The Wartime Dutch Art Market in Broader Perspective



During the German occupation of the Netherlands, which lasted from May 1940 until May 1945, a hausse took place on the Dutch art market. During this boom – which started immediately after the Dutch capitulation – everyone, from people with low disposable incomes to those with almost unlimited funds, suddenly wanted to acquire works of art. Prices and turnover multiplied as both Dutch and German buyers scrambled to purchase not only works of art of the highest quality, but also kitsch and everything in between. The Dutch civil service under German supervision, their German supervisors, and the Dutch government-in-exile all attempted to influence or even control the market through the means they had at their disposal. Although the consequences of events on the art market still regularly make themselves felt – for instance with the restitution of artworks from the collection of noted art dealer Jacques Goudstikker in 2006 – until now historians have focussed – for reasons which will not be dealt with here – on economic collaboration of art dealers, auctioneers and artists with the German occupying forces. A systematic study of the art market during this period has thus far not been done. It is this lacuna that the author has attempted to fill in a recently published history of the Dutch art market during the German occupation,1 the most important conclusions of which are presented in this essay. After a brief overview of the state of affairs on the Dutch art market on the eve of the war, the policies of the Dutch civil service under German supervision, their German supervisors, and the Dutch government-in-exile will be discussed. This will be followed by an overview of the development of prices and turnover, the different buyers and their reasons for purchasing works of art, and finally why and how this boom on the art market came to an end.

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The Business History Seminar has been made possible by financial support from the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM) and the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication.