Rutgers returns painting taken from family by Nazis

My Central Jersey 14 January 2011
By Tom Baldwin

The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University returns a rare Renaissance portrait, confiscated by Nazis, to its rightful owner.

NEW BRUNSWICK — A Renaissance-era painting looted by Nazis in Holland and trafficked around Europe and New York before landing at Rutgers University ended up in the hands of its rightful heirs Friday, the university said, ending a 65-year sojourn.

It was Columbus Day of 2009 when the phone rang on the desk of Suzanne Delehanty, director of the Zimmerli Art Museum on the College Avenue campus.

The caller, who identified himself as Simon Goodman of Los Angeles, said he was the grandson of a wealthy Dutch banker who had seen his art collection seized by the Nazis after the Wehrmacht rolled into Holland in May 1940.

"He said, "I believe you have a painting that belongs to my family,' " Delehanty recalled.

"I never dreamed this would happen," she added. "We decided right away we wanted to do the right thing."

"The restitution of World War-II era artwork is one of the most important legal and moral issues facing museums today, and we at Rutgers and the Zimmerli took the Goodman family claim most seriously. We have devoted almost a year to researching the case," the director said at a subdued ceremony.

That meant putting the university's associate general counsel, Elizabeth Minott, on the job. She said she had no experience tracking artwork, so she sought the advice and expertise of others.

Minott and Delehanty said they were lucky - the collection of Goodman's grandparents had been well-known in pre-war European art circles.

They said the grandson's documentation was good and his efforts to reclaim the family wealth are known among people concerned with such matters.

Europe stood awash in lost and stolen art after World War II, to the point that Allied armies recruited art historians as "monument officers" to  keep track of the shifting riches.
In this case, the 1509 work "Portrait of a Young Man" by German painter Hans Baldung Grien had hung in Goodman's grandparents' home in the Netherlands.

Goodman said the 18-inch-by-13-inch portrait of an apparent nobleman was part of a group of seven works that caught the eye of Karl Haberstock, who was a German dealer representing Adolph Hitler.

The museum said Goodman's grandparents had traded the seven works for safe pasage out of occupied Europe, but Nazi officers took the art and dispatched the grandparents to separate death camps, where they perished.

Somewhere along the way, as the seven works were shipped to Germany, the portrait went missing, a Zimmerli release said.

Catalogues identifying the work as "the Baldung Grien," for its green backdrop, said the painting was in the hands of a London dealer between 1948 and 1950.

"By 1953," said the Zimmerli release, "the Baldung Grien appears to have been in the possession of the dealers Rosenberg and Stiebel of New York, who sold or transferred it to Rudolf Heinemann. Mr. Heinemann gave the painting to Rutgers University in 1959."

There it sat, exhibited on and off, and then displayed regularly from 1980 to the mid-1990s.

After that it is harder to get records," said Anne Edgar, publicist for the ceremony.

Goodman, who said his family is dedicated to reclaiming their lost art, tracked the painting to Rutgers, where the Zimmerli had planned to include the work in the museum's European collection, set to open in April.

"After so many years of dealing with art museums around the world, it has been a pleasure to work with Rutgers and the Zimmerli. Their professionalism and courtesy have been exemplary," Goodman said.

Delehanty said the decision to hand over the painting was consistent with the "Report of the Association of Art Museum Directors' Task Force on the Spoliation of Art during the Nazi World War II Era," a sort of primer to what to do when museums find they hold looted World War II valuables.

"From the beginning of this process, we have been committed to doing the right thing," said Philip Furmanski, executive vice president of for academic affairs at Rutgers.

Goodman said he plans to sell the work, which he said could bring between $50,000 and $250,000.

"I have the right to sell my own property," he said.

He said there are still 17 of his grandparents' works out there somewhere, and he is trying to track them down.He said the Germans, in fact, aided his investigations with their concern for precise paperwork. "There were crates," he said, "with my family's name written right there on the box."
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