Portrait of a Man and Woman in an Interior
Eglon van der Neer (Dutch, 1634–1703)
73.9 x 67.6 cm (29 1/8 x 26 5/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oil on panel
Leo and Phyllis Beranek Gallery (Gallery 243)
An affluent couple is seated comfortably in their handsome room, with embossed leather covering the wall and a Persian carpet on the table. Dutch artists often depicted paintings within paintings to comment on their subjects, and here the image of Venus over the mantel may allude to the couple’s marital harmony. When van der Neer’s painting entered the Museum’s collection in 1941, Venus had been over-painted with a sedate landscape, reflecting the more straitlaced taste of a later age.
Lower right: E. vander Neer f.
February 17, 1802, anonymous ("M. W...") sale, Rue de Bouloy, Paris, lot 27 [see note 1]. May 17, 1824, anonymous sale, Hôtel de Bullion, Paris, lot 48 [see note 2]. 1841, Charles-August-Louis Joseph (b. 1811 - d. 1865), Duc de Morny; April 27, 1841, Morny sale, G. Benou, Paris, lot 17, unsold; November 25, 1842, Morny sale, Paillet, Paris, lot 14, unsold; February 25-26, 1845, Morny sale, Hôtel des Ventes, Paris, lot 63 [see note 3], sold for 1,505 francs to Cousin. Désiré van den Schrieck (b. 1786 - d. 1857), Louvain; April 8-10, 1861, posthumous Schrieck sale, at his gallery, Louvain, lot 68, sold to Ferdinand Laneuville (d. 1866) for 3,500 francs, possibly for the Comte Duchâtel, Paris [see note 4]. By 1934, Robert Lebel (b. 1901 - d. 1986), Paris [see note 5]; between 1934 and 1936, sold by Lebel to Walter Westfeld (b. 1889 - d. after 1942), Elberfeld (Wuppertal) and Düsseldorf, Germany [see note 6]. 1941, E. and A. Silberman Galleries, New York [see note 7]; 1941, sold by Silberman to the MFA for $7500. (Accession Date: December 11, 1941)
 Described as a work on panel by Eglon van der Neer, 27 by 25 inches, depicting a Dutch couple whose black dress indicates they are a burgomaster and his wife, sitting in an interior with a fireplace and a table with fruit on it.
 Eddy Schavemaker kindly provided this information.
 The paintings included in the February 1845 sale were sold on Morny's behalf under the name of Jean-Jacques Meffre, who served as his art advisor and painting conservator. See Robin Emlein, "La Collection du duc de Morny, Étude du goût pour les écoles du Nord en France au XIXe siècle," Master's thesis, École du Louvre, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 41-44 and vol. 2, pp. 121-122 (cat. B100).
 Émile Leclercq, "Correspondance Particulière," Gazette des Beaux-Arts 1861, pp. 180-181. Laneuville, an expert at the sale, was also buying for the Comte Duchâtel. This painting, however, does not appear in subsequent sales of paintings from the Comte Duchâtel collection.
 The painting was included in the exhibition held at Robert Lebel's gallery at 13, rue de Seine, Paris, "Une Collection de Tableaux de Petits Maitres Hollandais & Flamands," December 11-28, 1934, cat. no. 25. An old photograph of the painting exists in Lebel's photographic archive; it is annotated on the back: "Eglon van der Neer."
 Robert Lebel visited the MFA on October 8, 1943 and told curator W. G. Constable that he had sold this painting to Walter Westfeld around 1937. According to a letter from Walter Westfeld's brother to the MFA (February 6, 1944), Lebel had written to him in the fall of 1943 as well, stating that around 1935/1936 he had sold the painting to Westfeld, who had it at the Galerie Kleucker and "at a time, in Amsterdam." A painting described as a Company Scene by Eglon van der Neer, which is probably the present painting, was exhibited at the Galerie August Kleucker, Düsseldorf, in mid-May, 1936.
 A photograph of the painting, supplied to the MFA by Silberman, bears W. R. Valentiner's authentication on the reverse, dated May 15, 1941. The painting was first offered to the MFA on June 3, 1941. A subsequent letter from dealer Abris Silberman to W. G. Constable of the MFA (June 3, 1942) states that "the painting was brought to this country by a refugee some time ago" but had never been in a U.S. collection. Attempts to determine when and how Silberman acquired the work have not been successful.
In 1920 Walter Westfeld opened a gallery that bore his name in Elberfeld (present-day Wuppertal). However, under the Nazi regime he was forced to discontinue his business because he was Jewish; the Galerie Walter Westfeld officially closed on May 27, 1936. Several months later, his associate August Kleucker was put in charge of liquidating the gallery stock through the Galerie Kleucker in Düsseldorf. It is not known whether this painting had formed part of Westfeld's gallery stock or whether he owned it privately, thus it is not known if it was part of the 1936 liquidation through Kleucker. In the fall of 1937, Westfeld was forced to turn over to the Gestapo a list of all the works of art still in his possession; the Van der Neer does not appear on this list. Whether it was no longer in Westfeld's possession at this time, or had been deliberately left off the list, is uncertain.
In November 1938 Westfeld was arrested for foreign exchange violations. He was subsequently found guilty of having -- after the closure of his gallery -- illegally shipped works of art and other assets abroad, to Paris and Amsterdam, and of continuing to sell his own works of art through Kleucker. Whether the Van der Neer left his possession in one of these ways is not known. According to correspondence from a family member to the MFA (November 11, 2004), Westfeld had paintings and other valuables at the Rotterdamse Wisselbank in Amsterdam as late as 1939; again, it is not known if the Van der Neer could have been among these. The valuables were apparently taken unlawfully and sold during World War II, and remain untraced.
In 1939 Nazi authorities seized Westfeld's remaining art assets in Germany and auctioned them through Lempertz, Cologne, on December 12-13, 1939. The Van der Neer painting was not included in this sale.
After Westfeld's trial in Nazi Germany, he served a prison sentence at Lüttringhausen. In 1942 he was sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and, in 1943, to Auschwitz. He was declared deceased at the end of World War II.
In June, 2011 the MFA reached a financial settlement with the heirs and the estate of Walter Westfeld for the Portrait of a Man and Woman in an Interior, allowing the work to remain at the museum. This was based on a review of the above research, which outlines a limited number of ways the painting could have left his possession. It seems unlikely that Westfeld gave or sold the painting voluntarily after the closure of his gallery in May, 1936. Rather, as a Jewish art dealer living in Nazi Germany, he probably disposed of it due to persecution.
Bibliography: Herbert Schmidt, Der Elendsweg der Düsseldorfer Juden: Chronologie des Schreckens, 1933-1945 (Düsseldorf: Droste, 2005), pp. 273-278; Victoria S. Reed, "Walter Westfeld (1889-1943?), Art Dealer in Nazi Germany," in Vitalizing Memory: International Perspectives in Provenance Research (Washington, DC: American Association of Museums, 2005); Monika Tatzkow, in Verlorene Bilder, Verlorene Leben: Jüdische Sammler und was aus ihren Kunstwerken wurde (Munich, 2009), pp. 87-97; and Victoria Reed, "Walter Westfeld and the van der Neer Portrait in Boston: The Case Study of a Jewish Art Dealer in Düsseldorf," in Alfred Flechtheim: Raubkunst und Restitution, ed. Andrea Bambi and Axel Drecoll, Schriftenreihe der Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, vol. 110 (Berlin: Walther de Gruyter, 2015), pp. 179-188.
Seth K. Sweetser Fund