‘I am amazed’: 101-year-old Dutch woman reunited with painting looted by Nazis | british news

At the age of 101, a Dutch woman is reunited with a painting that had been looted from her father by the Nazis during World War II, but has decided to sell it through Sotheby’s in London so that her family can benefit from the proceeds.

Charlotte Bischoff van Heemskerck, a non-practicing Baptist who joined the Dutch Resistance, had never given up hope of finding Steven Wolters’ 1683 portrait of Caspar Netscher, a Dutch master whose paintings hang in the National Gallery in London.

It had hung in her childhood home in Arnhem, a cherished possession of her father, Joan Hendrik Smidt van Gelder, a doctor and director of the city children’s hospital, who had gone into hiding after refusing to follow the orders of the Nazis.

After the German invasion of the Netherlands, he had the painting stored in the Amsterdamse Bank in Arnhem, assuming it would be safe there, but the Nazis broke into the vaults and confiscated it, amid widespread looting, destruction and destruction. .

In 1944, Allied forces launched Operation Market Garden, in which the British 1st Airborne Division attempted to capture the strategically important road bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem, as seen in the classic film A Bridge Too Far.

Amid the chaos of the war, the painting disappeared without a trace for 75 years. But detective work by the London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe determined that it appeared in a gallery in Düsseldorf in the mid-1950s, was auctioned in Amsterdam in 1969, and acquired in 1971 by a private collector in Germany. Negotiations with the collector led to the painting being returned to Bischoff van Heemskerck in 2021.

The painting by Caspar Netscher hangs in the house of Charlotte Bischoff van Heemskerck.
The painting by Caspar Netscher hangs in the house of Charlotte Bischoff van Heemskerck. Photo: Family of Mrs. Charlotte Bischoff van Heemskerck

Thinking back to the moment she saw it again, she told The Guardian: “I was amazed.”

Her father died in 1969. He would have been “so glad it came back,” she said.

But after cherishing the painting for six months, she sent it to Sotheby’s in London, which will auction it on July 6. It is estimated at £30,000 to £50,000.

She said: “I had five brothers and sisters. There are 20 offspring and they are very sweet so I never felt like it was mine. It belongs to the family.”

When Christopher Marinello, a leading restitution attorney, learned that the painting had been recovered, he said: “It’s great for the heirs to get something back after such a long time. It is unfortunate that too few collectors and dealers are willing to cooperate with heirs or volunteer.”

Bischoff van Heemskerck was ‘a bit’ emotional about the painting because war memories had flowed through it.

She recalled SS officers showing up at the family home just after her father went into hiding because, as “many of our friends [who] were taken, he refused [follow] orders of the Germans”.

She added: “My father was almost arrested by the German secret police…I opened the door when they came to get him. They were so furious… We had to leave… At night we took what we could.’

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She joined the resistance, became a courier, and would have wanted to shelter Jews in her house, but it would have been too dangerous because both her father and brother were wanted by the Germans.

She downplays her courage: ‘You would have done that, I’m sure. We hoped we would win the war and we did everything we could to help.”

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