The following is part two of an examination of the Norton Simon Museum's Adam and Eve by Catherine Sezgin. The first installment can be found here.
Goudstikker Collection sold to Nazis in 1940
When war broke out in the Netherlands on May 14, 1940, Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker fled his home and was forced to leave behind his gallery and a trading stock of 1,113 inventoried works of art. During the war, the Nazis occupied the Netherlands for five years and sent more than 100,000 Dutch Jews to concentration camps. Only 5,000 Dutch Jews survived. More than 45,000 Dutch citizens were charged with collaborating with the Nazis. Goudstikker’s art gallery, his artworks, and his real estate were all sold without either his or his family’s permission.
The Goudstikker trio escaped on the SS Bodegraven, a ship traveling to South America, when on May 16th Jacques, seeking some fresh air from the hull, went up to the deck of the ship and died when he fell through an uncovered hatch. He was carrying a black notebook, which his wife Désirée recovered, that detailed and numbered his artworks. The Goudstikker “Blackbook” described works by Rembrandt, Steen, Ruisdael, Van Gogh, and listed Cranach’s Adam and Eve as Numbers 2721 and 2722 with a note that they were purchased at the Lepke Auction House and were from the Church of Holy Trinity in Kiev.
Not long after Goudstikker’s fatal accident, the person he left in charge of his business also died. Two employees, friendly to the Nazis, assumed control of the business and then sold all of Goudstikker’s assets to a German banker, Alois Miedl, who lived in the Netherlands. Within two weeks, two more purchase agreements were executed – one that gave the gallery and real estate to Miedl and another that gave a majority of the artworks to General Field Marshall Hermann Göring, the second-in-command for the Third Reich. During the war, Göring looted paintings, drawings, antiquities, and sculptures for his private estate. Both Goudstikker’s widow and his mother, the other shareholder, objected to these transactions. In addition to payment of more than 2.5 million Dutch guilders – a gross amount not the net proceeds set aside for the Goudstikker heirs -- the involuntary sale promised personal protection to Goudstikker’s mother who had chose to remain in Amsterdam. The gallery employees who arranged the sale also received proceeds from the illegal transaction for their cooperation.
Göring sent Cranach’s Adam and Eve to Carinhall, his country estate near Berlin, where they remained until the Allied Forces’ invasion of Germany.
Goudstikker’s widow recovers only some assets after World War II
In 1943, the United Nations declared that looted property recovered after the war was to be restored to its nation of origin for return to its original owner. In May 1945, Allied Forces discovered Göring’s collection of artworks, including Cranach’s “Adam” and “Eve”, and sent them to the Munich Central Collecting Point. In 1946, Allied Forces returned the artworks from the Goudstikker Collection to the government of the Netherlands so that they could be restituted to their owners.
In 1946, Jacques Goudstikker’s widow, Désirée, returned to Amsterdam to retrieve her property. For five years she negotiated with the Dutch government and in an agreement in 1952, Goudstikker settled with the Dutch state to “(re-)purchase” more than 300 art objects in exchange for waiving any ownership rights to any other art objects delivered to Miedl during the war. However, the agreement did not address the almost 800 artworks that were delivered to Göring in Germany.
From Scherbatoff to Simon
In 1961, a Russian American Naval Officer, George Stroganoff Scherbatoff, found “Adam” and “Eve” in the national collection in The Netherlands and claimed that his ancestor Stroganoff had owned the painting. In 1966, Scherbatoff made a payment to the Dutch Government and received possession of the diptych. Norton Simon purchased the paintings in 1971 for $800,000 from Scherbatoff through a dealer in New York. Simon displayed the paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1971 and the Princeton University Art Museum in 1972. “Adam” and “Eve” have been on display in Simon’s Pasadena museum since 1979.
Reclaiming the Goudstikker Collection
Through the help of a Dutch journalist who wrote a book about the Goudstikker Collection, Marei von Saher, received new information about her father-in-law’s gallery inventory and made a claim for the paintings in 1998 that the Dutch government declined. That same year, 44 governments participated in the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets to acknowledge that many Nazi looted art objects had not been reunited with their wartime owners and encouraged countries to create databases and processes to return un-restituted art. In 2004, she applied for recovery to the Restitutions Committee to investigate wartime claims, and two years later, the Committee affirmed that the sale of the Goudstikker Gallery had been illegal, regardless of the amount paid, as it occurred under Nazi occupation. However, the Dutch Resolutions Committee wrote that the 1952 agreement that addressed the artworks held by Miedl would remain in force but that it did not preclude the Goudstikker heir from claiming 202 art objects in the Dutch national collection that had been sold and delivered to Göring from the Goudstikker Gallery.
The Resolutions Committee wrote in its recommendation in 2005 that the sale was “involuntary” because Goudstikker’s widow and his mother had refused permission for the transaction and that it had been done by employees sympathetic toward “German buyers.” Since the sale had occurred “immediately after the capitulation of the Netherlands, a situation in which Göring could – and ultimately did – use the influence of his high rank in the Nazi hierarchy,” according to the recommendation.
When Göring transported about 800 paintings from the Goudstikker Collection to Germany, he kept about 300 for his personal collection and sold the others to political cronies or wealthy German industrialists. Many of these works remain lost, according to the Goudstikker Provenance Project that provides the family of Jacques Goudstikker with information to regain possession of their lost artworks. The Project uses many sources to identify the collection. Jacques Goudstikker’s small black leather binder, which he recorded in anticipation of the German invasion, identified his current stock in alphabetical order by artists’ name. In addition, information is also obtained from an inventory register of the stock held in the gallery in May 1940 and the Goudstikker gallery’s photographic archive. A visual record of the collection is also extracted from examining six million photographs of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie. Through this method, the Goudstikker Collection has reclaimed more than 30 additional paintings from private collections and museums.
Cranach’s “Adam” and “Eve” at the Norton Simon Museum have traveled from the Ukraine to California and survived both the Soviet Union and the Third Reich in the 20th century and they will survive the current controversy.
Sutton, Peter C. Reclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2008.
Schmidt, James. “The Stroganoff Collection in Leningrad [now St. Petersburg].” Translated by Hess Translations, Inc. from German into English, August 11, 2007. Schmidt’s article accompanied the catalogue for the 1931 “Stroganoff” auction in May 1931 in Berlin.
Complaint filed May 1, 2007 in the US District Court for the Central District of California, Plaintiff Marei Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, Norton Simon Art Foundation, and the Norton Simon Foundation, defendants.
Case No. DV 07-02866
Getty Provenance Research Database. Record 27653 “Adam” and Record 27343 “Eve”.