Collecting for the public: a short history of the Rembrandt Association

In 1883, A small number of wealthy art lovers helped acquire at auction in Amsterdam some five hundred of the most important drawings from the collection of Jacob de Vos for the Rijksmuseum print room. It was a spectacular move, which doubled the number of drawings in the fledgling print room’s collection. It was also the beginning of what was to become an extraordinary story of private support of Dutch public art collections, for the initiative resulted in the establishment of the Vereniging Rembrandt.

De Bray Meisje
Jan de Bray, Portrait of a Girl, 1663, black and red chalk, 11.9 x 9.4 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Acquired with the support of the Vereniging Rembrandt, 1883

In 1892, the Vereniging Rembrandt persuaded the state to share in the costs of buying a first Vermeer for the Rijksmuseum, and in similar fashion it sponsored in 1900 the acquisition of the Rijksmuseum’s first Rembrandt. The early history of the Vereniging Rembrandt is very much about this matching of private and public money to collect the art of the Dutch Golden Age for the nation, but after 1914 its horizon widened to include art from abroad. After 1945, it also opened up to modern art and to other cultures. In 1983, the Vereniging celebrated its centenary by supporting the acquisition of two recent works by Willem de Kooning for the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. SPREIDING!

Rembrandt Stenen Brug
Rembrandt, Landscape with a Stone Bridge, c. 1638, oil on panel, 29.5 x 42.5 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Acquired with the support of the Vereniging Rembrandt and Mr A. Bredius, 1900

When the Vereniging celebrated its 125th birthday in 2008, it had supported almost two thousand acquisitions for over 125 Dutch museums, ranging from the most costly, such as Hieronymus Bosch’s Pedlar for Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, and Matisse’s perhaps finest paper cut-out, La perruche et la sirène, for the Stedelijk Museum, to hundreds of more modest but always more than locally relevant acquisitions for dozens of smaller collections. What had begun with support for the acquisition of a Jan van Goyen for Leiden and two works by Hendrick Ter Brugghen for Utrecht, was extended to the acquisition of local silver for the municipal collections of Deventer and Zutphen and a seminal group of works by Jan Mankes for Arnhem and by Hendrik Werkman for Groningen. And this is still the Vereniging’s main policy today: to help Dutch museums acquire works of art which are important to the receiving collection in particular, but which also make sense in the larger landscape of Dutch public art collections.

Matisse La Peruche Original
Henri Matisse, La Perruche et la Sirène, 1952, gouache on paper laid down on canvas, 341 x 776 cm, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Acquired with the support of the Vereniging Rembrandt and the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, 1967

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