Exhibitions Museums France

Paris collection shows Netherlandish art at its best

The little known, but very important, Fondation Custodia aims to up its profile with exhibition programme

Hieronymus Bosch, The Owl's Nest, 1505-15 from the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (Collection Franz Koenigs)

Paris’s Fondation Custodia, one of the most important but relatively unknown private holdings of Old Master drawings in the world, is about to get a higher public profile. A programme of exhibitions will pair works from the collection with pieces from top museums. The first, organised with the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, opens on 22 March; others will follow at a rate of three or four a year.

Housed in two adjacent 18th-century mansions near the Musée d’Orsay, the collection holds around 9,000 drawings, dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries and including many from the Dutch and Flemish schools. There are also 30,000 prints and engravings, including works by Rembrandt and rare engravings by Lucas van Leyden, and more than 200 paintings and miniatures, along with artist’s letters. The collection’s archives meanwhile are almost as interesting as the collection itself.

The Dutch art historian and connoisseur Frits Lugt (1884-1970) started the collection in Amsterdam in 1910, and expanded it in the 1930s when his wife Jacoba Klever inherited a substantial fortune. As the Second World War loomed, the couple sent part of the collection to safety in Switzerland before taking refuge themselves in the United States. During the war, works left in Amsterdam were looted by the Nazis, but the stolen art was traced and recovered. In 1947, Lugt and Klever set up the Fondation Custodia in Paris to maintain and develop the collection for future generations.

“The couple’s mission was to serve art history and make the drawings accessible,’’ said Ger Luijten, the foundation’s current director, in an interview. “The Custodia collection is the keystone in Paris to promote Netherlandish art at its best.” While the drawings and works on paper,are too fragile for frequent exposure, “you can make an appointment and look at the works here, in a natural light,” Luijten said.

The first exhibition, “Bosch to Bloemaert”, focuses on 15th- and 16th-century Dutch and Flemish drawings from the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum. A parallel show, “Dialogue”, compares related works from the Rotterdam and Paris collections.

Among the highlights are a rare and beautifully executed drawing by Hieronymus Bosch, The Owl’s Nest (until 22 June), six drawings by Pieter Bruegel dated between 1552 and 1562, and a set of 12 round drawings representing the months of the year, conceived as a medieval calendar by the Flemish renaissance landscape artist Hans Bol.


The Fondation Custodia's home at l’hôtel Turgot. Photo: © Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris
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