returningthe paintings was “the morallycorrect outcome,” it wasnevertheless “a bloodlettingfor some of our museums.” Italso opened the floodgates.The case, says the restitutioncommittee’s Ekkert “attractedworldwide attention in thepress,” resulting “in many morerequests of information aboutclaims from all over the world.”

In an unusual twist,one Dutch institution is tryingto buy back a work from vonSaher. The Dordrecht Museumlaunched a campaign inMarch to raise €3.5 million($5 million) to purchase thevan Goyen landscape inthe Bruce show, which hadbecome part of its holdingsafter the war. The museum’sdirector, Peter Clean, recentlytold the Dutch newspaper NRCHandelsblad that it wouldbe the most expensive paintingthe institution has everpurchased but that it has“always been one of the favoritesof the public.”

Meanwhile, von Saher isstill trying to recover pictures.She believes 500 from theoriginal collection of 1,300 arestill missing. “We will continueto look for those paintings,”she says, adding that sheassumes some have been lostor destroyed over the years.“We have leads on a fewof them. I’m hoping that museumswill finally make thingsa little easier on us and onmany other cases. The wrongfinally has to be put right.”

Von Saher has alsoidentified some works hangingin major museums. Shesays that two Lucas Cranachpanels in the Norton SimonMuseum, in Pasadena, wereoriginally in Goudstikker’sinventory. Last May shefiled suit against the institutiondemanding their return,asserting that the Dutchgovernment incorrectly restituted them to GeorgeStroganoff-Scherbatoff, aDutch navy commander, whosuccessfully petitioned forthe works and then sold themin 1971 to the Norton Simon.Last October, a federal judgedismissed her claim, rulingthat the statute of limitationsfor war restitution caseshad expired in California.Von Saher plans to appeal.

In the meantime,debate swirls around where“Reclaimed” might go afterthe Jewish Museum. Therewas talk of sending it to YadVashem, in Israel, and alsoto Amsterdam, possibly to beshown at 458 Herengracht.The Yad Vashem plan hasapparently been dropped,says Bruce director Sutton,and although Amsterdamis still a possible venue, hardfeelings remain there aboutthe recent so-called “bloodletting.”Joël Cahen, the directorof Amsterdam’s JewishHistorical Museum, who hadoffered to help get the exhibitionthere, says von Saherdecided to hold off for now.“It was a brilliant idea to bringthe show here, and to do itat the former Goudstikkergallery,” he says. “But theydon’t want to step on the sorespots of the Dutch museumsthat lost some importantpaintings to the restitution.”

Von Saher confirmsthat it was she who decided towait. “The timing is too soonafter the restitution. There arestill some people who maynot agree with it. Anyway, thepaintings were in Amsterdamfor 60 years, so why not waita little longer to bring themback?”

"Goudstikker's List" originally appeared in the May 2008 issue of Art+Auction. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Art+Auction's May 2008 Table of Contents.