The se­cret of The Oys­ter Meal

The Week - - Arts -

For al­most 30 years, a 17th-cen­tury Dutch oil mas­ter­piece – The Oys­ter Meal (c.1964) by Ja­cob Ochter­velt – has hung at Man­sion House, the of­fi­cial res­i­dence of the Lord Mayor of Lon­don. But only now has its dark past come to light: it was stolen by a for­mer Hitler Youth leader in 1944, af­ter Ger­man forces blew open a bank vault in the Dutch town of Arn­hem. The paint­ing had been stored there, with 13 oth­ers, by the direc­tor of the lo­cal chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal, Dr J.H. Smidt van Gelder; it took four years of de­tec­tive work by Anne Web­ber, co-chair of the Com­mis­sion for Looted Art in Europe, to trace its con­vo­luted jour­ney via art deal­ers and mu­se­ums across Europe – at one stage, it was owned by the US am­bas­sador to the Nether­lands. The Oys­ter Meal (pic­tured), val­ued at £1.5m, will now be re­turned to Dr Smidt van Gelder’s daugh­ter, 96-year-old Mrs Bischoff van Heemskerck, who was over­joyed to see it af­ter 70 years. She plans to hang the se­duc­tion scene above her sofa: “When I have it,” she said, ”I will keep it as close as pos­si­ble.”

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