A 17th-century painting by Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck that was recovered at the end of World War II by the Monuments Men will be auctioned this week. Expected to fetch a price of £1 million–£1.5 million ($1.4 million–$2 million), the work will be offer during an Old Masters evening sale at Sotheby’s London on July 7.
Made when van Dyck was just 20 years old, the large-scale family portrait depicts Dutch artist Cornelis de Vos with his wife Suzanna Cock and two of their children, Magdalena and Jan-Baptist. After its recovery, the painting was returned to heirs of the work’s original owner, Dutch collector Nathan Katz, in 1948. For the past four decades, it has been held in a private collection on the island of Jersey, and was last exhibited in public in 1996 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
In an interview with ARTnews, Georgina Eliot, head of Old Masters evening sales at Sotheby’s London, said “You’re seeing van Dyck’s interpretation of one of his friends. All these artists knew each other. They were all working in the same city. Van Dyck has painted this in such a rapid, confident, expressive way, which is almost informal.”
The price expectation for the work is low compared to other van Dyck portraits of this scale. Eliot said the reason for the “inviting” estimate is due in part to fact that the work derives from the artist’s early career, just as he was emerging from the studio of his teacher Peter Paul Rubens. Compared to his usual portraits of nobles, the sitters depicted are of a more modest status.
An X-ray commissioned by Sotheby’s specialists shows that the size of the artist and his wife’s collars were adjusted up to a decade after the painting was completed to update the sitters’ costumes to then current styles. Scholars believe this is consistent with other early van Dyck portraits, but disagree on whether or not the changes were made by the artist himself or one of his assistants.
Between 1939 and 1940, Nathan Katz purchased the work from the family of the late English textile merchant and Old masters collector Sir Francis Cook. Katz, a prominent Jewish-Dutch art dealer active in the early 20th century who ran a gallery in eastern Dutch town of Dieren, owned some 40 other works by van Dyck. He and his brother and business partner Benjamin were targeted by the Gestapo after the Nazis gained control of the Netherlands in 1940 and were forced to sell a number of works at a fraction of their value.
The soon-to-be-auctioned van Dyck work was sold in 1941 to the high-ranking Third Reich official Hermann Göring, who was charged with putting together Hitler’s art collection. In July 1945, the Monuments Men, the Allied Powers program responsible for recovering cultural property looted during the war, located the work and transferred it to the Dutch Government’s ownership. It was then returned to the Katz family in January 1948, who eventually sold it to Emil Georg Bührle, whose art collection is housed in Zurich.
In recent years, the Katz family heirs have attempted to recover close to 200 works that were distributed through forced sales during the war. In 2018, Benjamin Katz’s grandson, Bruce Berg, sued the Dutch government in an effort to recover 144 works that were sold to Nazi officials. In 2007, the heirs recovered Ferdinand Bol’s Man with a High Cap (ca. 17th century), which was returned to the family by the Dutch government after having been on loan at the Museum Gouda for several decades.
Other works that had also been restituted to the Katz family soon after the war that have sold at auction include Adriaen Van Ostade’s Three Boors Drinking And Smoking In The Spirit House (ca. 17th century). It sold during a Sotheby’s Old masters evening sale in January 2020 for $788,000, against a low estimate of $300,000.
Another painting that the Katz brothers were forced to sell in the 1940s that recently resurfaced on the market was A barber-surgeon examining a girl (ca. 17th century) by Dutch artist Gerrit Dou. According to the work’s provenance record, it was intended to be placed in the collection of Hitler’s unrealized museum in Linz. In 2017, it sold for $420,000, against a low estimate of $150,000 at Christie’s in New York.