June 25--A beloved work of art that has been part of the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens' collection since 1962 will stay at the Cummer after the museum reached agreement with the heirs of a Dutch art collector whose gallery was looted by Nazis in 1940.
In 2012, the Cummer received notice from the heir of art collector Jacques Goudstikker that "Vanitas," a still-life painting by 17th century Dutch painter Jacques de Claeuw, was stolen by German Reichmarschall Hermann Goring from Goudstikker's gallery.
After extensive research, the Cummer's' Board of Trustees voted in April to return "Vanitas," chosen by museum visitors in 2011 as one of the Cummer's 50 favorite works, to Goudstikker's heir, his daughter-in-law Marei von Saher.
Von Saher in turn agreed to sell the painting back to the Cummer. The museum bought it using monday from the Morton R. Hirschberg Bequest and a gift from Goudstikker's family in his memory. Museum officials declined to say what they paid for the painting.
Von Saher praised the Cummer's willingness to return the painting.
"It is heartening to see museums like the Cummer do the right thing for Holocaust victims and their heirs," Von Saher said in a statement provided by the Cummer. "... We hope that the restitution of this work will lead other museums to act just as responsibly when faced with the discovery of Nazi-looted art in their collections."
"It's just the right thing to do," said Holly Keris, the Cummer's chief curator.
It was also right to do it openly, she said.
"We could have done this behind closed doors," she said. "But it's just such a great learning opportunity for our community. Seventy years ago horrible things happened and they still haven't been made right ... There's no shame in saying that somehow something that should not be ours has come into our possession."
This is not the first time the Cummer has taken such a stance.
In September 2012, the Cummer returned a porcelain coffee pot and tea pot to Gustav Von Klemperer's descendants 47 years after they had been donated to the Cummer as part of the Wark Collection of Early Meissen. The family then loaned the coffee pot and tea pot to the Cummer so it could do a display highlighting art stolen by the Nazis.
From 1933, when they came to power in Germany, through 1945, when the war in Europe ended with Germany's surrender, the Nazis committed what Vanity Fair recently described as "the greatest art theft in history: 650,000 works looted from Europe ... many of which were never recovered."
Goudstikker, who was Jewish, fled the Netherlands with his family by sea in advance of the Nazi invasion, which began on May 10, 1940. Goudstikker left behind about 1,400 works of art but took with him a detailed inventory of the art. Goudstikker died in an accident while at sea but his family reached safety.
Cummer research found that "Vanitas" was removed from Goudstikker's gallery by Goring, an avid art thief who at the time was the second most powerful man in Germany. It was offered for sale in Cologne in 1941 but there is no indication what happened to the painting after that until it was bought in 1962 by the Cummer from a New York gallery.
Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413
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