This online catalogue of The Leiden Collection provides the first scholarly overview of the remarkable collection of Dutch paintings and drawings assembled by Thomas S. Kaplan and his wife, Daphne Recanati Kaplan. Named after Rembrandt’s native city, The Leiden Collection currently numbers more than 250 paintings and drawings, 175 of which are included in the present catalogue. This short essay presents an overview of the Collection. How the Collection took shape is explained in A Portrait in Oil, Tom Kaplan’s personal account of his and Daphne’s journey as collectors of Dutch art.
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 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 art he most adored—from the Golden Age of Northern Baroque art—was 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 the couple turned their attention to paintings, Daphne had already created an important collection of French and Italian modern design furniture from the 1940s and 1950s, which constitutes a “modernist” living space for themselves and their three children. Daphne brought to bear upon her field much the same erudition, comprehensive approach, and passion for excellence that was to mark the spirit of Tom’s collecting of Dutch Golden Age 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 School, illuminating the personalities and themes that shaped the Golden Age over five generations. There has never been a comparable effort to create such a comprehensive group of history paintings, portraits, and genre scenes. The scale of the Collection surpasses all but a very few national museums. 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 van Rijn and the many artists who worked in his orbit. At the core of the Collection is a group of eleven paintings and two drawings by Rembrandt, the largest private collection of the Master, and another ten paintings executed in his studio. A parallel focus of the Collection is the representation of other artists from Leiden, in particular the fijnschilders (“fine manner painters”), including Frans van Mieris and Gabriel Metsu, who flourished during mid-century under the influence of Rembrandt’s first pupil, Gerrit Dou. In fact, the number of paintings by fijnschilders represented here is unmatched in any other private or public collection in the world, and allows for an extraordinary opportunity to study the qualities of these artists and their impact on broader Dutch traditions of the seventeenth century.
In addition, tracing the interrelationships between Amsterdam and Leiden, the Collection also encompasses masterpieces by artists from centers other than these two cities, including Frans Hals from Haarlem, Gerard ter Borch from Deventer, Hendrick ter Brugghen from Utrecht, and the only remaining privately held example of the mature style of Johannes Vermeer from Delft. It does not, however, aim to provide a comprehensive survey of art produced in the Dutch Republic during the seventeenth century. Its emphasis is the period of artistic creativity spanning the seven decades between 1620 and 1690, and it concentrates on paintings that depict the human figure, particularly portraits, tronies (character studies), genre scenes and history paintings. 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 less well known, do justice to the spectacular abundance of art produced during this period.
This compilation of works by Rembrandt himself is remarkable, spanning decades of his output. The earliest of Rembrandt’s works in the Collection—indeed what are believed to be the earliest known of the Master’s works identified up to this point—are three allegorical paintings executed in Leiden in the mid-1620s. These fascinating images belong to a series known as “Allegory of the Senses” and reveal Rembrandt’s bold expressiveness at the very outset of his career. When Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam in the early 1630s, he began painting portraits for wealthy merchants and managed the workshop of art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh. The Leiden Collection contains four exemplary portraits and tronies Rembrandt produced during these years, including Young Girl in a Gold-Trimmed Cloak and Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat. Significantly, he simply signed the latter work “Rembrandt,” indicating his aspiration to rank with great Italian artists of the past, known only by their first names. Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait from 1634 and Portrait of Antonie Coopal, the artist’s brother-in-law, from 1635, attest to the complexity of Rembrandt’s mid-1630s workshop. They provide concrete examples of studio input, market considerations, and motivations that help us understand how Rembrandt’s workshop functioned. A monumental history painting, Minerva in Her Study, dated 1635, is part of a stunning series of powerful female figures that now reside in the Prado, Hermitage, and Metropolitan museums. Of great additional significance in the Collection are two Rembrandt drawings: an engaging study of a male figure and a powerful rendering of a young lion, the first work by Rembrandt that Tom Kaplan, a passionate lover of wildlife in general and of big cats in particular, acquired with the insightful encouragement of Daphne.
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 him throughout his career, from a masterpiece by Rembrandt’s teacher, Pieter Lastman, to imposing paintings by his last pupil, Arent de Gelder. The Collection contains a number of iconic works by Jan Lievens, Rembrandt’s early colleague in Leiden, who similarly explored the expressive possibilities of the powerful effects of light and shadow with a dramatic verve that evoked wonder in contemporary observers. It also features fascinating examples of works by Rembrandt’s first known pupils in Leiden, Gerrit Dou and Isaac de Jouderville. A particularly intriguing work is Jouderville’s Portrait of Rembrandt in an Oriental Dress, a close copy of one of Rembrandt’s self-portraits (and the only extant full-length representation of the Master), rendered while he was an apprentice in the Master’s workshop. Dou’s formative works are not as easily identified, but the Collection does include a couple of paintings he apparently executed while in Rembrandt’s workshop, including a presumed self-portrait freely derived from one of the master’s own depictions of an artist in the studio.
