Her father, Joan Hendrik Smidt van Gelder, a doctor at a children’s hospital, went into hiding for refusing to obey orders of the Nazis.
A 101-year-old from the Netherlands has been reunited with a painting that was stolen from her father by the Nazis in 1940. Charlotte Bischoff van Heemskerck said she was amazed to see the painting again, which had hung in her family home in Arnhem during her childhood. The 1683 portrait of Steven Wolters by Caspar Netscher, a Dutch master, was a dear possession of her father, Joan Hendrik Smidt van Gelder, a doctor and director of the city’s children’s hospital. The painting is one among a long list of artwork that was looted by Nazis and finally finding a way back to the rightful owner. Bischoff van Heemskerck never lost hope of finding the painting by the artist Netscher, whose work is displayed in the National Gallery in London, reported The Guardian. She has decided to sell the piece of art through Sotheby’s so her family can benefit from the proceeds.
Bischoff van Heemskerck's family went into hiding after her father refused to accept Nazi orders, following Germany’s invasion of the Netherlands in 1940. He stored the painting in the Amsterdam Bank in Arnhem but the Nazis broke into vaults and looted the portrait, among many other things. The painting was believed to have disappeared after the war but detective work by the London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe learned that it was at a Düsseldorf gallery in the mid-1950s, before being auctioned in Amsterdam in 1969. It was then acquired by a private collector in Germany in 1971, who eventually acceded to return the painting to Bischoff van Heemskerck in 2021 following negotiations. Among the other paintings returned to her was "The Oyster Meal" by Jacob Ochtervelt, which was also looted by the Nazis.
Bischoff van Heemskerck was overwhelmed on seeing the painting again. “I was amazed,” she said. Her first thought was about how happy it would have made her father. He passed away in 1969. The painting also brought back a lot of memories of the war that got Bischoff van Heemskerck emotional. She still recalls the day SS officers turned up at her door after her father went into hiding. “My father was almost arrested by the secret police of the Germans… I opened the door when they came for him," she said. Bischoff van Heemskerck told them her father was tending to a patient somewhere. "They were so furious … we had to go away in the night, we took what we could,” she recalled. Her father and her brothers were wanted by the Germans.
“I thought it a miracle” – Charlotte Bischoff van Heemskerck on being reunited with her father’s painting, The Oyster Meal by Jacob Ochtervelt, which had been looted by the Nazis #newsnight pic.twitter.com/tv6kpeeUim— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) June 22, 2018
Shortly after, she also joined the resistance, becoming a courier. She was humble about her work for the resistance. “You would have done too, I’m sure. We were hoping that we would win the war and we did everything to help,” she said. After the painting was returned to her, she held on to it for six months before deciding to sell it. The painting is set to be auctioned on July 6 and is expected to go for £30,000 to £50,000. While she is in possession of the painting, Bischoff van Heemskerck believes it's not just hers. “I had five brothers and sisters. There are 20 offspring and they are very sweet, so I never had the feeling that it was mine. It’s from the family,” she said. Christopher Marinello, who's a leading restitution lawyer, said he wished more collectors would help connect artwork with their rightful heirs. “It is wonderful for the heirs to recover something after such a long time. It’s a shame that not enough collectors and dealers are willing to cooperate with heirs or to come forward voluntarily.”