A painting dating from the 16th century depicting the biblical figures of Adam and Eve, looted from the collection of Dutch-Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker during World War II, has been returned to Goudstikker’s only living heir. The scene, attributed to Dutch artist Cornelis van Haarlem, was returned after being offered for donation by a private collector to Musée Rolin, a museum in Autun, a city in central eastern France.
According to New York law firm Kaye Spiegler, which facilitated the painting’s return, museum officials raised flags internally over the painting’s ownership record after uncovering a label with Goudstikker’s surname on the painting’s back frame. Provenance researchers concluded that the work was one of more than a thousand paintings illicitly taken from Goudstikker’s art holdings, according to a statement.
The painting’s donors, whom the firm declined to name citing confidentiality, were unaware of the work’s suspect ownership record. After conducting internal research, officials of the French museum, which is host to a collection ranging from archaeological artifacts to 20th-century paintings, contacted Goudstikker’s sole heir, Marei von Saher, to notify her that the painting had resurfaced from a private collection.
The date of the museum’s message to Von Saher has not been disclosed. A representative for Kaye Spiegler declined to provide details about the insurance value for the Van Haarlem work.
The latest case is one of only a few returns that Goudstikker’s surviving relatives have secured. Last year, officials of the German city of Trier restituted a 17th-century Dutch painting by Adam van Breen titled Ice Skating to Von Saher, following a legal claim. The painting had circulated at auction in the late 1980s. In 2019, Von Saher attempted to appeal to the United States Supreme Court a lower court ruling that allowed the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, to keep two paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder once owned by Goudstikker that were illegally taken by Nazis. The appeal came after a long legal battle with the museum for their return, but the Supreme Court declined to take up the case.
The Goudstikker Art Research Project, which oversees restitution claims related to Goudstikker’s property, is currently seeking the return of 800 remaining works illegally exported from Amsterdam to Germany by Nazi officials.
Around 1,100 works looted from Goudstikker’s holdings were taken in Amsterdam by Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, a high-ranking Nazi official. A portion of the stolen works were eventually returned to the Dutch government, which facilitated the restitution of 200 paintings to the family in 2006, eight years after the family’s initial claim seeking their legal return was denied.