The Leiden Collection that Thomas S. Kaplan and his wife, Daphne Recanati Kaplan, have assembled over the past 17 years includes more than 250 paintings and drawings by many of the finest artists from the Dutch Golden Age. Named after Rembrandt van Rijn’s native city, The Leiden Collection has extraordinary depth and breadth in paintings by Leiden artists, ranging from significant paintings by Rembrandt and Jan Lievens to outstanding works by Gerrit Dou and Frans van Mieris. This essay presents an overview of the Collection. “A Portrait in Oil,” Tom Kaplan’s personal account of his and Daphne’s journey as collectors of Dutch art, explains how the Collection took shape.
Although from a young age Tom Kaplan was captivated by Rembrandt van Rijn, precociously asking at age eight whether the family could visit Amsterdam “because that is where Rembrandt lived,” his aspiration was to see as much of Rembrandt’s work as possible, rather than to become a collector of the master. When his wife’s mother, the artist Mira Recanati, suggested that, being an historian by training, he might enjoy art collecting, he dismissed the idea. Among his reasons was the assumption that the works he most adored—from the Golden Age of Northern Baroque art—were all safely sequestered in museum collections. It came as a surprise when he learned from his friend Sir Norman Rosenthal that paintings by artists he had admired from his youth, notably Rembrandt and his School, were still available on the market. He was later astonished by the quantity of superb paintings from the era that remained in private hands.
Tom and Daphne started collecting Dutch art in 2003, when Tom was 41. Before they turned their attention to paintings, Daphne had already created an important collection of French and Italian modernist furniture from the 1940s and 1950s, creating a modern living space for the couple and their three children. Daphne brought to bear upon her field much the same erudition, thorough approach, and passion for excellence that was to mark the spirit of Tom’s collecting of Dutch art.
The result of this collaboration has been remarkable, and The Leiden Collection is now among the largest private assemblages of Dutch art in the world. The Collection focuses on Rembrandt and his circle in Leiden and later in Amsterdam, illuminating the personalities and themes that shaped Dutch art over five generations. There has never been a comparable effort to create such a comprehensive group of history paintings, portraits, and genre scenes. Indeed, it is quite possible that the dwindling supply of available works in private hands has made The Leiden Collection an example unlikely ever to be duplicated.
Because of the breadth, depth, and quality of the works within the Collection, this online catalogue provides an unparalleled opportunity to appreciate the artistic genius of Rembrandt and the many artists who worked in his orbit, as well as to study their impact on broader Dutch traditions of the seventeenth century. At the core of the Collection are fifteen paintings and two drawings by Rembrandt, the largest private collection of works by the master. In parallel, the Collection also focuses on the representation of other artists from Leiden, in particular the fijnschilders (“fine painters”), including Gerrit Dou and Frans van Mieris. In fact, the number of paintings by fijnschilders represented here is unmatched in any other private or public collection in the world.
The paintings and drawings by Rembrandt in the Collection span the master’s career. The earliest of these works are three allegorical paintings that Rembrandt executed in the mid-1620s. These fascinating images from the series The Allegory of the Senses reveal Rembrandt’s bold expressiveness during his Leiden period. The Collection also includes outstanding portraits Rembrandt made after he moved to Amsterdam in the early 1630s to manage the workshop of the art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh. Among these paintings are Young Girl in a Gold-Trimmed Cloak, Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat, and Portrait of Petronella Buys (1605–1670), as well as the master’s striking Self-Portrait from 1634. Aside from these formal portraits from Rembrandt’s early Amsterdam period, the Collection also contains a remarkable small grisaille oil sketch, Bust of a Bearded Old Man, signed and dated 1633, and a monumental history painting, Minerva in Her Study, dated 1635. Two drawings from Rembrandt’s middle period are particularly compelling. The drawing of a recumbent lion is of great significance to the Collection, for it was the first Rembrandt work acquired by Tom Kaplan, a passionate lover of wildlife (and of big cats in particular), with the insightful encouragement of Daphne. The other engaging drawing is a chalk study of a male figure who served as a model for Rembrandt’s depictions of Jesus. Finally, Rembrandt’s late period is represented in the Collection with the master’s expressive Portrait of a Seated Woman with Her Hands Clasped, signed and dated 1660.
The appreciation of Rembrandt that one gains from the Collection, however, is not gleaned solely through the master’s works. It also derives from the many paintings by artists who were intimately connected to Rembrandt at various stages of his career, from Pieter Lastman, with whom he studied in Amsterdam, and Jan Lievens, his early colleague in Leiden, to his last pupil, Arent de Gelder, who is represented with three outstanding paintings.
Rembrandt’s importance as a teacher cannot be overstated, and this aspect of his artistic legacy is extremely well represented in the Collection. It features, for example, works by Rembrandt’s first known pupils in Leiden, Gerrit Dou and Isaac de Jouderville, including Jouderville’s Portrait of Rembrandt in an Oriental Dress, a close copy of one of Rembrandt’s self-portraits. After Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam in the early 1630s, he taught and mentored a multitude of artists, many of whom went on to lead successful careers. Among his pupils from the 1630s and 1640s who are represented in the Collection are Ferdinand Bol, Govaert Flinck, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Samuel van Hoogstraten, and Nicolaes Maes. One of the highlights of this group is Carel Fabritius’s Hagar and the Angel, one of only thirteen known paintings by this renowned master in private hands. Rembrandt’s portrait of his brother-in-law, Antonie Coopal, which the master executed in 1635 with workshop assistance, reveals much about the complexity of his workshop practice. The Collection also includes ten paintings executed in Rembrandt’s studio whose authorship has yet to be determined, works that nevertheless reveal much about the interrelationships between master and pupil.
