John Hoogsteder was good at telling an exciting story. On the TV show Between art and kitschwhere the art dealer from The Hague was an expert in old painting for more than twenty years, the editors gave him the Hitchcockian nickname ‘The Master of Suspense’.
Expert colleague Ivo Bouwman can confirm this. “John could talk about paintings that were offered in a charming way. Whether it was a real old master or a worthless copy, you didn’t know until the end of his story. And all the time the audience hung on every word.
When Hoogsteder got his hands on something very special, his eyes began to sparkle. Look back at the broadcast from 2011, about the art program’s biggest find yet. A woman had brought an alleged Gabriel Metsu, the artist sometimes compared to Johannes Vermeer. Hoogsteder gave a crystal clear lecture with glasses in hand. For a Metsu, the portrait of a lacemaker was painted ‘too pasty’, with a ‘palette too warm’. The expert then spoke passionately about his search through art history archives. The finish surprised: “A real Joost van Geel, a rare champion, a completely underrated talent.”
But no Metsu, presenter Nelleke van der Krogt rubbed salt in the wounds. “What’s it still worth?”
Hoogsteder held his breath for a moment and then turned to the woman who brought it in. “I’m looking at Mrs. TWO HUNDRED… 50… THOUSAND… Euros.”
It was by no means obvious that John Hoogsteder established one of the finest trading houses in Holland in the field of art and grew into a great connoisseur of sixteenth and seventeenth century painting.
When his father had a car accident and was bedridden for six months, he had to take over the management of Hoogsteder’s Meubelbedrijf as a seventeen-year-old high school student. He had two left hands, but he had commercial talent. Together with his father, he expanded the company with factories in The Hague and Moordrecht and a hundred employees. He also won a nice government contract: furnishing almost all Dutch embassies abroad with classic British interiors with Chippendale furniture.
He regularly traveled to England for his work. He and his wife, Riek Boode, bought old furniture and paintings at auctions there. At first only to furnish their own home, but as the collection expanded, he opened the Antique Supermarket in 1967 in the Reinkenstraat in The Hague. He sold paintings from Galerie Hoogsteder in his house in Surinamstraat. He later sold the furniture factories.
With the addition of his children Willem Jan (1959) and Edith (1961), both art historians, a new family business was created in 1988: Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder. Three years later, the art dealer moved to the monumental building on Lange Vijverberg in The Hague, where it is still located.
Without even finishing high school, John Hoogsteder developed into a great connoisseur of old masters. He organized various exhibitions and made possible the necessary publications, such as Hague painters in the golden age. The Hoogsteder encyclopedia of all painters working in The Hague 1600-1700.
Edwin Buijsen, head of collections at the Mauritshuis, reluctantly approached Hoogsteder as a student of art history. In 1992, this resulted in a job as a researcher at the art dealer. “Hoogsteder was my mentor, he taught me to look. Sometimes he put a painting upside down in front of me. If I had no problems with the performance, he said, I could study the brushwork better.”
Over the years, the art dealer has sold to more than fifty museums in the world. According to Buijsen, it wasn’t just about average floral still lifes and atmospheric landscapes. he points out The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (1690-1700) by Arnold Houbraken, sold to the Rijksmuseum in 1998. “This canvas is characteristic of the kind of painting that John Hoogsteder had an eye for. A less accessible history painting by a lesser known painter, but of high quality.”
Over the years, the art dealer has sold to more than fifty museums in the world
Rudi Ekkart, former director of the National Office for Art Historical Documentation in The Hague, praises Hoogsteder highly. “He created a wonderful art dealer out of nothing. With his storytelling, he popularized the world of the old masters. And with his exhibitions and publications, he deepened the field and proved to be more than an art dealer.”
Ekkart Hoogsteder’s commitment to the continued existence of Museum Bredius is a great personal achievement. When the museum in The Hague with the collection of 17th-century paintings by the art connoisseur Abraham Bredius (1855-1946) was closed in 1985, Hoogsteder and other indignant art lovers made an effort to reopen the museum. He bought the museum’s current building and leased it for a nominal sum for a period of thirty years. Ekkart: “Thanks to Hoogsteder’s efforts, the museum survived.”
Hoogsteder’s son Willem Jan, who joined eleven years ago Between art and kitsch took over the role of his father, says he never felt a generation gap with his father. “We made the purchase together without any problems. He was gracious, relaxed and humorous. We once flew to London together. When I was already at customs and my father was approaching, the officer said: “Your brother is coming too, I see.” That’s how it felt; we worked together as brothers.”
Hoogsteder continued to come to the store until old age, to do research in the library and to smoke cigarettes. It only stopped when he broke a hip at the age of 86, his son says. “I used to say, ‘Dad, you’re so old, you don’t have to start at nine every day anymore.’ He was from a tough generation, full of survival instinct.”
Hoogsteder died on October 8, less than six months after his wife Riek.