Dutch State May Return Art Looted by Nazis

The Washington Post 4 February 2006
Toby Sterling

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- The Dutch government is deciding whether to return a major art collection to the descendants of a Jewish art dealer whose holdings were taken by the Nazis, a spokesman for the family said Saturday.

The Netherlands' biggest art dealer before World War II, Jacques Goudstikker fled the country with his wife and son at the start of the war, leaving behind an estimated 1,300 artworks.

He died after falling through a trap door on a ship heading to South America.

Around 800 of his artworks were seized by Hitler's right-hand man, Field Marshall Hermann Goering, and 300, mostly by Dutch artists, were returned to the Netherlands' government after the war.

A few were auctioned, but 267 artworks worth tens of millions of dollars, including masterpieces by Jan Steen and Salomon van Ruysdael, remain in art museums around the Netherlands, including in the national Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Some decorate Dutch government offices and embassies.

The Dutch Cabinet discussed the return of the works on Friday, and Goudstikker's daughter-in-law and one of his two granddaughters traveled to the Netherlands from their home in Connecticut to await the government's decision.

Family spokesman Roeland van der Heiden said the Dutch government has told the family to expect a decision as early as Sunday night.

Goudstikker's widow fought for return of the stolen goods for six years after the war but, without knowing the extent of what the Dutch government had recovered from Allied forces, relinquished her rights to the Dutch art collection in a 1952 settlement that compensated her mostly for lost real estate.

Dutch courts have consistently held that agreements made after the war are valid. But after an international debate began on compensating Jews for stolen Holocaust-era assets, the Dutch, along with other governments, began reviewing claims with an emphasis on moral, rather than legalistic arguments.
"It screams to heaven," Rudi Ekkart, chairman of a Dutch government commission on Nazi-looted assets, told De Volkskrant newspaper about the Goudstikkers' treatment. "Those who were robbed but survived the war were then cowed by bureaucrats."

A handful of works have been returned by buyers who later realized the paintings were Goudstikker's.

Best-known among the Dutch-held works are a 1649 Salomon van Ruysdael river landscape that is one of the greatest masterpieces in the Rijksmuseum.

Another is Jan Steen's 1671 oil painting, "The Sacrifice of Iphigeneia," which sits in storage while the Rijksmuseum is renovated.

The Rijksmuseum has three tapestries, 12 drawings and 15 paintings from the Goudstikker collection. Museum spokesman Boris de Munnick said the museum won't hesitate to hand over the works if the government decides it must.

"The law must be obeyed," he said.

The museum would also considering purchasing back the works if the family was willing, he said.

The Israel Museum gave back the drawing "Four Nude Female Dancers Resting," by French artist Edgar Degas to the Goudstikkers last year. In 2001, the estate of Hertha Katz, a private U.S. collector, returned "The Temptation of St. Anthony," a 1520 oil painting by early Dutch master J. W. de Cock.

Others works Goering took, including pieces by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Goya, Rubens, Brueghel, Titian and Tintoretto, remain lost.
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