The painting belonged to Bischoff van Heemskerck’s late father, but it was missing for decades.
Most people are familiar with the atrocities that were a part of the 1930s and partway into the 1940s, as the Nazis took power and began sweeping through Europe.
As they went through the area, there were many people who fell victim to the genocide that was part of Hitler’s plan. There were also others, including many Jewish residents, who fled the area and left behind everything.
Some of what was left behind were priceless pieces of art, and the Nazis pillaged those private collections and carried off the artwork as spoils of war. Some of the art was forever lost and will never be brought back again, but that isn’t the case with every piece that disappeared.
As an example, a 101-year-old Dutch woman who is the daughter of the former owner of a painting is now back in possession of the painting again. It is a Dutch Golden Age work by the painter Caspar Netscher.
Private homes were often looted as Hitler’s forces crossed the country. Many of the valuables that were taken from the homes were sold or were kept for later sale, as well as for a museum that was to have some of the greatest artwork in the world.
In order to rectify the situation, the Allied forces formed the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program (MFAA) in 1943. The object of that organization was to protect historical objects but their work extended far beyond the war. They then had the responsibility of returning stolen artwork after it was discovered.
The painting mentioned earlier was taken in 1941 as the Nazis came into the Netherlands. 14 paintings were hidden by the director of a children’s hospital, Joan Hendrik Smidt van Gelder. They were kept in the vault of the Amsterdam Bank in Arnhem but the Nazis rated the bank and seized the paintings in 1945.
The Dutch government was able to return eight paintings after the war to Smidt van Gelder but the Portrait of Steven Wolters did not turn up for quite some time. They continued to look for the painting, with Smidt van Gelder’s daughter, Bischoff van Heemskerck, saying how important it was to the family.
According to the Smithsonian Magazine, she said: “We all missed this painting very much because it was so much part of our daily life. It is a beautiful painting, beautifully painted, with its subtle combination of colors on the wonderful coat and the expression on the face of the sitter which shows him to be a generous man, an impressive man.”
Over the years, the painting had been tracked to a number of different locations. It was at a gallery in the 1950s and then auctioned off in 1969. In 1971, it was part of a private collection and negotiations began to take place to return the painting to the original owner.
Unfortunately, by the time the painting was returned, the original owner had already passed away. He died in 1969 but his daughter, Bischoff van Heemskerck, was able to take possession of it. The painting was sold for about $52,000 to benefit the family.