HAGUE - The Dutch government agreed Monday to return 202 paintings and other works to the descendants of a Jewish art dealer whose collection had been seized by the Nazis.
The works, whose value run into the tens of millions of euros (dollars), originally belonged to Jacques Goudstikker, the Netherlands' largest art dealer before the war.
The decision was a victory for Goudstikker's family, who had fought for years to regain possession of the artwork that had been ceded by Goudstikker's widow in a much-disputed settlement in 1952.
But the government said Dutch museums would keep 40 works which were directly covered in the earlier settlement, and 21 other items which it said were never part of the original collection.
Goudstikker died while fleeing the Netherlands with his wife and son shortly before the Nazi invasion, leaving behind 1,300 pieces of art.
Around 800 of these were seized by Hitler's right-hand man, Field Marshall Hermann Goering, and 227 of these, mostly by Dutch artists, were returned to the Dutch government by Allied forces after the war.
"This is a bloodletting for some of our museums," said Medy van der Laan, adding that the government found that returning the works was the morally correct action. Museums won't be compensated for the works, she said.
Van der Laan said 202 works would be returned to the family, which also would have title to two others that were missing and two that were stolen.
The works that will be returned currently hang in museums around the country, and include several masterpieces at the national Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Best-known among these are a 1649 Salomon van Ruysdael river landscape, and a 1671 Jan Steen oil painting, "The Sacrifice of Iphigeneia."
Goudstikker's daughter-in-law and granddaughters began seeking the works' recovery in 1996, but Dutch courts upheld the 1952 settlement with Goudstikker's widow Desiree.
Although postwar deals are legally binding, that ruling was seen as flawed because she didn't know the extent and value of the works the Dutch government had recovered.
But the government began rethinking its position after an international debate began on compensating Jews for stolen Holocaust-era assets in the late 1990s. A 2003 commission recommended returning the works.