By: Christy Grosz
New York—When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940, a prominent Jewish art dealer fled Amsterdam, leaving behind his stock of nearly 1,200 Old Master paintings. Jacques Goudstikker hoped to return to his gallery one day, but the 42-year-old died falling down a flight of stairs aboard a freighter that was carrying his family to safety in America. Less than a month later, Hermann Goering looted the paintings by means of coerced sales and then gave the rights to the Goudstikker trade name to his henchman Alois Miedl, who operated the gallery during the war.
Although almost 1,000 of the paintings are still unaccounted for, 202 of them ended up in the Dutch national collection. In 2006 the government restituted these works to Marei von Saher, Goudstikker’s daughter-in-law, who lives in Connecticut. (In 2007, Von Saher sold about 170 of the paintings at auction.) This month at the Jewish Museum in New York, 47 of the restituted pieces will appear in Reclaimed: Paintings From the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker, which runs March 15–Aug. 2. The show originated at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn., and includes a dozen paintings not seen at the Bruce. “(The collection) tells a really important story,” says Jewish Museum curator Karen Levitov. “This is one of the largest restitution cases ever resolved, and I think this exhibition will draw attention to the fact that it and other restitution cases are still ongoing.”
Goudstikker took over the family business from his father, Eduard, in 1919 and quickly made his mark by giving the gallery an international focus. While he acquainted Europe with the work of Dutch painters, he also introduced Amsterdam to works from outside the country’s borders.
“His specialty remained 17th-century Dutch painting, but he also picked up on an international taste for Italian Renaissance art,” Levitov explains. “He was basically responsible for introducing Italian Renaissance art to the Dutch collectors.”