The Fondation Custodia

Roots in the Netherlands

The Fondation Custodia was created in 1947 by the Dutch collector and connoisseur Frits Lugt (1884-1970) and his wife Jacoba (To) Lugt-Klever (1888-1969). One of the largest private collections of old master drawings, prints and artists’ letters in the world, the Fondation Custodia is considered the ‘home of works on paper’. Its mission is to serve art history in the broadest sense of the term.

‘A Nose for Quality’

Frederik Johannes Lugt (1884-1970), a native of Amsterdam, had collecting and cataloguing in his blood. While still only eight years old Frits, as he was known, drew up a proper catalogue of his collection – Museum Lugtius, geopend als de directeur thuis is (open when the director is at home) – which consisted among other things of unusual shells. From the age of ten he passed as much time as possible in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, minutely examining the works and drawing copies of them. With some difficulty he also managed to gain access to the Print Room, where he was regarded with suspicion by the keepers. Young Frits became a devotee and spent all his free time in the reading room. To his astonishment he found that there was no catalogue of the Dutch drawings. Undaunted, he set to work himself, carefully describing each sheet, determining the provenance, copying the signature and writing a brief biography of the artist. By the end of 1899 he had got as far as Jordaens and catalogued 955 drawings.

Rembrandt biography by the young Frits Lugt, 1899

Rembrandt, who was the subject of a major exhibition in 1898, held a special fascination for Lugt. A year later he surprised his family and friends with a comprehensive biography of the artist incorporating the results of the latest research. A talented draughtsman, he illustrated it with his own drawings. The Rembrandt biography was to change his young life completely. Through a relative Lugt was offered a post with the distinguished Amsterdam auction house of Frederik Muller. This put an end to his education at secondary school. At Muller’s he spent much of his time compiling sale catalogues, which helped to train his gifted eye and further enriched his extraordinary visual memory. Looking was what mattered above all; looking, comparing and actually working with art. There was no better training. Being self-taught, Lugt believed that love of the work of art should come first, not its historical significance. In his view taste and feeling were in the end more important for true connoisseurship than the power of reason or a degree in art history. Lugt became an internationally acknowledged expert on Dutch and Flemish art with a ‘nose for quality’. The precarious financial position of the auction house after the outbreak of the First World War meant that Lugt had to leave in 1915. While employed by Frederik Muller he had not been allowed to buy works on his own account; now he was free to build up a collection.

The married couple Frits Lugt and Jacoba Klever, December 1910

His marriage to Jacoba Klever (1888-1969) in 1910 had brought him a measure of financial independence. They formed a devoted couple for almost sixty years and had a love of art in common. When their busy family life allowed – they had five children – Mrs Lugt accompanied her husband on his journeys abroad and visits to auctions and museums. In building up their collection, they first concentrated on drawings, prints and old books because these were still reasonably priced. Paintings, particularly those of the great masters, were too expensive. At this time Lugt was making his living by advising other collectors and by dealing, although he could always turn to his father-­in-law. Putting together a good collection was not just a question of money; it also had a great deal to do with connections and expert knowledge of the art market, both of which Lugt had. This enabled him to secure pieces which in normal circumstances would not have been available to collectors.

For many collectors, dealers and art historians the name Lugt is associated with two unrivalled works of reference which are still indispensable. Les Marques de collections de dessins et d’estampes appeared in 1921, followed by a supplement in 1956. This survey of collector’s marks contains a mass of information about collectors and the vicissitudes of their collections, now all in minute detail available online. A second laborious task that Lugt undertook, with the aid of assistants, resulted in the four volumes of the Répertoire des catalogues de ventes publiques, which was based on his own extensive collection of sale catalogues. The first volume, which describes and analyses sale catalogues from 1600 to 1825, was published in 1938.

Les Marques de collections de dessins & d’estampes, 1921, and its Supplément

Lugt’s international standing as an expert is evident from the fact that he was asked to catalogue the collections of Dutch and Flemish drawings in the Louvre, the Bibliothèque Nationale and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Creation of the Fondation Custodia

During their stay in the United States, where the Lugts spent the war years, they had been impressed by the initiatives taken by private collectors and other art lovers. This is what lay behind their decision in 1947 to make over their collection to a foundation, the Fondation Custodia. When plans to set up a center for art and scholarship in the Netherlands came to nothing, the Lugts decided to move to France, their second homeland. A house was bought in Paris in which the Frits Lugt Collection was accommodated. The Fondation Custodia continues the lifework of Mr and Mrs Lugt with the collection as its driving force.

