Looted by Nazis, returned, now on sale

The Guardian 23 February 2007
Dan Glaister

A collection of old master paintings once owned by the Nazi leader Hermann Göring is to go on auction, just a year after it was returned to the heirs of its original owner. The sale of around 170 paintings is the latest case of art looted by the Nazis being returned to its original owners and promptly being put up for sale.

Last summer a portrait by Gustav Klimt that had been returned by the Austrian government to the family of its former owner became the most expensive painting ever when it was auctioned for $135m (£69m).

The collection of Jacques Goudstikker will go on sale in the spring at Christie's, the auction house that sold the Klimt painting. The works, including a notable landscape by Salomon van Ruysdael, are expected to raise $22m-$35m.

"Jacques Goudstikker was an extraordinary dealer who had wide-ranging and fascinating taste," said Nicholas Hall, a director of Christie's old master paintings department in New York. "This is arguably the most important collection of old master pictures ever restituted."

Marei von Saher, the widow of the late collector's only son, said a large part of the collection, which originally numbered 1,400 paintings, would be seen in a touring exhibition. "The Dutch government's return of these pictures was an historic event for us and for all families whose possessions were stolen during the Holocaust era," she said. "Although we must part with some beautiful paintings, we are fortunate to be able to keep many of them for our private collection and exhibit those works publicly in the United States and abroad to tell the powerful story of Jacques Goudstikker and his collection."

Goudstikker fled the Netherlands in 1940 as the Nazis advanced, leaving his collection behind. He died at sea during his escape, falling through a hatch on a ship and breaking his neck.

Within days of his departure, Göring appeared at the Goudstikker gallery and, under threat of confiscation, bought the collection for the token price of 2m Dutch gilders.

After the war a large part of the collection was recovered and handed over to the Dutch government, which placed the pieces in its national collections, over the objections of Goudstikker's heirs. A lengthy legal battle was resolved last year when the Dutch government declared that 202 paintings should be handed back to the family.

The ruling prompted criticisms, with the director of one museum which handed over 30 works calling it a "serious haemorrhage of Dutch cultural heritage".

The decision to sell part of the collection also seems likely to raise concerns in the country, where one commentator described restitution as a lucrative business for "an industry of lawyers, advisers and art dealers".

Lawrence Kaye, a lawyer for Ms Von Saher in New York, said: "This property belonged to all these people. It was stolen by the Nazis. It's not their fault it was stolen from them. Why shouldn't she be permitted to sell her art?" He pointed to the costs incurred by the family in tracing the paintings and in taking its case through the Dutch courts for 10 years.

The sale of the Goudstikker collection will take place over three auctions, starting in New York in April.,,2019549,00.html
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