Of equal strength within the Collection is the group of works by Leiden fijnschilders who flourished during midcentury under the influence of Gerrit Dou. In the 1630s, Dou developed his manner of “fine painting” in small-scale scenes inspired by everyday life. Fourteen examples of his incredibly refined works, spanning the breadth of his career, appear in the Collection, including the great masterpiece Scholar Interrupted in His Writing. The Collection also includes many superb pictures by artists who trained with Dou, particularly “the prince of his pupils,” Frans van Mieris, and Godefridus Schalcken, the great master of candlelight. Among the fifteen paintings by Van Mieris in the Collection are Young Woman Feeding a Parrot, one of the most iconic images of the era, and Death of Lucretia, the greatest masterpiece of the artist’s final years. In addition are paintings by a broad array of Dou’s lesser-known pupils, among them Dominicus van Tol, Pieter van Slingelandt, Jan Adriaensz van Staveren, Jacob van Toorenvliet, and Peeter Leermans, as well as outstanding works by Van Mieris’s pupils and family members Jan van Mieris, Willem van Mieris, and Frans van Mieris the Younger. With the addition of works by the younger generation who studied with some of these masters—Caspar Netscher in The Hague, and Michiel van Musscher and Eglon van der Neer in Rotterdam—the Collection offers a broad survey of artists who responded enthusiastically to one another’s works, both stylistically and thematically.
Aside from the exquisite paintings by the Leiden fijnschilders in the Collection are works by other masters who similarly portrayed scenes of love and courtship within the upper class. Among these are genre scenes and portraits by Gerard ter Borch, who was active in Deventer and The Hague, and by Gabriel Metsu, who worked in Leiden and Amsterdam. A highlight is Johannes Vermeer’s Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, the only privately held mature painting by this Delft master. This latter group of paintings provides a remarkable window on the changing character of Dutch art and society in the third quarter of the seventeenth century.
Complementing these areas of focus in The Leiden Collection are paintings that relate to Leiden or to Rembrandt traditions in more general terms. For example, the Collection includes a powerful painting by Hendrick ter Brugghen, one of the Utrecht Caravaggisti who depicted religious and mythological scenes with intense effects of light and dark that greatly influenced Rembrandt’s early work. It also includes stunning portraits by Frans Hals, works that demonstrate how this great Haarlem master also rendered faces with expressive brushwork. Well represented in the Collection is Jan Steen, who was born in Leiden, but who moved frequently throughout his career. The nine autograph works by this master display the wide range of Steen’s virtuoso painting techniques and subject matter, from the remarkably refined Prayer before the Meal to the boldly executed Lazarus and the Rich Man and the magisterial history painting Sacrifice of Iphigenia.
The Kaplans have favored paintings that depict the human figure, particularly portraits, tronies (character studies), genre scenes, and history paintings, works whose stories have great personal meaning for the collectors, linking the present to the past and encompassing the perennial themes of Western civilization. It is important to emphasize that the Collection is not a comprehensive survey of art produced in the Dutch Republic during the seventeenth century. One looks in vain for landscapes, cityscapes, seascapes, or church interiors, except as secondary elements in figural paintings. Only one still life is to be found. Nevertheless, the more than eighty masters represented in the Collection, both famous and lesser known, do justice to the spectacular abundance of art produced during this period.
Armed with their conviction of the perennial relevance of these works, the Kaplans have sought new ways to make the Collection useful to the world, both as a vehicle for study and as a source of inspiration. Even greater than the satisfaction they derive from having created this collection is their pleasure in making it as a “lending library” available to curators and directors. Paintings and drawings have been lent to over seventy museums, either for special, focused exhibitions or for supplementing permanent collections on a longer-term basis. The great effort in preparing and continuing to support the growth of this online collection catalogue is among several ways the Kaplans’ enduring commitment to that vision of “giving back” has been expressed.
Tom Kaplan has said that “through the lens of history, the greatest gift that we can give to Rembrandt and those artists we love will have been to stimulate greater interest in their legacy all over the world, not simply on the collecting side, but in understanding the Old Masters’ significance as cornerstones of both Western civilization and the universal values that we hold dear.” The Kaplans’ hope is that this catalogue will furnish lovers of art, including students, collectors, and professionals in the field, with an important resource for understanding the extraordinary creativity of artists from the Dutch Golden Age. This principle underlies the goal of this catalogue—to create an engaging yet scholarly assessment of the works in The Leiden Collection and to participate in a wider community of scholarship and inquiry. One of the ways in which these aims have taken shape since the launch of the Catalogue in 2017 is The Leiden Collection’s contribution to The Rembrandt Database, which provides access to a rich body of technical research on Rembrandt’s paintings.
Beyond this Catalogue, The Leiden Collection has embarked on a mission to share its artistic treasures with a broad public. After a decade of anonymous lending, the Collection presented a selection of highlights in early 2017 at the Louvre in Paris, where the Kaplans first took their children to experience art and which remains the family’s most beloved museum. An expanded exhibition traveled to Beijing, Shanghai, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Abu Dhabi between 2017 and 2019, illuminating the rich artistic dialogues that shape the Collection’s unique character. With this online catalogue and Tom and Daphne’s commitment to share works of art from the Collection around the world, the Kaplans are focused on building new bridges for Rembrandt and his peers toward a wider world, and they hope to play a useful role in ensuring that these artists’ futures are as glorious as their pasts.
– Dominique N. Surh, 2017; revised Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 2020