Christie’s recently announced Jan Davidsz. de Heem (Utrecht 1606-1684 Antwerp), A Banquet still life and Dirck Hals (Haarlem 1591–1656) and Dirck van Delen (Heusden 1604/5-1671 Arnemuiden) A Merry Company in a palatial interior, as two leading highlights in the forthcoming Old Masters Evening Sale taking place live on 8 July at Christie’s King Street. The Old Masters Evening Sale is part of the marquee series of auctions comprising this season’s Classic Week calendar.
De Heem’s lavish Banquet still life is widely regarded as one of his finest and most important works. Preserved in a remarkable state it offers a dazzling display of the artist’s technical virtuosity on a grand scale. On a long term loan at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht since 1948, the picture has subsequently appeared in no fewer than twelve international exhibitions, making it one of the most widely admired and extensively published Dutch still-lifes in the modern era.
The monumental A Merry Company by Dirck Hals and Dirck van Delen constitute one of their most ambitiously conceived and successful artistic collaborations. Combining the innovative wit of Hals’ crowded figure groups with van Delen’s splendid imaginary interiors, it embodies the most highly regarded traits of the genre that emerged in the Dutch Republic in the second decade of the seventeenth century.
Both works are brought to the market from the heirs of Jacob Lierens (5 February 1877-30 May 1949) who was a Jewish businessman and art collector in pre-war Amsterdam. A partner in the company L. Lierens & Co at Raamgracht 24, and later at Prinsengracht 353-355, a scrap metal and textiles concern passed down from his father Hartog, Jacob married Henriëtte Johanna Benavente (20 July 1877-10 June 1956) in 1895.
The couple lived in the Villa Johanna at 196 Amsteldijk and went on to have four daughters: Elisabeth Lierens(16 February 1900-30 May 1930), Rebecca Bosboom Lierens(15 January 1902-21 March 1996), Branca Roselaar Lierens(8 October 1905-30 September 1942) and Esther Cardozo Lierens (3 July 1907-1971).
The two paintings: A Banquet still life by Jan Davidsz de Heem and A Merry Company in a palatial interior by Dirk Hals (the younger brother of Frans Hals) and Dirck van Delen were included in the forced sale of the Lierens’ collection, which took place at Frederick Muller & Cie. in Amsterdam on 14 October 1941. There, these paintings were purchased by Hans Posse, the head of the Linz Special Commission that acquired art for the “Führermuseum” planned to be built in Linz, Austria.
Recovered at the end of the war by the Allies’ Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section or “Monuments Men”, both paintings were returned to the Netherlands, where they were transferred to the Dutch post-war organisations which handled receipt and restitution of such works. The paintings became long-term loans from the Dutch government collection: The Hals to the Museum in Haarlem and the De Heem to the Centraal Museum in Utrecht respectively.
After the war, Lierens and his family pursued various restitution claims, including compensation for the loss of household items and jewellery.
In 2018, the present-day Restitution Committee in the Netherlands, set up with the re-emergence of interest in Holocaust-era assets following the Washington Conference of 1998, recommended the restitution of these two paintings to Jacob and Johanna’s heirs. The Committee concluded on its recommendation that “the sale of the paintings was connected to measures taken by the occupying forces against Jewish members of the population and took place in order to save the couple’s lives”.
Lierens’ granddaughter Elisabeth (born 1934) recalls living in hiding during the war and her son David Linder explains: “My mother never spoke about those years until about fifty years later… When I told her about the return of the two paintings, she was overwhelmed with joy. She never expected to live to see it. To her, those paintings symbolize life because they allowed Jacob Lierens to pay for a hiding place and see to it that his family didn’t starve”*.
Following the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in May 1940, L. Lierens & Co was ‘aryanised’ in 1941 and the family’s home and belongings were confiscated by 31 March 1942. In 1943, Lierens and his wife were imprisoned for a time in the Westerbork transit camp, a holding camp that usually led to deportation and from which few returned. The Lierens’ fortunate release was secured for a cash payment in August of that year. From there the couple and the family went into hiding, financed by the sale of some of their possessions.
Lierens and his wife survived the war, as did their daughter Esther and her family, who also were in hiding, along with their daughter Rebecca and her family, who had fled to New York in 1939; Johanna joined them there following Jacob’s death in 1949. Their daughter Branca Roselaar-Lierens and her husband Emanuel Roselaar did not survive the war and perished in Auschwitz.
Henry Pettifer, Head of Old Master Pictures comments, ‘It is an honour to be handling the sale of two such magnificent pictures from the Golden Age of Dutch painting. The extraordinarily detailed still-life by Jan Davidsz.
De Heem is one of his most celebrated works; while the interior by Dirck Hals and Dirck van Delen is one of the most grandiose genre scenes from the period. Having recently been restituted by the Dutch government to the heirs of Jacob Lierens, this will be the first time that either picture has appeared on the market in eighty years and I anticipate strong interest in both these works’.