Nazi-Looted Painting Returned to Collector’s Heir

The 16th-century piece was one of more than 1,100 artworks taken from a Dutch-Jewish art dealer’s collection during World War II

Long, dark painting of Adam and Eve
The painting is attributed to Dutch artist Cornelis van Haarlem. Kaye Spiegler

A painting stolen by a high-ranking Nazi official during World War II has been returned to the original owner’s heir, reports the Observer’s Alexandra Tremayne-Pengelly.

The official in question is Hermann Göring, who held many powerful positions in the Nazi party. According to ARTnews’ Angelica Villa, Göring acquired the artwork—along with some 1,100 other pieces—from the collection of Dutch-Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker in Amsterdam in 1940.

Some of the looted pieces were eventually returned to the Dutch government, which gave 200 paintings to Goudstikker’s family in 2006 after a lengthy legal battle. Many of the works, however, are still missing.

Art historians think the newly returned artwork, titled Adam and Eve, was painted by Dutch artist Cornelis van Haarlem in the 16th century. It recently resurfaced when a private collector tried to donate it to the Musée Rolin, an art museum in Autun, France.

When Agathe Mathiaut-Legros, the museum’s curator, and Axelle Goupy, her assistant, inspected the piece, they discovered a label bearing Goudstikker’s name, reports Meriem Souissi of the French newspaper Le Journal de Saône-et-Loire. They began researching the painting’s provenance and determined it was one of the works stolen from Goudstikker’s collection during World War II.

The museum then notified Marei von Saher, Goudstikker’s daughter-in-law and only living heir, to let her know about the discovery. The New York law firm Kaye Spiegler helped facilitate the return.

The identity of the donors has not been revealed. According to the law firm, they did not know the piece had been looted.

“The museum really acted in the way that you want museums to be acting; they flagged it, they contacted the family, they were doing the right thing to resolve this in a fair and correct way,” says Yaél Weitz, an attorney who worked on the case, to the Observer. “They handled it in a way that we hope other museums will going forward.”

Roughly 800 pieces looted from Goudstikker’s collection still have not been returned to the family, though a few have made their way back in recent years. In 2022, the German city of Trier returned a painting called Ice Skating, created by Dutch artist Adam van Breen during the 17th century.

Still, not all Von Saher’s efforts to retrieve the family’s stolen paintings have been successful. For example, a San Francisco court ruled in 2018 that the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, could keep two looted 16th-century paintings created by Lucas Cranach the Elder. In 2019, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

Last month, the Musée Rolin held a ceremony to mark the return of Adam and Eve.

“I am deeply appreciative of the efforts that led to the recovery of this piece of our family’s history,” says Von Saher in a statement from Kaye Spiegler. “It is so gratifying to see justice achieved and have this painting returned to its rightful owners.”

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