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June 28, 2011

The Boston Globe Reports "MFA makes amends in probable plundering: Artwork believed stolen by Nazis"

Eglon van der Neer, "Portrait of a Man and Woman"
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

One of our readers directed the ARCA blog to a headline June 27th in the online Boston Globe edition: "MFA makes amends in probable plundering, Artwork believed stolen by the Nazis."

Geoff Edgers for The Boston Globe reports that Boston's Museum of Fine Arts will pay an "undisclosed sum" to the heir of Walter Westfeld, a Jewish art dealer, to keep the 17th century painting, "Portrait of a Man and Woman" (1665-1667) by Eglon van der Neer (1634-1703).

Edgers writes:
The 29-by-27-inch work, which depicts a wealthy couple sitting in their living room, was purchased from a New York dealer in 1941 for $7,500. In recent years, similar van der Neers have sold at auction for as much $550,000.
The MFA's curator for provenance, Victoria S. Reed, researched the painting's history.  Again, Edgers from The Boston Globe:

There was no way to track the direct path of the painting from Germany in the 1930s to New York. But it was very unlikely that Westfeld had sold his painting voluntarily.
Reed learned that Westfeld had run a gallery in Elberfeld (now Wuppertal), Germany, until the Nazis shut it down in 1936. He continued to operate secretly as a dealer, but in 1938 he was arrested, and he was sent to Auschwitz in 1943.
You may find more information about the provenance of this painting and others on the MFA's website here.

You may also find interesting article by Kate Deimling in, "Suspecting It Harbors a Nazi-Looted Painting, MFA Boston Preemptively Pays Settlement", which points out that Victoria S. Reed is the first full-time "curator for provenance" although credit should be given to the Los Angeles County Museum who in 2000 hired a full-time provenance researcher, Dr. Amy Walsh (Dr. Walsh is now Curator of European paintings at LACMA).