Support the news

The MFA's Painting Worth A Thousand Words 11:59
Download

Play
This article is more than 8 years old.
The 17th century Dutch painting "Portrait of a Man and a Woman in an Interior" with a panel about its history at Boston's Museum of Fine Art (Meghna Chakrabarti/WBUR)
The 17th century Dutch painting "Portrait of a Man and a Woman in an Interior" with a panel about its history at Boston's Museum of Fine Art (Meghna Chakrabarti/WBUR)

"Portrait of a Man and a Woman in an Interior." A bland title that masks a fascinating story of history, war and art.

The painting, by Dutch master Eglon van der Neer, has been part of the collection at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts since 1941.

In 2000, the Museum of Fine Arts launched a website that featured seven works of questionable provenance - art that may have been stolen by the Nazis.

The van der Neer was one of those paintings. After a decade long investigation, the museum recently concluded that the painting was stolen by the Nazis from a Jewish art dealer named Walter Westfeld who was killed at Auschwitz.

Curator of provenance at the Museum of Fine Arts, Victoria Reed, with the painting (Meghna Chakrabarti/WBUR)
Curator of provenance at the Museum of Fine Arts, Victoria Reed, with the painting (Meghna Chakrabarti/WBUR)

The museum reached a settlement with Westfeld's surviving family members. The museum will not disclose the value of the settlement.

Recent van der Neer's have sold at auction for more than $500,000. The van der Neer is the third painting the Museum of Fine Arts has determined deserved settlement. Three others were returned by the museum to surviving family members.

But the the van der Neer painting is a special case.

In a fashion perhaps appropriate to the mysteries of the Dutch masters, the painting presented three unanswered questions: Was it stolen from a Jewish art dealer by the Nazis? How did it end up on the American art market? And what should the Museum of Fine Arts do about it?

The answers put the museum at the cutting edge of provenance research as we discovered when we recently stood before the painting and puzzled out its story with Victoria Reed, the Museum of Fine Arts's curator of provenance.

This program aired on July 5, 2011.

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news