The Frick Collection
The West Gallery of The Frick Collection
Special Exhibition

Watteau to Degas: French Drawings from the Frits Lugt Collection
October 6, 2009, through January 10, 2010

  François Boucher (1703–1770), Standing Woman Seen from Behind  c. 1742, Fondation Custodia, Paris

Frits (Frederik) Johannes Lugt (1884–1970)

Frits (Frederik) Johannes Lugt (1884–1970) was the only child of a civil engineer in the Amsterdam Public Works Department. He was a born collector, who by the age of eight had formed his first collection of curiosities — Het Museum Lugtius (The Lugt Museum), “open when the Director is at home” — and who sold his shell collection to the natural history department of Amsterdam’s Royal Zoo. At age twelve, he talked his way into the Print Room of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum to study the Dutch Golden Age drawings and started work on a catalogue of them three years later. At sixteen, he left school to work in the auction house of Frederik Muller & Co. In 1910 Lugt married Jacoba Klever (1888–1969), the only daughter of a coal magnate. With the outbreak of the First World War, Lugt left Muller’s auction house to deal on his own, and also to pursue his scholarship on Dutch and Flemish drawings. He and his growing family — five children in all — lived in an eighteenth-century country house in Maartensdijk, in the province of Utrecht. In the 1920s Lugt and his wife traveled frequently to Paris, and over the next three decades he would be engaged in cataloguing and publishing the Northern drawings in each of the French capital’s principal public collections.

In his thirties Lugt began to collect in a more serious and systematic way, initially specializing in Dutch and Flemish drawings and prints, his chief interest. The death of Lugt’s father-in-law in 1935 ensured that his family’s financial situation was established on a sound footing and allowed him to continue research and writing without the constraints of holding an official position. Lugt was among the founders and principal supporters in the creation of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie (RKD), an institute devoted to the study of Netherlandish art and artists established in the Hague in 1930. With the onslaught of the Second World War, Lugt sent his most important prints and drawings in sixty registered-mail envelopes to Switzerland, where he and his family resided between September 1939 and May 1940. They then crossed the Atlantic and spent the war years at Oberlin College, Ohio, before returning to Europe in 1945.

Eager to establish his collection in an active urban center, in 1947 Lugt created the Fondation Custodia in Paris. In 1953 he acquired the Hôtel Turgot at 121, rue de Lille, as a home for his collection, and it was in this building that the Institut Néerlandais was inaugurated in January 1957. For the next thirteen years, Lugt poured his considerable energy into organizing exhibitions, catalogues, concerts, and lectures in this cultural center a few steps from the Assemblée Nationale. After his death in 1970, the activities of the Fondation continued unabated, and the collections were extended by his successors.