Frits Lugt’s biography was published in 2010: Frits Lugt 1884 – 1970. Living for Art, written by J.F. (Freek) Heijbroek, former curator at the Rijksmuseum.
(Uitgeverij THOTH, Bussum, ISBN 978 90 6868 592 3)

Il existe un lien qui unit les amateurs d’art de tous les pays, un lien dont les nœuds sont fortifiés par les dispositions communes à tous ceux qui aiment et qui recherchent le beau [‘There is a link that unites art lovers the world over, a link that is reinforced by the shared characteristics of all those that love and are searching for beauty’].
Frits Lugt, Maartensdijk June 1921

Awards and Medals

Frits Lugt is awarded the Silver Carnation by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, 28 June 1956

By Royal Decree the Lugts were the first ever married couple to each be awarded a Gold Museum Medal. Frits Lugt received the medal in 1954, primarily for his many years of service to the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD-Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis). To Lugt was awarded the medal in 1956 for the prodigious amount of work she and her husband did with the Fondation Custodia. On 28 June in that same year Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands bestowed the Silver Carnation Award on Frits Lugt for his valuable contribution to art history and the creation of the Institut Néerlandais, which was established in Paris and wound up in 2013. On 25 March 1960 Frits Lugt was furthermore awarded a Utrecht University Gold Medal of Honour ‘as a token of appreciation for his achievements in art’.

Fondation Custodia – Frits Lugt Collection

The collection in the custody of the Fondation Custodia is known as the Frits Lugt Collection and is housed in Paris. It contains an extraordinary range of drawings, prints, artists’ letters and paintings. The collection was largely acquired by Frits Lugt, a ‘consummate devotee’, whose activities as collector and art connoisseur were based primarily on feeling, good taste and love for the artwork.

The Frits Lugt Collection in Paris

The Frits Lugt Collection is not a museum. It is a study collection that can be studied in a secluded private atmosphere by appointment. The Frits Lugt Collection is still alive and well, and continues to purchase, publish and exhibit. Please see the French website for more information about the Frits Lugt Collection.

The members of the Dutch Board of the Fondation Custodia have expertise in a broad range of fields, which means that the future of the collection is guaranteed. The Fondation Custodia manages the Frits Lugt Collection and oversees the associated scholarly research, preparation of publications and organization of exhibitions. The Board has appointed a director who, together with the academic and administrative staff, manages the collection and carries out the day-to-day operations of the Lugt Collection.

Fondation Custodia Initiatives in the Netherlands

The Fondation Custodia manages, conserves and expands the Frits Lugt Collection. It also organizes or cooperates in staging numerous exhibitions in France, the Netherlands and the rest of the world. The Fondation Custodia promotes scholarly art historical research and issues significant publications. It also fosters the development of young art historians. For example, there is the Jacoba Lugt-Klever Fellowship for two years of research at the RKD in The Hague, Netherlands. The Fondation Custodia also supports educational and research activities in its collecting field (in particular works on paper and collection history) through the Frits and To Lugt Study Fund.

It furthermore supports such institutions as the RKD - Netherlands Institute for Art History in The Hague and the Dutch University Institute for Art History (NIKI) in Florence. In addition, the Fondation Custodia subsidizes Dutch art historical publications that have an interface with its activities, for example the magazines Delineavit & Sculpsit, which is dedicated to drawings and prints, and Oud Holland, which receives an annual translation grant.

The Dutch Board of the Fondation Custodia

The Fondation Custodia is a Stiftung established under Swiss law. As a result of its Dutch roots, the Fondation Custodia has traditionally been managed from the Netherlands. Board meetings are therefore mainly in the Netherlands and the working language is Dutch. The board members are predominantly Dutch residents and, as stipulated in article 4 of the Fondation Custodia’s regulations, most of the board members have Dutch nationality. ‘The majority of the board members must have Dutch nationality/La majorité des membres du conseil doit être de nationalité hollandaise’. There are two staff members in the board’s office in Doorn in the district of Utrechtse Heuvelrug. They assist board members in the discharge of their board activities. Both the Fondation Custodia and its Dutch supporting foundation Stichting Simplicitas are accredited as cultural Public Benefit Organizations (ANBI).