Adolph Hitler’s Museum in Austria was the destination for many of the paintings now on display at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan. For many more years they were on display in the Netherlands. Reclaimed by the family of Jaques Goudstikker, they have aquired a story that’s told through personal accounts and personal items, including a diary kept by Goudstikker that was instramental in finally reclaiming the artworks. The exhibition also provides the rare occasion to view paintings as they were collected by an art dealer, rather than by a museum curator or benefactor.
Reclaimed reveals the extraordinary legacy of Jacques Goudstikker, a preeminent art dealer in Amsterdam, whose vast collection of masterpieces fell victim, and was almost lost forever, to the Nazi practice of looting cultural properties.
Jacques Goudstikker (1897-1940) was one of the most important and influential art dealers in Europe during the period between the First and Second World Wars. The Goudstikker Gallery, located in a grand house on one of Amsterdam’s prominent canals, dealt primarily in Dutch Old Masters from the Golden Age, yet also offered other Northern European and Italian paintings. Goudstikker sold paintings to leading collectors and museums in Europe and the United States, mounted groundbreaking exhibitions and had a profound influence on collecting patterns. His impressive and historically important collection rose to international acclaim.
As prominent members of society, Goudstikker and his wife, Dési, led luxurious and exuberant lives, but the world they inhabited would soon be lost. Due to the rising threat of the Third Reich and because he was Jewish, Goudstikker was forced to flee the Netherlands with his wife and their year-old son, Eduard (nicknamed “Edo”), in May 1940 shortly after the Nazi invasion. Jacques died in a tragic accident on board ship while escaping by sea.
Goudstikker left behind his collection of approximately 1,400 works of art, the bulk of which were taken to Germany after the looting of the Goudstikker Gallery by Herman Göring, Hitler’s second in command and a rapacious art collector. Göring’s henchman, Alois Miedl, ran the gallery throughout the war under the Goudstikker name, profiting from its remaining stock of artworks and respected reputation.
When World War II ended, over 200 Goudstikker paintings were located by the Allies in Germany and returned to the Netherlands with the expectation that they would be restituted to the rightful owner. Despite Dési’s efforts to recover them, the Dutch government kept the works in its national collections. Eventually, Dési and her second husband, A.E. D. von Saher, who adopted Edo, left the United States, where they had settled, to return to the Netherlands, 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 in 1997 at a time of renewed interest in restituting Nazi-looted artworks in the Netherlands and after new information about the fate of the Goudstikker collection became available to her. The small black notebook Jacques Goudstikker had used meticulously to inventory his collection was found with him at the time of his death and later became a crucial piece of evidence in the battle to reclaim his art. Finally, after a nearly decade-long battle, the Dutch government agreed on February 6, 2006 to restitute 200 of the paintings looted by the Nazis.
Not all paintings are of the same caliber. Even a typical high-end dealers nowadays may have paintings of different artistic and monetary level to cater the needs of the market. But there are quite a few which would benefit the walls of any major art institute.
One of the paintings on display has made it to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC and is now on loan to the exhibition. Salomon Jacobsz van Ruysdael’s “River Landscape with Ferry“, 1649 is an impressive work showing the sensitivities of the landscape artist and life in 17th Century Netherlands. Goudstikker’s fondness of Ruysdael was evident from his monograph’s show of the painter in 1936, the only one that has been mounted ever. Hui commented that the landscapes by the Dutch painters of the Golden Age are more intimate and spontaneous compared to Lorrainian’s panaroma due to their preference of the momentary phenomenons of clouds and the transient activities of daily life.
Jan Josephsz van Goyen’s two paintings on display showed his tonalistic style that ultimately found the artistic heirs in the Hague School two hundred years later. The adoption of a limited pallete to unify the landscape gives one winter scene a warm atmospheric effect that seems to enahnce the hustyle and bustle skating under the bleak sky. In another painting which featuresa view of the city of Dordrecht fro the southwest, large clouds dominates the low land and water scenes. The mutually intertwined grayish orche and blue colors of the clouds look almost monochromatic at distance. Interestingly, all these large-scale dutch landscape paintings are oil on panel.
Another favorite is Still Life with an English Silver Ginger Jar by Piete Gerritsz Van Roestraeten. Attention to every detail from the reflections to the frame captivate anyone who takes a moment to appreciate its beauty. The frame, inlaid with tortoise shell and silver, also of late 17th century origina, is also probably English and based on the curator’s analysis “undoubtedly original”.
Following its New York showing, the exhibition will travel to the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX (October 7, 2009 – January 10, 2010); the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL (February 13 – May 2, 2010); and the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA (October 30, 2010 – March 8, 2011).