NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A major art collection looted by the Nazis is on display for the first time, an exhibition that tells the tragic story of a pre-eminent art dealer who died fleeing the Nazis and the successful fight by his heirs to win back the paintings.
The show at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, "Reclaimed: Paintings From the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker," features about 40 of the finest paintings from his collection. It runs through Sept. 7.
Goudstikker was the Netherlands' biggest art dealer in the 1930s, influencing the tastes of collectors and museums while entertaining lavishly in his country home and castle.
"This is a kind of time capsule," said Peter Sutton, the museum's executive director. "He broadened their tastes."
But Goudstikker, who was Jewish, was forced to flee Amsterdam with his wife and young son just ahead of the Nazi invasion in May 1940, leaving behind about 1,400 works of art. He died after falling through a trapdoor on an outbound ship.
After the Nazis invaded, around 800 of the works were seized by Hitler's right-hand man, Hermann Goering.
Several hundred of them, mostly by Dutch artists, were returned to the Dutch government after the war. Others, including pieces by van Gogh, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Goya, Rubens, Brueghel, Titian and Tintoretto, remain lost.
His widow was unable to recover the art.
Marei von Saher, Goudstikker's daughter-in-law who lives in Greenwich, began seeking the recovery of the Dutch works in 1996 on behalf of herself and her daughters, Jacques Goudstikkers' grandchildren. The Dutch government agreed in 2006 to return 200 of the paintings worth an estimated $79 million to $110 million, one of the largest restitutions ever.
"I really think the world felt the wrongs had to be put right," von Saher said. "I really learned what the word perseverance stands for."
Some of the works returned to von Saher were auctioned in New York, London and Amsterdam to pay lawyers' fees, fund the curation of the remaining works and to continue the search for lost paintings.
Von Saher said she hopes her case will inspire others to try to recover looted art.
The exhibition includes the first painting of the New World by European master Jan Mostaert and Jan van der Heyden's View of Nyenrode Castle, the country estate that Goudstikker owned and opened to the public each summer in the 1930s. Another painting is Jan Steen's dramatic Sacrifice of Iphigenia of 1671.
The show, which will move to The Jewish Museum in New York next year, also includes a small black book Goudstikker carried that listed most of his collection and helped his heirs prove the paintings belonged to him.
"That was the crucial piece of evidence," Sutton said.
After the war, some of the paintings were sold. "I just want his name to be well known again, just be respected for what he really was ... a fabulous art connoisseur," von Saher said.