Successful Amsterdam sale concludes the series of Goudstikker auctions

Old masters, recovered as a result of one of the world’s largest Nazi restitution claims, net $20m


The third and final auction of material from the World War II collection of Jewish art dealer and collector Jacques Goudstikker on 14 November in Amsterdam made E1.2m ($1.8m), with a number of pieces making well over estimate. This sale brought a year-long series of auctions of 128 works from Goudstikker’s trove to a conclusion, yielding a total of E12.4m ($20.8m), just above the lower pre-sale estimate of $19.2m. The top lot of all three sales was a Salomon van Ruysdael, Ferry Boat with Cattle on the River Vecht near Nijenrode, 1649, which sold at an otherwise disappointing auction in New York on 19 April for $2.3m.

“Overall, we’re extremely satisfied,” said Nicholas Hall, joint international director of Christie’s old master paintings department. “It was a very respectable outcome. The pictures in best condition and the rarest were the ones that sold for the highest prices.”

Goudstikker was well known in Europe before World War II as a prominent art dealer, hand­ling top-priced Dutch and Italian old masters and 19th-century artists from his Amsterdam gallery. An inventory of his collection, which his wife discovered in a notebook when he died, contained 1,113 items, among them works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Titian, and Goya.

He died in 1940 trying to flee by boat to England with his family and hundreds of other Jewish people, just ahead of advancing German troops. The Nazis looted the collection during the German occupation of Holland.

After the war, nearly 300 items were returned to the Dutch state, but most were never found. In 1952, the Dutch government distributed some 267 pieces to 17 museums throughout the Netherlands, despite protests by the family. Years of high-profile legal battles ensued. In 2006, the state finally returned 202 works to Goudstikker’s son’s widow, Marei von Saher, representing one of the largest successful restitution claims of Nazi-seized art in history (The Art Newspaper, November 2007, p15).

In an emailed statement to The Art Newspaper, Ms von Saher said: “We were pleased with the results of the auction at Christie’s. As we have previously stated, our decision to sell was in part based on our need to defray expenses associated with our nearly decade-long fight to have the works restituted. But the auctions served other purposes as well. The publicity surrounding them further raised awareness about Jacques Goudstikker and helped to restore his legacy, which has always been our primary goal.”

Because there were several artists who were represented by more than a few pictures, Christie’s decided to split the sale into three parts. Forty-five Goudstikker works were sold in New York on 19 April as part of its old masters sale, bringing $9.7m. Another 35 were sold in London on 5 July as part of the “Important Old Masters and British Pictures” sale, achieving $6.3m. Amsterdam offered 48 pictures, and sold 34 of them. The buyers included art dealers Otto Naumann and French and Company, the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas, and Galerie Neuse of Bremen, Germany.

Provenance seems to have had the most impact on prices in Holland, where Goudstikker’s tale has made headlines for many years. The top lot, Jan van Goyen’s A Wooded Landscape with Shipping on a River, a Village Nearby, 1643, went for E276,000 ($405,000; est E120,000-E180,000). Salomon van Ruysdael’s oil on canvas, A Panoramic Landscape with Travellers on a Path, the City of Amersfoort Beyond, 1634, sold for E156,000 ($229,000), over twice its pre-sale estimate.

Many of Goudstikker’s finest works were not put on the block. Ms von Saher said “many of the important pieces that were not offered in the auctions will be included in an exhibition celebrating the life and legacy of Jacques Goudstikker”. On 10 May 2008, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, will open a show of 38 of those works, including some that were not looted, in “Reclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker”, (until 7 September 2008).

According to Ms von Saher’s attorney Lawrence M. Kaye of Herrick, Feinstein LLP in New York: “There are still hundreds of looted works dispersed throughout the world that Ms. von Saher is looking for.” He added that new claims are currently being filed, but declined to reveal the details. In November Ms von Saher filed an appeal to recover two paintings by Cranach from the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena after a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Amsterdam sale concludes Goudstikker series'