A major art collection is on display for the first time since it was looted by the Nazis. The exhibition tells the tragic story of a pre-eminent art dealer who died fleeing the Nazis and the successful fight by his heirs to win back the paintings.
“Reclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker” can be seen at the Bruce Museum through September 7, 2008. From March 15, 2009, through August 2, 2009, the exhibition will be on view at The Jewish Museum in New York. Featuring about 40 of the finest representatives of the collection of Jacques Goudstikker, the exhibition emphasizes the importance of both the artworks and their historic restitution.
Jacques Goudstikker (1897-1940) was an art dealer in Amsterdam during the period between the First and Second World Wars. Goudstikker maintained a gallery and entertained lavishly in his country home outside Amsterdam. His charmed life was cut short when Goudstikker, who was Jewish, was forced to flee Amsterdam by sea with his wife Desi and young son Edo just ahead of the Nazi invasion in May 1940. Goudstikker died after falling through a trapdoor on the outbound ship. Left behind were about 1,400 works of art and extensive properties.
Goudstikker’s assets in Amsterdam were soon looted by the Nazis. Reichsmarschall Hermann Gohring, a rapacious art collector and second in command in the Third Reich, had personal designs on Goudstikker’s paintings. There was a forced sale of the gallery’s inventory at a fraction of its value to the Reichsmarschall. The gallery’s other assets were taken by Gohring’s longtime associate Alois Miedl, who ran the gallery as his own throughout the war under the Goudstikker name.
When the war ended, the Goudstikker paintings recovered by the Allies were returned to the Netherlands with the understanding that the Dutch government would give them back to the original owners. Desi, who had settled in America, tried unsuccessfully to recover the artworks that had been taken by Gohring and were in the custody of the Dutch government. Eventually, she and her second husband, A. E. D. von Saher, who adopted Edo, returned to her beloved Holland, where she died in 1996. Edo survived her by only a few months.
Edo’s widow, Marei von Saher, initiated the claims process for restitution. A crucial piece of evidence was the small notebook Jacques had with him when he died and which Desi had kept. It inventoried most of the collection.
In February 2006, the Dutch government agreed to restitute 200 of the paintings looted by the Reichsmarschall. Jacques Goudstikker’s inventory ranged from Italian gold grounds and Renaissance works of art to early German and Netherlandish paintings, Dutch art of the Golden Age, French and Italian Rococo, and 19th-century French and other European paintings.
The goals of the exhibition are multifold: to reveal the quality of Goudstikker’s offerings, to explore how his tastes influenced patterns of collecting, to tell the dismaying story of the criminal theft of his art by the Nazis, and to recount the protracted legal battle that brought its restitution. In addition to the pleasure of viewing fine paintings, the show offers an opportunity to reflect on the inequities of war, the rapine of cultural property, and the ongoing effort to bring justice to the many cases of property stolen during World War II.
The exhibition “Reclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker” is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
For information, call the Bruce Museum at 203-869-0376, or visit the Bruce Museum Web site at www.brucemuseum.org.