Dutch Old Master Looted by Nazis Fetches £1.9m at Sotheby’s

The Oyster Meal by Jacob Ochtervelt (1634-1682) was recently restituted to its 96-year-old rightful owner after being looted by the Nazis in 1945 following the Battle of Arnhem. It was sold for £1.93m at Sotheby’s Old Master Evening Sale in London.

The Oyster Meal was recently restituted to the rightful owner, 96-year-old Charlottle Smidt vann Gelder

The Oyster Meal had been part of a collection owned by a Dutch family who lived in Arnhem. Joan Hendrik Smidt van Gelder, an art-loving paediatrician, medical director of the Kinderziekenhuis (Children’s Hospital) in the Dutch city of Arnhem, brought the painting home in 1936. Her daughter, Charlottle Smidt vann Gelder, who was a teenage at the time, was immediately fascinated by the 17th century work by the Dutch 'Golden Age' master Jacob Octervelt.

Ochtervelt was a contemporary of Dutch masters Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch. In the painting, he depicted a seduction scene, in which a suitor tempts an expensively-attired young woman with a dish of oysters, which are emblems of sexual pleasure.

The painting had been hung in the waiting room of Joan’s house. By 1943, due to the increasingly toxic climate of the occupation, the painting was stored in a bank vault, together with 13 other paintings. By late 1944, British airborne troops were dropped into Arnhem and this was called Operation Market Garden. All the 14 works were looted by the Nazis in 1945 after the allied troop were forced to retreat following the Battle of Arnhem.

British airborne troops were dropped into Arnhem in late 1944

American soldiers with looted paintings at Neuschwanstein Castle near Füssen, Germany

Since then, The Oyster Meal has been missing for more than 70 years, until last year. The London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe, who represented the family, found a painting in the collection of London's Mansion House, that matches the description of the looted piece. It was displayed for 30 years there.

London's Mansion House is the residence of the Lord Mayor of the City of London

The interior of London's Mansion House

Charlotte Bischoff van Heemskerck paid a visit to Mansion House and recognised the work immediately. Details in the painting reminded her of the characters she vividly remembered from her childhood.

Charlottle Smidt vann Gelder recognised the painting was The Oyster Meal from her father's collection

The then Lord Mayor of London, Sir Andrew Parmley, with Charlottle Smidt vann Gelder

After returning to the heirs of its rightful wartime owner in November last year, the painting was offered at the recent Old Masters Evening Sale at Sotheby's London on 4 July. Estimated at £1.5m–2.5 m, the painting was guaranteed to be sold with an 'irrevocable bid' before the sale.

The painting was hammered down at £1.6m and sold for £1.93m (premium included) to the telephone client represented by Andrew Fletcher (image above), Senior Director Head of Auction Sales Old Master Paintings.

Featured lot

Jacob Ochtervelt. The Oyster Meal.

Lot no.: 48
Size: 53.5 x 44.5cm

  • Le Comte de Morny, Paris;
  • Anonymous sale (‘d'une très-belle collection’), Paris, Drouot, 27–28 April 1874, lot 73, for 6,000 Francs;
  • Henry Louis Bischoffsheim, Bute House, South Audley Street, London, probably by 1903;
  • His deceased sale, London, Christie’s, 7 May 1926, lot 75, for £1,417. 10s to Wallis;
  • Alphons Preyer, Paris and The Hague;
  • His sale, Amsterdam, Frederik Muller, 8 November 1927, lot 23, for 310,000 Florins to Galerie van Diemen;
  • J. Teixeira de Mattos, Amsterdam;
  • With Firma D. Katz, Dieren, 1935–36, by whom probably sold to
  • Dr Joan Hendrik Smidt van Gelder, Arnhem;
  • From whose safe in the Amsterdam Bank, Arnhem, looted by Helmut Temmler, Head of the Gaukommando Düsseldorf, in 1945 and taken to Düsseldorf;
  • With Galerie Peiffer, Düsseldorf, 1950s;
  • With Galerie Kurt Meissner, Zurich, 1965;
  • From whom acquired by Ambassador J. William Middendorf II, Washington, by 1967 until 1969 or later, by whom sold to Edward Speelman;
  • With Edward Speelman Ltd., London, by whom sold to Harold Samuel, London, 1971;
  • Bequeathed to the City of London Corporation, 1987;
  • By whom restituted to the heirs of Dr J.H. Smidt van Gelder on 6 November 2017.

