CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Goltzius to Van Gogh. Drawings & Paintings from the P. and N. de Boer Foundation

Exhibition: 13 December 2014 - 8 March 2015

From the foundation’s website, 25 November 2015

Piet de Boer (1894-1974) originally studied biology, but abandoned it because art history appealed to him more. In 1922 he started an art gallery, Kunsthandel P. de Boer. He moved to premises on Herengracht in Amsterdam in 1927, and the gallery is now run by his nephew, Peter, and Peter’s son Niels. From the outset he had branches in various German cities —typical of the entrepreneurship of the firm, in which Piet’s younger brother Dolf also worked. In 1928 the gallery staged an exhibition about the Brueghel family and their influence on art in the Netherlands. More pioneering presentations like this were to follow, among them an exhibition on Joos de Momper and the flower still life, always accompanied by catalogues written by Piet de Boer, who built up an impressive library and an exhaustive collection of artists’ documentation. These exhibitions had art-historical relevance and contributed to a broadening of the taste for sixteenth- and seventeenth-century art among collectors and in museums. The gallery also dealt in drawings. In the 1930s, Piet de Boer’s engagement with modern art saw Kunsthandel P. de Boer mounting selling exhibitions of work by contemporary artists, including Pyke Koch, Carel Willink and Hildo Krop.

After the Second World War the firm continued to prosper and became an important presence in the market. Around 1960, after the death of his wife Nellie, Piet withdrew from the business and concentrated on studying and expanding his private collection of paintings and drawings, covering everything from late medieval art to an ensemble of work by Vincent van Gogh. In 1964 he decided to transfer the collection to the P. & N. de Boer Foundation. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of this little-known foundation, the Fondation Custodia has taken the initiative to show a broad selection from the collection in Paris, where the taste of the dealer and collector Piet de Boer — a contemporary of Frits Lugt (1884-1970) — and his extraordinary feeling for quality will be seen at its best. It is a selection from the harvest of more than forty years in the art market.

Twenty paintings will be on show, including a number of works by Mannerist artists like Hendrick Goltzius (Portrait of Jan Govertsz van der Aar as a Collector of Shells and Vanitas Still Life), Cornelis Cornelisz Van Haarlem (Neptune and Amphitrite), Cornelis Ketel (a portrait painted ‘with his fingers, without a brush’) and Joachim Wtewael (Mars, Venus and Cupid). There will also be still lifes by Balthasar van der Ast, Ambrosius Bosschaert, Gottfried von Wedig and Frans Snijders, atmospheric landscapes by Joos de Momper, Roelandt Savery and Hendrick Avercamp and Arent Arentsz Cabel, a pastose Open Air Party by Esaias van de Velde and a charming close-up of a Rose, Mouse and Insects, attributed to Jan Brueghel the Elder.

Among the ninety-five drawings there is a dazzlingly executed Adoration of the Magi by the Master of the Liechtenstein Adoration on red prepared paper, Hendrick Goltzius’s intimate Touch and five superior drawings by Jacques de Gheyn, among them the perfectly preserved Heraclitus and Democritus shown crying and laughing at the world, and the 1599 depiction of a bloody Flayed Head of a Calf on a table. Less confrontational, but likewise full of references to mortality, is Jacob Hoefnagel’s Vase of Flowers Surrounded by Fruit and Insects dated 1629. From the late 1630s there is Rembrandt’s sketchy composition study of Joseph Lifted from the Well by his Brothers, a drawing that the P. & N. de Boer Foundation returned to the heirs of a Czech family from whom it was looted by the Nazis. It is now in a private collection, but will be on display in the exhibition. Drawings from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries have been selected from a total of around four hundred sheets. They include rare work by numerous artists, and drawings that have so far not been published, or only very cursorily. Piet de Boer loved landscapes, from the panoramic and visionary to the intimate, and superb examples can be seen here, including works from the eighteenth century by artists like Paulus Constantijn la Fargue and Jacob Cats.

A special room will be devoted to work by Vincent van Gogh: five drawings, among them the iconic Worn Out, represented by a figure in great despair and a large sheet of a Peasant Digging, created out of compassion for the lot of the poor farm labourer. There is also Moulin de Blute-fin, a coloured drawing from Van Gogh’s time in Paris. Among the paintings is the striking Wheatfield, rendered with splashes of colour in Arles in June 1888. Unlike many other dealers in old art, Piet de Boer had an affinity with contemporary art and showed great interest in classical modern artists. He considered Van Gogh to be the most important among them and succeeded in bringing together this interesting group of his works.

A book will be published to accompany the exhibition. It will contain contributions by a number of specialists who will shed light on the exhibited works, a great many of which have not, or only sporadically, featured in the art-historical literature. All the works on show will be reproduced in colour, with comparative illustrations. The history of the P. de Boer gallery and the P. & N. de Boer Foundation will be described in the introduction.

Some of the paintings and drawings have featured in exhibitions in the past, but the works have never been shown in context since an exhibition in the Singer Museum in Laren in 1966. Making the selection was a true delight, although not exactly easy because of the ‘embarras du choix’. The exhibition will be a feast of recognition and pleasant surprises.