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  • Case of Nazi-Looted Art Solved at Worcester Art Museum

    (Worcester, Mass., April 30, 2004) - A family's decades-long quest to reclaim artwork looted by Nazis during World War II led it to the Worcester Art Museum, where-in this case-the outcome was welcomed by all.

    West Coast production designer Nick Goodman contacted the Worcester Art Museum in December 2002 about a painting in its collection that had been confiscated from his ancestors following the Nazis' invasion of Holland in 1940. The painting, Landscape with Two Horsecarts by 17th-century Dutch Master Jan van Goyen, was part of a sizeable collection of Old Master paintings, silver, furniture and other antiques seized from Fritz and Louise Gutmann, Goodman's grandparents, during the Nazi occupation.

    After a year of research and correspondence, Goodman and Worcester Art Museum Director James A. Welu concluded that the Museum is the proper owner of the work. Goodman visited the painting here and shared his family's story in a presentation to the Museum's Stephen Salisbury Society on Friday, May 7.

    “After many years of protracted dealings with many art world institutions, it has been a pleasure to work with the Worcester Art Museum. Their professionalism and courtesy have been exemplary. My family is pleased to have the Van Goyen on display at such a fine museum,” Goodman said.

    Looted art was big business for the Nazis. Following the war, 2,000 caches of stolen art were discovered and returned to the countries from which they came, but often the artwork did not make it back to its rightful owner. For 50 years, the process of restitution was burdensome for the Holocaust victims and their families, who faced claim deadlines, resistance from some European governments, and an abundance of art and records hidden behind the Iron Curtain.

    Goodman's father, Bernard Gutmann (who settled in England and anglicized his name to Goodman), and his aunt Lili Gutmann dedicated their lives to researching and reclaiming their parents' collection. After the war, they registered their losses with the Dutch government. They were able to reclaim some works and had to purchase back others, but the rest of the collection remained missing. After Bernard's death, Nick Goodman and his brother, Simon, continued their father's search.

    In the late 1990s, Goodman's family was instrumental in changing international policies on the restitution of looted art. A high-profile case involving the settlement of a Degas pastel from the Gutmann collection prompted a 1998 conference of 44 nations to adopt principles for resolving issues of Nazi-confiscated art. The basis for the Washington Principles, as they are called, was a set of guidelines established earlier that year by the Association of Art Museum Directors at a meeting hosted by the Worcester Art Museum. Three months later, in 1999, the Commission for Looted Art in Europe was founded. With help from the Commission, the Dutch government was persuaded to return 233 paintings and antiques to Goodman's family just two years ago.

    The Van Goyen painting at the Worcester Art Museum was one of the works reclaimed by Goodman's family shortly after the war. Museum records indicated the family had subsequently sold it to a dealer, from whom the Worcester Art Museum purchased it. Nonetheless, it was not until the Dutch government released documentation earlier this year that the complete provenance (chain of ownership) was revealed, verifying the Museum's ownership. Today, the painting is on view to the public in the Museum's European galleries.

    “We appreciate the cooperative spirit of all those parties, particularly the Goodman family, who helped to clarify the provenance of the Van Goyen,” said Museum Director James A. Welu. “We're pleased to have this fine example of Van Goyen's work at the Worcester Art Museum, where it adds to our rich collection of 17th-century Dutch painting.”

    As a fundamental part of its mission, the Worcester Art Museum has always conducted research on works in its collection. Since 1997, and in keeping with the guidelines issued by the Association of Art Museum Directors in June 1998, it has intensified its efforts to determine the provenance for the period 1933-1945 for paintings and sculpture in its collection. A list of works with missing provenance information during this period is published on the Museum's website at http://www.worcesterart.org/Collection/provenance.html. Inclusion on this list indicates that more information is required to confirm the chain of ownership of these works during the Nazi/World War II era. It does not indicate that the works are suspect. Anyone with information or questions concerning any of these works is urged to contact the Museum by calling (508) 799-4406, x3005.

    About the Worcester Art Museum
    The Worcester Art Museum, which opened to the public in 1898, is world-renowned for its 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints, drawings and new media. The works span 5,000 years of art and culture, ranging from ancient Roman mosaics to Colonial silver, Impressionist paintings and contemporary art. Dedicated to the promotion of art and art education, the Museum offers a year-round studio art and art appreciation program that enrolls over 6,000 adult and youth students each year. Public tours are offered Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m., September through May. Audio tours are also available in English and Spanish.

    Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (evening hours sponsored by Commerce Bank), and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and full-time college students with current ID, and FREE for Members and all youth 17 and under. Admission is also FREE for everyone on Saturday mornings, 10 a.m.-noon (sponsored by The TJX Companies, Inc. and Massachusetts Electric, a National Grid Company). The Museum is located at 55 Salisbury St., Worcester, Mass., easily accessible from the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), Route 290 and Route 9. Free parking is available near entrances on Salisbury, Lancaster and Tuckerman streets. For more information, call (508) 799-4406.