Rembrandt’s importance as a teacher, and his impact on Dutch art, cannot be overstated. Beginning with Dou and Jouderville in Leiden in the late 1620s and continuing in Amsterdam after his arrival there in the early 1630s, Rembrandt taught and mentored a multitude of artists, many of whom went on to lead successful careers. Rembrandt’s genius for expressing feeling and drama is readily seen in their portraits, genre scenes, and history paintings. The Collection’s comprehensive approach to Rembrandt’s impact as a teacher is evident in the large number of paintings by the Master’s most talented pupils. Aside from the three splendid works by Arent de Gelder, this selection includes masterpieces by Ferdinand Bol, Govaert Flinck, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Samuel van Hoogstraten and Nicolaes Maes. It also contains Carel Fabritius’ Hagar and the Angel, the only work of the thirteen known paintings by this renowned student that remains in private hands. The Collection furthermore includes ten paintings executed from Rembrandt’s studio whose authorship has yet to be determined, works that nevertheless reveal the complex interrelationships between master and pupil.
Springing from Rembrandt’s tutelage of Gerrit Dou, a parallel focus of equal strength within the Collection is the group of Leiden fijnschilders who flourished during mid-century under the influence of Dou and his followers. 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, can be found 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 Schalken, the great master of candlelight. Among the thirteen 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 his final years. In addition are paintings by a broad array of Dou’s lesser-known pupils, among them Domenicus van Tol, Pieter van Slingelandt, Jan 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. The Collection’s unmatched group of paintings by the Leiden fijnschilders allows for an extraordinary opportunity to examine the impact of these artists on seventeenth century Dutch masters.
Among the artists impacted by the Leiden fijnschilders were other masters who portrayed scenes of love and courtship within the upper class. With works by Gerard ter Borch, who was active in Deventer, Gabriel Metsu in Amsterdam, and a rare masterpiece by the celebrated Johannes Vermeer in Delft, one finds in The Leiden Collection paintings that reflect the changing character of Dutch art and society in the third quarter of the seventeenth century. Together with 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 each other’s works, both stylistically and thematically.
These areas of focus in The Leiden Collection are complemented by paintings that relate to Leiden or to Rembrandt traditions in more general terms. A superb example of an artist that bridged many styles 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. Two masters represented in the Collection who have no direct relationship with Rembrandt or the fijnschilders are Frans Hals in Haarlem and Hendrick ter Brugghen in Utrecht. Their works, however, are executed with lively brushwork and dramatic lighting that provide a wonderful dialogue with the stylistic qualities characterizing so much of Rembrandt’s artistic genius.
The Kaplans have favored the complex narratives of history painting, whose stories have great personal meaning for them, linking the present to the past and encompassing the perennial themes of Western civilization. Armed with these convictions, 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 an unparalleled collection is having it serve as a unique and heretofore anonymous “lending library” available to curators and directors from over forty museums, either for special, focused exhibitions or for supplementing permanent collections on a longer-term basis. An educational outreach program supporting exhibitions and young scholars, and the great effort in preparing this scholarly online collection catalogue, are 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 online catalogue will furnish lovers of art, including students, collectors and professionals in the field, with a new 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. The catalogue’s core is found in the individual entries on the works of art, each of which is enhanced by technical studies, provenance research, and bibliographical references. Extensive artist biographies and engaging essays about Rembrandt and the Leiden school provide further information about the artists and their relationships with each other. The catalogue, spearheaded and edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., has been enriched by the contributions of more than forty leading international scholars, conservators, and scientific researchers. Short biographies of all of the contributors can be found in the About section.
Beyond this catalogue, The Leiden Collection is embarking on a mission to share its artistic treasures with a broad public. After a decade of anonymous lending, a selection of highlights will be shown in early 2017 at The Louvre, where the Kaplans first took their children to experience art and which remains the family’s most beloved museum. An expanded exhibition will then proceed to Beijing, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi and urban centers beyond. With the launch of this catalogue and the Collection’s first exhibition in France, the cradle of universalism, Tom and Daphne are focused on building new bridges for Rembrandt and his peers toward a wider world, and hope to play a useful role in ensuring that these artists’ futures are as glorious as their pasts.
—Dominique N. Surh