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Jacques Goudstikker, from RKDarchives.
Jacques Goudstikker, from RKDarchives.

The Incredible Story of Dutch Art Dealer Jacques Goudstikker

The story of the Dutch art dealer Jacques Goudstikker (1897-1940) reads like the screenplay for a WWII drama that includes an eleventh-hour escape from the Nazis, a tragic death, an opera singer, and stolen works of art. This remarkable story is the legacy of a preeminent Jewish art dealer in Amsterdam whose huge collection of masterworks was almost lost forever after being looted by the Nazis. The Goudstikker Collection was an impressive, historically important collection of Northern Baroque, Italian Renaissance and later European paintings assembled over many years by the Goudstikker family and exhibited by Jacques Goudstikker in his lavish art gallery in Amsterdam. Goudstikker was a connoisseur and an accomplished scholar whose expertise was admired throughout the European art world.

In 1937, Goudstikker married the beautiful Viennese opera singer Désirée von Halban Kurz, daughter of famed Jewish soprano Selma Kurz. Together they had a son, and in 1939, with the occupation of the Netherlands seemingly imminent, Goudstikker applied for visas to take his young family to the United States. On May 9, 1940, the Goudstikkers’ visas expired just as the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. As the German forces approached Amsterdam on May 13, 1940, the Goudstikkers fled without visas, finding passage on the SS Bodegraven, in part because a soldier on guard recognized Dési who had given a concert for the troops.

In a tragic turn of events, Jacques was killed on the night of May 15th while crossing the English Channel when he fell through an uncovered hatch on the deck of the ship. Jacques was hastily buried in Falmouth, England, while Desi and their son Edo travelled on to Canada and eventually the United States.

The small black notebook Jacques Goudstikker used to carefully inventory his collection, showing the painting we have on offer, No. 2575, courtesy Contemporary Jewish Museum
The small black notebook Jacques Goudstikker used to carefully inventory his collection, showing the painting we have on offer, No. 2575, courtesy Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Within weeks of Goudstikker’s death, his collection was looted by the Nazis. Hermann Göring, Adolf Hitler’s second in command, took approximately eight hundred of the most valuable works back to Germany where they were displayed in several residences. The gallery itself and Goudstikker’s lavish country estate were transferred to Goring’s henchman, Alois Miedl, in a forced sale at a fraction of their value. Miedl operated the gallery under the Goudstikker name throughout the war. The forced sale and looting of the Goudstikker Gallery is considered among the largest single acts of plundering by the Nazis.

In the years following WWII, over two hundred paintings from the Goudstikker Collection were located by the Allies and returned to the Netherlands. Despite the family’s efforts to recover them, the Dutch government kept the works in its national collection.

Goudstikker Collection Gallery Catalogue No. 39, 1931, courtesy The Frick Collection, Frick Art Reference Library.
Goudstikker Collection Gallery Catalogue No. 39, 1931, courtesy The Frick Collection, Frick Art Reference Library.

In the 1990s, descendants of Jacques Goudstikker took up the task of reclaiming the lost works following the release of new information after a reexamination of post-war restitution practices by the Dutch government. With the help of this new information and the efforts of a team of legal experts and art historians, the restitution of 200 artworks was made to the family in 2006. It is one of the largest restitutions of Nazi-looted art to date. More than 1,000 works from this collection remain to be found.

In our October 24-25th sale, From Baroque to Art Deco: European, American and Asian Fine & Decorative Arts, we have on offer Lot 127, one of the paintings from the Goudstikker Collection that was recovered shortly after the war and returned to the family. Attributed by Goudstikker to Diego Rodriguez da Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660) and titled Le Buveur, this painting was included and illustrated in the Goudstikker Gallery exhibition catalogue No. 39, in 1931. It was inventoried by Jacques Goudstikker in a small black notebook that was with him when he died, listed as #2575 (which corresponds with the number on the collection label on the back of the frame), attributed to Velasquez and given an alternate title Jonge man wijn schenkende ( Young Man Pouring Wine). Also in Dutch the entry notes “inkoop Duits” and “1/2 van Duits”, which translate as “German purchase” and “half of German”. The painting is also listed on an index card from the Goudstikker/Miedl archive and on the Detailed Interrogation Report No. 1 where it is titled Der Diner (The Diner).

Attributed to Don Diego da Silva y Velasquez (1599-1660): Le Buveur, back label showing 'No. 2975'.
Attributed to Don Diego da Silva y Velasquez (1599-1660): Le Buveur, back label showing ‘No. 2575’.

Our thanks to The Art Loss Register for their confirmation of this painting’s history and for providing some of the historical documents seen here. More information about the Collection can be found in the catalogue for the exhibition Reclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker, organized by Peter C. Sutton, Director, The Bruce Museum, Greenwich, CT.

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