Dutch authorities behaved in a controversial way regarding the collection of Amsterdam art dealer Jacques Goudstikker after recovering many works of his wonderful collection of old masters which was stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War.
Dutch journalist Pieter den Hollander has published a book, De Zaak Goudstikker, released in January 1999 relating the fate of this collection and proving that the Dutch Administration refused to surrender to Goudstikker's widow some 300 works recovered from the Nazis. The author also stressed that over 3 500 works, also recovered from Germany, had still not been surrendered to their legitimate owners.
Jacques Goudstikker fled the Netherlands just before the German invasion of May 14th 1940 and left behind him over 1275 masterpieces, which formed his remarkable collection.
With his wife Desi and his son Edo he boarded a ship, the SS Bodegraven, but was refused entry in England.
The SS Bodegraven continued her route to South America but during the night of May 15th and May 16th 1940, the dealer and his family were ordered to stay in the storeroom of the ship. Wanting to breathe some fresh air, the dealer went on deck but when he wanted to get back to the storeroom he opened another door and fell to his death.
His wife and son were allowed to disembark in Liverpool and to travel to the U.S. In the meantime, Jacques Goudstikker's gallery had been sold to Alois Miedl, an Amsterdam-based German dealer. On learning of this deal, Marshal Goering forced Miedl to surrender the entire collection of Goudstikker's paintings at a third of their real value.
In exchange, Miedl was allowed to buy the remaining properties of Goudstikker, a country-house, a castle and a 17th Century building in Amsterdam.
Miedl, whose wife was Jewish and therefore needed Goering's protection, then worked closely with many Nazi dignitaries to whom he sold some 4000 works, during the war. Most of these works had been bought at low prices or stolen from several Jewish families, which faced nazi persecutions.
Goering got hold of 780 paintings from the Goudstikker collection while 500 others were sold back to Miedl. Among the masterpieces kept by Goering or destined to Hitler's Reich Museum in Linz were works by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Goya, Rubens, Brueghel, Teniers, Ruysdael, Jan Steen, Van Dyck, Cranach, Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto or Bol.
Goering kept the best works by old masters and bartered Impressionist, Expressionist or Cubist paintings, described as «degenerate works» by the Nazis against other old master pieces.
Desi Goudstikker returned to the Netherlands in 1946 and discovered what had happened to the collection and the properties of her husband. Meanwhile, the Dutch government had recovered some 300 paintings of the collection found in those of Goering and Hitler but did not take the opportunity of surrendering these to the Goudstikker family. It adopted the same strange behavior vis à vis the legitimate owners of thousands of other works which had also been recovered from the Nazis.
Instead, Dutch authorities intended to allocate most of these pieces to many museums and Desi Goudstikker had no choice but to enact a legal suit to recover what had been saved from the collection of her husband.
After seven years of painstaking negotiations, she only managed to recover the building properties of her husband and some paintings, which had remained in the gallery run by Miedl during the war. She however failed to obtain the 300 masterpieces recovered from the collections of Goering and Hitler. In fact, Dutch authorities did not wait until the end of the lawsuit to auction those works which were not considered as national treasures.
The Dutch government only sought to enrich the National collections at the expense of the Goudstikkers who were never informed about allied investigations into Nazi pillages during the war nor about the transactions between Miedl and Goering.
Desi Goudstikker was thus forced to reach a compromise agreement leaving 235 masterpieces to the State, including works by Jacob and Salomon Ruysdael, Jan Van Goyen , Adriaen van Ostade, Gerard Ter Borch, Pieter de Hooch, Jan Steen, Giovanni Bellini, Veronese, Tintoretto, Lucas Cranach, Hans Memling and many others.
Desi Goudstikker then married August Von Saher, a lawyer, while her Edo lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, with his wife. Desi died in 1996 and Edo in 1997 while his wife and their two daughters, Chantal and Charlene, ignored what had really happened of their grandfather and his collection until the press covered at length the problems of Nazi gold in Switzerland and Nazi pillages during the war.
Now several investigations regarding stolen art works have been under way in the Netherlands shedding new light on the controversial role Dutch authorities played after the conflict.
Dutch authorities have finally promised to surrender some 3750 artworks recovered after the war to their legitimate owners but have rejected the demands made by the Goudstikker heirs arguing that an agreement had been reached with Desi in 1952.
However, Chantal and Charlene have found new elements in the National archives in Washington which have prompted them to start another legal action against the Netherlands. They now claim the 235 works exhibited in Dutch museums and compensation for those which were auctioned by the government after the war.
Their lawyers are also determine to launch investigations about the remaining 500 works still missing from the Goudstikker collection which are probably dispersed throughout the world.
For example, the Dutch authorities have called for the restitution of four paintings from the collection which were found recently in Russia as well as others found in what was East-Germany.
The Goudstikker lawsuit will probably be examined next Spring by the High Court of Justice of the Hague and the plaintiffs have suggested that the U.S State Dept. and the participants of the Washington conference on Nazi pillages to act as arbitrators.