During World War II, Joan Hendrik Smidt van Gelder attempted to protect her collection of Dutch Old Master paintings from the Germans. But in 1945, the Nazis looted his works, including a 1683 piece by Caspar Netcher called Portrait of Steven Wolters.
Now, more than 75 years later, the painting has been returned to his daughter, Charlotte Bischoff van Heemskerck, who is 101. She plans to auction off the looted piece next month via Sotheby’s in London, which expects it to fetch between $36,000 and $61,000.
Smidt van Gelder lived in Arnhem, a city in the east of the Netherlands, where he served as director of the children’s hospital, according to a statement from Sotheby’s. When he wasn’t working, he visited art galleries and chatted with dealers, buying whatever works he could afford. Over time, the Doctor has amassed a collection of over 25 works by Dutch Old Masters like Jacob deWit, Salomon van Ruysdael, Jan van Huysum and Jacob Ochtervelt.
One of these tables Portrait of Steven Wolters, hung in the dining room of the family home, just behind the chair of the young Bischoff van Heemskerck.
In 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, and the Nazis focused on the doctor’s impressive collection. In an effort to keep his paintings safe, Smidt van Gelder took 14 of his most prized works to the Bank of Amsterdam in Arnhem and stored them in a vault.
Four years later, Allied troops arrived north of Arnhem and attempted to enter northern Germany, an attempt known as the “Operation Market Garden.” After having lost three quarters of their men in less than two weeks, the Allied soldiers withdrew. German troops evacuate Arnhem and loot everything they can carry.
They looted the vaults of the Amsterdam bank, taking with them the 14 precious paintings by Smidt van Gelder. The person who probably stole the artwork was Nazi leader Helmut Temmler, reports the Time“Jack Malvern.
After the war, Dutch authorities found and returned eight of these paintings to Smidt van Gelder, but could not locate the remaining six. Bischoff van Heemskerck spent years looking for these pieces, in particular Portrait of Steven Wolters, which was of particular importance to her. Once, about 15 years ago, she even had a disappointing false sighting when she spotted a copy of the 17th century painting in Zeist slot machine in the Nederlands.
“We all missed this painting so much because it was so much a part of our daily lives,” she said in the statement. “It’s a beautiful painting, beautifully painted, with its subtle color combination on the gorgeous coat and the expression on the model’s face that shows him to be a generous man, an impressive man.”
Meanwhile, the London-based company Commission for Looted Art in Europe, a nonprofit that helps reunite families and communities with looted property, was also on the hunt for the missing portrait. After some research, the commission learned that the painting had first reappeared in a gallery in Düsseldorf in the 1950s, then was sold at auction in Amsterdam in 1969. A private collector in Germany purchased the portrait in 1971.
The commission negotiated with the collector, eventually reaching an agreement and returning the portrait to Bischoff van Heemskerck in 2021. According to the Guardian‘s Dalya Alberge, Bischoff van Heemskerck decided to sell the painting so his family could benefit from the profits. As her father died in 1969, he would have been “so happy” to know that she got the portrait back, she says.
“I had five brothers and sisters,” she says. Guardian. “There are 20 offspring and they are very nice, so I never felt like it was mine. It’s family.
The subject of the portrait, Steven Wolter, was a wealthy Dutch merchant and art collector. Netscher painted Wolters’ portrait in 1683, skillfully capturing the merchant’s prized dress, which was probably made of a Iranian silk-like fabric.
Portrait of Steven Wolters is in fact the second painting returned to the family in recent years: They were also reunited with Jacob Ochtervelt The oyster meal in 2017, which they sold to bid for $2.4 million.