Sunday, April 12, 2015

Frits Lugt and the Fondation Custodia

To anyone with an interest in Old Master drawings the name Frits Lugt (1884-1970) is of great significance.  Lugt was born in Amsterdam, Fredrik Johannes (Frits) Lugt.   By the age of 15 he had written a biography of Rembrandt with photographic reproductions.  In 1921 he published his first major work, “Les Marques de Collections de Dessins & d’Estampes” (Collectors Marks on Drawings and Prints).  Private Collectors and Institutions often put their own marks on works on paper.  These are usually in the form of stamps.  This is from the collectors point of view a good way to prevent theft or if not prevent it be able to identify their art when retrieved.  From a dealer or museum’s point of view it is an excellent way to establish provenance.  Until recently no dealer who dealt in drawings or prints could afford not to have these 2 volumes in their library.   Besides collectors’ marks and institutional stamps, one could find the marks of dealers, mounters and editors as well as studio stamps.

New marks are discovered and invented all the time and in 1956 Lugt published a supplement to his compendium of marks.  By 2010 there were 4,000 additional marks to be added to the 5,216 marks that Lugt listed in his 1921 and 1956 compilations.  Interestingly enough, though more volumes were contemplated, it was decided that it would be too complicated and too expensive to do. Slowly but surely all the marks are being put on line for one and all to use. To use the database, CLICK HERE.

Another Lugt publication is the “Répertoire des catalogues de ventes publiques intéressant l'art ou la curiosité”, where one can find more than 100,000 auction catalogues from 1600 to 1925.  These 4 volumes were published between 1938 and 1987.  Most of the catalogs were in his  own collection which he donated to the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie/Netherlands Institute for Art History, known as the RKD, in the Hague.

Lugt owned over 7,000 drawings, 30,000 prints and 220 paintings.  His collection included Dutch, French, Italian and German drawings ranging from the 15th through the 18th centuries.  Add to that another 40,000 artists’ letters he acquired and you have not only a very major collection, but a major resource for art historians. To house his collection Lugt established the Fondation Custodia in the 18th century Hôtel Turgot located behind the Assemblée Nationale in Paris.  Because of the fragile and fugitive nature of their works on paper it is not heralded as a museum and has been open by appointment only.   However, an appointment can be made by any serious art lover, they need not be accredited scholars.

The director of the Fondation Custodia, Ger Luijten, believes that the Fondation should stay alive by continuing to collect.  He recently commented that the annual Fair in Maastricht was a place to see what the dealers had “fished out of the pond”.  A few years ago the Fondation put on a small exhibition art the fair in the section devoted to works on paper.  He believes as I do to that to be able to hold original works of art and the letters of artists in your hand leads to a better understanding of the artist’s work.  For one to be able to accomplish this the Fondation is the ideal place.  Ger also believes that there should be a place for the general public to view art as well. Therefore, he decided to open a section of the building for public exhibitions.  Currently there is an exhibition of Italian drawings borrowed from the Staedel in Frankfurt am Main Germany.  It includes works by Raphael, Titian & Michelangelo.  The Staedel was my parents’ hometown museum.  My father always said that the Staedel didn’t have a vast collection but they had a masterpiece by every important artist.  Their superb drawings collection has continued to grow over the years.

Another exhibition that will be coming to the Fondation Custodia up in the near future is devoted to oil sketches. A friend of mine who is a collector will lend to the show from her collection along with the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Oskar Reinhart Foundation and another private collector with additions from the Fondation’s holdings.

The Fondation Custodia is another gem of the art world where you can immerse yourself in art in an intimate setting.

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