by James Moske
In 1964, The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired as a gift a double portrait known as “A Musician and His Daughter,” painted in 1629 by Thomas de Keyser. Art historians conjecture that the relationship of the subjects is that of parent and child, though their identities are unknown. The active stance of the man, contrasted with the formal, static pose of the girl, has been interpreted as symbolic of a changing sensitivity to the value of time and its precise measurement in 17th-century Amsterdam (cf. Adams 2013). This mysterious image is discretely signed and dated by the artist, but there are no other surviving clues about its early provenance.
The Metropolitan’s paintings curator, Theodore Rousseau, likely first saw it in the early 1960s, when he viewed an impressive set of Dutch pictures that had been assembled by Baron Charles Neuman de Végvár (d.1959) and his widow, Edith. Rousseau described the collection to Met colleagues as “a very fine group of Dutch paintings, certainly the finest in private hands in this country, and ranking in quality with the best in Europe” (Theodore Rousseau memorandum 1963). It is possible that Rousseau, a former Monuments Man, had prior knowledge of the Neuman de Végvár collection, which during World War II was confiscated by the Nazis, recovered by Allied forces, and restituted after the war.
Documentation of the portrait’s pre-war provenance is found in the business records of the Kleinberger Galleries, which were acquired by the Metropolitan in the 1970s. Established in Paris in 1848, Kleinberger dealt old master art to clients in Germany, France, and the United States. Around 1913 they opened a gallery in New York, where the business later changed hands and was run by Harry G. Sperling. He developed a close relationship with the Met and helped the Museum strengthen its drawing collection. Upon his death in 1971, Sperling bequeathed to the Museum an acquisitions endowment and a trove of stock cards representing hundreds of pictures bought and sold over many decades.
Met staff are now busy digitizing these documents to make them accessible to a global audience on the Museum’s website. Fortunately, scanning of the stock cards was completed before the Covid-19 pandemic forced the Met to close temporarily. Working remotely from our homes, staff and volunteers now continue the project by transcribing hand-written text and creating metadata to facilitate access and discovery when the records go online later this year.
The card for “A Musician and his Daughter” reveals that it was purchased by Kleinberger in 1911 from Nikolaus Steinmeyer (who also once owned a Van Dyck now at the Met), and was sold a year later to Knoedler Gallery. The records of that firm, accessible online through the Getty Research Institute, indicate that Knoedler sold it in 1920 to a Swedish business, A.B. Antik. An auction catalog and other sources trace its next steps through the collections of Osborn Kling, a person named Cumming, and the Galerie Sanct Lucas in Vienna, where Charles Neuman de Végvár bought it around 1936.
Neuman de Végvár was a Romanian Jewish businessman who kept an apartment in Vienna. The Anschluss of March 1938 led to the persecution of Jews in Austria, including Nazi plunder of Jewish-owned art. The Neuman de Végvárs fled to Switzerland and later Paris, but at the cost of one of their prize pictures. They were permitted to leave and to export most of their paintings to France, on the condition that they sell to Hermann Goering for 20,000 marks an altarpiece panel by late-Gothic master Michael Pacher. The remaining collection, including “A Musician and his Daughter,” was deposited in a vault at the Credit Lyonnais, Paris. Soon after, the Neuman de Végvárs moved on to the United States, but the pictures left behind in France were discovered and looted by the Germans. As the war neared its end the Monuments Men found them, and by 1947 many Neumann de Végvár paintings had passed through the Munich Central Collecting Point. They were soon reclaimed by their rightful owners and traveled to America (cf. Charles Neuman de Végvár to Office of Military Government for Germany (U.S.), February 26, 1947).
After Charles Neuman de Végvár died in 1959, his widow Edith gave money to the Metropolitan, and with the encouragement of curator Rousseau she donated several paintings. “A Musician and his Daughter” is arguably the most important of the group, and is today prominently displayed in the exhibition In Praise of Painting: Dutch Masterpieces at the Met.
Bibliography / sources
Adams, Ann Jensen, Temporality and the Seventeenth-Century Dutch Portrait. In: Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 5.2 / 2013.
Theodore Rousseau memorandum, 1963, Neuman de Végvár file, Office of the Secretary Records, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives.
Charles Neuman de Végvár to Office of Military Government for Germany (U.S.), February 26, 1947, Records of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section of the Reparations and Restitution Branch, OMGUS, Cultural Property Claim Applications, U-61, National Archives and Records Administration.