Simon Goodman has been on a quest to locate the “museum quality” art, sculpture, antique furniture, and other items looted by the Nazis from his grandparents, who perished in the Holocaust.
When he located a Renaissance-era painting in the European collection of the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, the Los Angeles resident expected the usual fight to have it returned to his family.
The 1509 painting had been donated to the university by New York art collector Rudolf Heinemann in 1959 and was to have been featured in the museum’s newly conceived European collection in April.
However, after the proper vetting to ensure it did indeed belong to Goodman’s grandparents, the university presented it to Goodman in a ceremony Jan. 14 at the Zimmerli.
The 18-by-13-inch Portrait of a Young Man by German artist Hans Baldung Grien stood on a wooden easel as Goodman, guests, and university officials looked on. Goodman attended the ceremony with his wife, May, and his 14-year-old son, James, the youngest of his four children.
He accepted the painting on behalf of his brother, Nicholas, of London and Los Angeles and his family, and his 91-year-old Holocaust survivor aunt, Lili Gutmann of Florence, Italy, and her family.
“After all these years any bit of my heritage I can find is a great victory,” said Goodman in a phone interview with NJJN after the ceremony. “I want to stress the humanity of all those at Rutgers. We have found many museums and organizations sort of profess a moral stance of restitution, but when it comes to specifically returning something, they dig in their heels. We have fought with museums, collectors, and, quite frankly, even governments.
“In comparison, it was an absolute pleasure dealing with Rutgers. I got lucky the painting ended up at such a great institution.”
Calling return of looted artworks “one of the most important legal and moral issues facing museums today,” Zimmerli director Suzanne Delehanty said the university spent almost a year researching the case after hearing from Goodman.
“We are really going to miss the painting,” she acknowledged. “But on the other hand, we were really happy to do something really correct. This family has been looking for this piece for more than 50 years, so we were all very emotional knowing we had done something, however small, to right the history of the 20th century.”
The British-born Goodman retired from the music business five years ago to continue looking full time for some 60 paintings, tapestries, sculpture, porcelain and china, and priceless antique furniture that once belonged to Friedrich Gutmann, a wealthy Dutch banker, and his wife, Louise. The collection, renowned in European art circles, included works by Botticelli, Renoir, and Degas.
“It was a fabulous collection,” said Goodman. “Some even went to Hitler himself. All the top Nazis wanted pieces.”
Goodman said Baldung Grien’s portrait of a nobleman was part of a group of seven works that interested Karl Haberstock, who was a German dealer representing Hitler.
The museum said Goodman's grandparents had traded the seven works for safe passage out of occupied Europe, but Nazi officers took the art and sent the grandparents to separate camps and their deaths.
Goodman’s father, Bernard, was studying at Cambridge University when the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940 and seized the art collection. His father cabled him to stay in England. He later joined the British Army and Anglicized his last name to Goodman. When Bernard returned to the family’s 18th-century estate after the war, he found it empty.
His Aunt Lili was smuggled to Italy late in the war and remained there to raise a family, said Goodman. She is now a great-grandmother.
“My brother and I inherited [my father’s] correspondence after he died in ’94,” recalled Goodman. “He didn’t say much about the war. He had suffered so much and had so much frustration trying to retrieve what was still missing.”
After they were seized, the seven paintings were shipped to Germany, but somehow the Baldung Grien went missing. Many items from the collection were recovered by the U.S. Army, which brought them to Munich. They were turned over to the Dutch government in 1946, said Goodman.
After protracted negotiations, the Dutch agreed almost 10 years ago to return more than 230 items that were then in Dutch museums. Still, the Baldung Grien eluded the family and governments of France, West Germany, and the Netherlands.
While in the library of the Getty Research Institute for the visual arts in Los Angeles, Goodman said, he came across a rare catalogue and much to his astonishment learned the missing art was at Rutgers.
He said that while the painting has great sentimental value to his family, they have decided it would be too complicated to keep it; the work will be auctioned at Christie’s New York at the end of the month, where it is expected to fetch $200,000 to $300,000.
“In a perfect world, we would like to keep it, but there are just too many heirs,” Goodman explained. “This seems to be the most equitable way.”