The Museum of Fine Arts Boston has returned a painting by Salomon van Ruysdael to the heirs of Ferenc Chorin, a Jewish collector who had deposited the 17th-century landscape in a Hungarian bank vault, only to see that vault emptied in 1945. The painting, titled View of Beverwijk (1646, seen above), is currently being exhibited at Christie’s in New York, where it will head to auction later this year.
Chorin grew wealthy as an industrialist and a banker in Hungary, and had used his fortune to acquire works by François Millet, Mihály Munkácsy, and Alfred Sisley, as well as items of Renaissance furniture, Ushak carpets and more. The museum said it believed that Chorin had bought the painting from a collector named Frigyes Glück in 1931. It was this piece of the painting’s provenance, provided to the museum by art historian Sándor Juhász in 2019 and later posted to the MFA’s site, that ultimately led the Chorin heirs to the work in 2021, after years of searching for it.
Agnes Peresztegi, a lawyer representing the Chorin heirs, applauded the MFA for its “swift and just” restitution in a statement.
Because Chorin had supported opposition movements and even provided funds to Jews fleeing Hungary during the war, he faced the threat of the Nazis. Like many Jewish collectors during that era in Europe, he began looking for means to stow away his riches. He placed the painting in the Hungarian Commercial Bank of Pest in 1943, and went into hiding the following year. After being discovered by the Nazis, he was deported, though he was not killed because he provided the Nazis with his knowledge of business in Hungary in exchange for the lives of his extended family. He later escaped to Portugal and ultimately settled in New York after the war.
The MFA said it had acquired the work in 1982 from a London dealer. At that time, the museum received “no information about its history other than that it had come from a Swiss collection.” The museum also said that the work appeared in a 1988 publication about objects lost in Hungary during the war, but that the painting had been paired with the wrong image and described inaccurately.
Restitutions of works such as the Ruysdael painting are rare although not unheard of at major US museums. Last year, for example, the Philadelphia Museum of Art returned a 16th-century shield that had been confiscated by the Nazis to the Czech Republic.
“We are pleased to have worked so quickly and amicably with the heirs of Ferenc Chorin to redress this historical loss,” Matthew Teitelbaum, the MFA’s director, said in a statement. “The return of Ruysdael’s View of Beverwijk underscores the importance of transparency and providing online access to our collection.”