Sargent painting’s tragic history uncovered

STAMFORD, Conn. – During the Stamford Museum & Nature Center’s ongoing review of its permanent art collection, it was discovered that the museum has in its collection one of the artworks left behind by the famous art dealer Jacques Goudstikker when he left Holland to escape the Nazis.

The painting, John Singer Sargent’s “Portrait of J.P. Wolff,” which has been in its collection since 1955, was recently found to have belonged to Goudstikker. Goudstikker’s heirs have been trying for decades to locate the missing artworks with the help of the dealer’s “black book,” a hand-written tally of his collection.

Sargent 2.JPGUpon discovering the association, the Museum set about locating Goudstikker’s heirs to ensure that its title to the artwork was beyond reproach.

John Singer Sargent’s (American, 1856-1925) “Portrait of J.P. Wolff” c. 1890

Museum staff located Goudstikker’s only surviving heirs in nearby Greenwich, Conn. Marei von Saher, the dealer’s daughter-in-law, was pleasantly surprised by the Museum’s openness. She and her daughter, Charlene, promptly made an appointment to see the painting.

“We already knew that it was legitimate. We were just very curious to see a painting that did belong to my father-in-law that was sort of tucked away in a lovely museum and we had no idea that it was there,” Mrs. von Saher said. “And what a beautiful picture it is!”

Sargent 1.jpgA review of the Goudstikker family records showed that it was one of the few restored to Goudstikker’s widow by the Dutch government after the war and sold by her in the early 1950s and, therefore, that the Museum owned it outright.

Marei and Charlene von Saher view John Singer Sargent’s “Portrait of J.P. Wolff,” which was once owned by their relative, the famous art dealer Jacques Goudstikker.

“I truly, truly respect and honor the museum because they did the right thing. I wish other museums would follow suit,” said Mrs. von Saher.

During their visit Marei and Charlene von Saher gave the museum a copy of the page of the dealer’s “Black Book” listing the Sargent’s painting. Maria Nakian, Co-President of the Museum’s Board of Directors and Chair of its Collections and Exhibitions Committee, said that the meeting between the heirs and Museum officials was moving and gratifying.

Mrs. von Saher said she liked the idea that the painting would remain in the collection of a museum that is so close to her home.

“I have a granddaughter who is 4. I think she is a little young to appreciate it now, but in a few years from now I can take her there and tell her, ‘Your great grandfather used to own these paintings.’ I think that’s kind of nice.” Mrs. von Saher said.

The painting will be on display in the Museum’s Bendel Mansion this spring.