FREEDOM AND LIBERATION THROUGH ART
Beauty is truth
By Miguel Bermudez
The Leiden Collection of Dutch Golden Age Paintings
A fateful visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and an encounter with a preeminent art curator and historian while on vacation, became the seeds that grew to become one of the most splendid collections of old master paintings in the world. The Leiden Collection of Dutch paintings of the Golden Age (the 17th century) belongs to Dr. Thomas S. Kaplan and Daphne Recanati Kaplan. Millions of people have been able to enjoy this extraordinary group of 250 paintings and drawings since it was conceived and produced in 2003. Dr. Kaplan was taken to the Met by his parents when he was six years old and a later trip to Amsterdam to see Rembrandt’s city ignited a passion and curiosity that has given the world a view into the beauty and peace that can be found in these works of art.
For us, the remarkable story is two-fold. First, once again, we see a child being moved by the incredibly detailed beauty of a Rembrandt painting at a museum. We see the seed being planted for a future collector. But more importantly, this moment of contemplation influenced the extraordinary way in which the collector approached the rationale for this exceptional collection.
Second, the collection was never intended for individual prestige, the acquisition of objects to impress others or as an investment tool. It was never intended to simply hang on the walls of a private residence. These paintings were rescued for humanity. “ In effect, we were absorbing these paintings and taking them out of private hands and into the public domain, in many cases for the first time, we got a lot more pleasure sharing”, said Dr. Kaplan. (1)
The collector was “floored by the beauty of the Old Masters, the richness of the inner life that they were able to capture” (2). These words strike us as incompatible with our current environment where everything is fast and an atmosphere of self-gratification exists.
“Beauty is truth. It’s humanity. That’s our salvation” (3) said Dr. Kaplan as this collection headed for a grand exhibition in China. His hope is that the collection acts as a bridge between all peoples in the world. The messages conveyed by exhibiting old master paintings are not those of promoting “Western” values but rather provide encouragement to contemplate, to capture the “inner life” and its richness.
When we find ourselves in front of these Dutch paintings executed in the 17th century, we get a glimpse into another world consisting of expressions, vestments, habitats, light, and actions that take place in a far simpler and enigmatic world than ours. The paintings transport us to a bygone era for a brief moment, and it hopefully encourages us to see beyond ourselves in a new light.
Rembrandt and most of the painters of the Dutch Golden Age were keen observers of human behavior. They were able to portray themselves and those that they painted in their regular daily existence. In a way, we can say that they had a great deal of empathy for the human condition. Vincent van Gogh summarized it in a most eloquent way by saying that “Rembrandt goes so deep into the mysterious that he says things for which there are no words in any language” (4).
This extraordinary encounter of Art experienced by a six-year-old future collector has given birth to a unique collection of paintings that ultimately explores humanity and its common thread through nations and history. We hope that many more children and adults have the opportunity to be given the gift of brief contemplation of these magnificent renditions of life during the 17th century.
Those that are passing by the Museums in China, the Middle East, Russia, and many other nations where The Leiden Collection will be exhibited in the future would do well to share through the collection’s website
(www.theleidencollection.com ) all this beauty with many others that are not able to attend. The publication of an online resource where we find scholarly research, high definition images, videos and other information has taken ten years of hard work to make this unique collection accessible to anyone that wishes to explore this remarkable gift.
The Leiden Collection, a positive example of Art as it was truly intended to be.
(1) Ted Loos. Billionaire’s Spending Spree Creates ‘Lending Library for Old Master’. The New York Times, May 8, 2017. Arts Section.
(2) James Reginato. The Leiden Collection of Dutch Golden Age Paintings. Sotheby’s Magazine. Published in May 2017.
(3) Dr. Kaplan’s quote in an interview with AFP of the Daily Mail. Published on June 17, 2017. US billionaire brings Dutch painters to China’s masses.
(4) Wessel, Anton: Van Gogh and the Art of Living: The Gospel According to van Gogh. Wipf & Stock, 2013.
(5) Enid Tsui. Man with the most Rembrandts is wooing China to save big cats. South China Morning Post, November 30, 2017.
Note: All images are @copyright of The Leiden Collection of Dutch Golden Age Paintings, reproduced here with the kind permission of The Leiden Collection.