U.S. heirs to Nazi-looted art sell 4 paintings, donate 1

03/06/07 -- Toby Sterling  - AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- The U.S. heirs to a major collection of art looted by the Nazis and finally returned after years of legal wrangling have sold four paintings back to the Dutch government for $4 million and donated a fifth work.

Connecticut resident Marei von Saher, heir to the "Goudstikker Collection," said that she wanted to show her gratitude in particular to a professor who headed an independent Dutch commission on Nazi-era claims.

Rudi Ekkart's recommendation led to the return of around 200 paintings worth an estimated $79 million to $110 million.

"During our discussions with the Dutch State, I learned that the painting by (Bartholomeus) van der Helst was one of ... Rudi Ekkart's favorite pieces," Von Saher said in a statement from her home in Connecticut.

"I decided that it would be a fitting gesture to donate it ... in his honor, as professor Ekkart has devoted himself to helping so many families who lost property during the war."

The paintings sold and donated Tuesday all date from the 1600s and are considered important works by Dutch masters who typified a school or style of painting, but none were by artists with the stature of Rembrandt or Jan Steen.

Jacques Goudstikker, who in the 1930s was the Netherlands' biggest art dealer, fled at the start of World War II with his wife and young son, leaving behind an estimated 1,300 artworks.

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 government after the war. Others, including pieces by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Goya, Rubens, Brueghel, Titian and Tintoretto, remain lost.

Von Saher, Goudstikker's daughter-in-law, began seeking the recovery of the Dutch works in 1996, on behalf of herself and her daughters, Jacques Goudstikkers' grandchildren.

But the courts initially upheld a 1952 settlement the Dutch government made with Goudstikker's widow.

However, after an international debate began in the late 1990s on compensating Jews for stolen Holocaust-era assets, the Ekkart commission recommended that the government return the works.

About half of the 200 works returned to Von Saher will be auctioned in New York, London and Amsterdam this year, to pay lawyers' fees, fund the curation of the remaining works, and to continue the search for lost paintings. All were carefully catalogued in Goudstikker's notebooks.

A handful have been returned to the family by the Israel Museum, Germany's Lower Saxony State Museum and one owned by a private American collector.

The works returned by the Dutch state included masterpieces by Jan Steen and Salomon van Ruysdael.

Von Saher on Tuesday donated Van der Helst's 1645 "Child on Deathbed." She sold Dirck van Delen's "1633 Architectural Fantasy with Figures," two 1625 portraits by Utrecht artist Paulus Moreelse, and Daniel Vosmaer's 1665 "View of Delft." 

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