Dutch state poised to return art looted by Nazis to Jewish heirs

Jacques Goudstikker, fled Holland at the start of the war, losing an estimated 1,300 artworks.

The Dutch government is deciding whether to give 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 at the start of the war with his wife and son, losing 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 (euros), 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 overseas embassies. Others works Goering took, including pieces by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Goya, Rubens, Brueghel, Titian and Tintoretto, remain lost. A handful have been returned by buyers who later realized later the paintings were Goudstikker's. Goudstikker's daughter-in-law and one of his two granddaughters traveled to the Netherlands last week from their home in Connecticut to await a decision by the Dutch Cabinet, which discussed the return of the works on Friday. 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 Goudstikker's 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. "Those who were robbed but survived the war were then cowed by bureaucrats." 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 undergoes renovations. The Rijksmuseum has three tapestries, 12 drawings and 15 paintings from the Goudstikker collection. Museum spokesman Boris de Munnick said the museum would not hesitate to hand over the works if the government decided it must. "The law must be obeyed," he said. The museum would also considering purchasing back the works, he said. Last year, the Israel Museum gave the drawing "Four Nude Female Dancers Resting," by French artist Edgar Degas back to the Goudstikkers. 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.