The J. Paul Getty Museum has agreed to return a 370-year-old painting that once belonged to an art dealer who fled Holland when the Nazis invaded in 1940.
Jacques Goudstikker was the Netherlands' biggest art dealer in the 1930s. He was fleeing the Nazis with his wife and young son at the beginning of World War II when he fell through a trap door on an outbound ship and died.
His collection was looted, with some works claimed by Adolf Hitler chief deputy Hermann Goering.
Goudstikker's daughter-in-law, Marei von Saher, has spent years trying to track down the works. Her successes have been on tour around the country in an exhibition that ends Tuesday in San Francisco and featured 45 recovered pieces from the collection.
The Getty bought the 1640 Pieter Molijn painting titled "Landscape With Cottage and Figures" in good faith at a 1972 auction, the museum said. The museum did not disclose the purchase price and has never displayed the painting.
"Working in cooperation with representatives of the Goudstikker heirs, the Getty's research revealed that the painting was in Goudstikker's inventory at the time of the invasion in 1940, and that it was never restituted after World War II," according to a written statement from the museum. "Based on its findings, the Getty concluded that the painting should be transferred to the heirs."
At least four other museums in the United States and Canada have works from the collection, and family attorney Lawrence Kaye said he hopes they will follow Getty's lead. About 1,000 of Goudstikker's 1,400 paintings remain unaccounted for, he said.
The Getty released its announcement Monday, the same day an Italian lawmaker held a news conference in Los Angeles and urged the museum to "behave ethically" and return a $4 million bronze statue to Italy. The ownership of that statue is being decided by the Italian courts.
"It is always encouraging to see an important cultural institution like the Getty Museum decide to do the right thing for Holocaust victims and their heirs," von Saher, of Greenwich, Conn., said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times.
The Norton Simon Museum is home to a more prominent pair of paintings that von Saher claims were once part of her father-in-law's collection.
The Norton Simon foundation and von Saher each filed lawsuits in 2007 claiming they were the rightful owners of two 16th century wood panels depicting Adam and Eve that were painted by famed German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder. They have been appraised at $24 million.
The museum and von Saher dispute the history of the life-size paintings, which have hung in the Pasadena museum since 1976. Museum founder Norton Simon bought them for $800,000 from an heir to Russian aristocrats the museum claims were the original owners.
A Los Angeles judge ruled in 2007 that von Saher filed her claim after the three-year statute of limitations for recovering looted art had run out.
The judge also said a 2002 state law suspending the statute for Holocaust-era art restitution claims filed before December 2010 was unconstitutional. An appeals court agreed and ordered the trial judge to reconsider using the regular statute of limitations.
Von Saher appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which asked for a brief with the federal government's view. Kaye said that brief hasn't been filed yet.
But California did pass a law extending the statute of limitations on claims over art looted during the Holocaust from three years to six.
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com