In Boston, a Dutch treat of donated Golden Age masterpieces
By WILLIAM J. KOLE
Nov. 12, 2017
BOSTON (AP) — Boston's art scene is getting a Dutch treat with a twist: a flurry of donated 17th-century masterpieces that experts say will change the city's museum landscape for decades to come.
First, collectors gifted the Museum of Fine Arts with 113 leading Golden Age masterpieces — including a prized Rembrandt portrait and works by Rubens and Brueghel — and established a new center dedicated to the study of Dutch and Flemish art.
Now, the Harvard Art Museums have been bequeathed 330 drawings dating to the 1600s.
Practically overnight, scholars say, the gifts have made Boston a global center for the period.
"I can't remember a time when a city has been a beneficiary of such significant gifts in such a short time," said Arthur Wheelock Jr., a curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and a leading expert on Rembrandt, Vermeer and the other Dutch masters who left such an indelible mark on the art world.
Boston-area collectors Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo and Susan and Matthew Weatherbie last month donated works by 76 artists to the Museum of Fine Arts. The gift included funding for a new research library and a Center for Netherlandish Art at the museum, the first of its kind in the U.S.
It's the largest gift of European paintings in the museum's history and will nearly double in size its collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings.
The collection includes Rembrandt's 1632 portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh, a cousin of Rembrandt's wife-to-be. Experts say the work is in nearly perfect condition. Other donated paintings include landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes and still lifes, some of which are included in "Masterpieces of Dutch and Flemish Painting," a new exhibition that runs through Jan. 15 at the MFA.
Then, last week, the Harvard Art Museums were pledged a trove of drawings — including works on paper by Rembrandt and his students — by George Abrams, a Harvard-educated lawyer who has amassed a vast collection and had donated 140 other sketches in past years. Select pieces are on display through mid-January at Harvard, where the government of the Netherlands knighted Abrams to recognize his contributions to the art world.
Harvard Art Museums director Martha Tedeschi called the most recent gift "truly transformative," saying it will help make Boston "a major destination for the study and presentation of Dutch, Flemish and Netherlandish art."
Together, the donations mean Boston now boasts one of the largest U.S. collections of Golden Age art. The National Gallery, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Detroit Institute of Arts also house considerable Dutch and Flemish galleries.
Four centuries on, the works still captivate.
"You find the world depicted in such detail," Wheelock said. "Whether it's Rembrandt exploring the mystery of the human psyche, or Vermeer's wonderful sense of grace and elegance, they capture all kinds of worlds."