Estimate: £1,500,000 - 2,500,000
Hammer price: £1,600,000
Price realised: £1,930,000

Top three lots from Sotheby's Old Masters Evening Sale

Sir Peter Paul Rubens. Portrait of a Venetian Nobleman.

Lot no.: 17
Painted: circa 1610 - 1612
Size: 59 x 48 cm

  • Probably identifiable in Rubens’ possession at the time of his death in 1640 as 'Vn visage apres Tinctoret', no. 70, or as 'Vn pourtrait d’vn gentilhome de Venise', after Titian, no. 41;
  • Rousselle, Brussels, 1897;
  • With F. Kleinberger, Paris and New York, 1911;
  • Leopold Koppel, Berlin (d. 1933), by 1914;
  • His only son Albert Leopold Koppel (Dresden 1889–1965 New York), Toronto, by 1948, when shipped by him from Toronto to Rosenberg & Stiebel in New York, where it arrived on 20 February for storage;
  • With Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York, 1951, when appraised in January, and sold by them to Durand Matthiesen, Geneva, the proceeds remitted to Albert Koppel in November;
  • With Matthiesen, London, 1954;
  • Dr Hans Wetzlar, Amsterdam, probably acquired 1954–55, and certainly by 1959;
  • Thence by descent.

Estimate: £3,000,000 - 4,000,000
Hammer price: £4,600,000
Price realised: £5,416,000

Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. Walton Bridges.

Lot no.: 21
Painted: circa 1805 and 1808
Size: 92.7 x 123.8 cm

  • Sold by the artist to Sir John Leicester, 1st Baron de Tabley (1762–1827), for £280 in January 1807;
  • Thomas Wright (1773–1845), Upton Hall, Nottinghamshire;
  • His sale, London, Christie’s, 7 June 1845, lot 58, for 670 guineas to Pennell;
  • Joseph Gillott (1799–1872), Westbourne Road, Edgbaston, by 1847;
  • His sale, London, Christie’s, 27 April 1872, lot 307, for £5,250 to Agnew on behalf of H.W.F. Bolckow;
  • Henry William Ferdinand Bolckow (1806–1878), M.P.;
  • Sold by his executors, London, Christie’s, 2 May 1891, lot 105, to Agnew on behalf of Lord Wantage;
  • Brigadier General Robert Loyd-Lindsay, 1st Baron Wantage, VC, KCB, VD (1832–1901), Lockinge, Oxfordshire;
  • Thence by descent to the present owner.

Estimate: £3,000,000 - 5,000,000
Hammer price: £2,800,000
Price realised: £3,370,000

Hans Baldung, called Grien. The Holy Family With Five Angels.

Lot no.: 10
Painted: 1507 - 1508
Size: 72 x 60 cm

  • English private collection by 1969;
  • With Agnew’s, London;
  • Anonymous sale, London, Sotheby’s, 25 November 1970, lot 38 (as School of the Upper Rhine, circa 1500) for £21,500;
  • With Edward Speelman, London;
  • From whom acquired by the father of the present owner;
  • Thence by descent.

Estimate: £2,500,000 - 3,500,000
Hammer price: £2,500,000
Price realised: £3,010,000

Auction results
Auction house: Sotheby’s London
Sale: Old Master Evening Sale
Lots offered: 69
Sold: 51
Unsold: 15
Sold by lot: 74%
Sale total: £42,634,150