Ger Luijten: a rare enthusiastic connoisseur of drawing and printing

During a stay in the Netherlands, the art historian Ger Luijten, director of the Fondation Custodia in Paris, died on Monday morning. He died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 66, the Fondation Custodia announced on Tuesday. Luijten has been at the head of the institution since 2010, which manages and presents the world-famous art collection of the Dutch collector Frits Lugt (1884-1970).

Under Luijten’s leadership, the Fondation Custodia changed over the past decade from a rather closed studio collection to a very accessible ‘house for art on paper’, as he himself called it.

Currently, the showrooms on Rue de Lille host two exhibitions initiated by him, a selection of nineteenth-century French drawings from his own collection and a survey of drawings and watercolors by Léon Bonvin (1834–1866), a relatively unknown French artist , which, thanks to the efforts of Luijten and his curators, is now firmly on the art historical map. A catalog raisonné of Bonvin’s works was also published to accompany the final exhibition.


The current exhibitions are indicative of what Luijten, whose great knowledge was accompanied by a rare infectious enthusiasm, considered the Fondation Custodia’s task: to carry out thorough art historical research and then present this research to a wide audience in attractive exhibitions and books. .

When the Institut Néerlandais – the Dutch cultural institute in France that had been housed in a Fondation building for more than fifty years – closed at the end of 2013, Luijten decided not to give the vacant space near the Assemblée Nationale to the government or an embassy for a lot of money, rent it out, but continue to use it for art, henceforth under the banner of the Fondation Custodia itself. He thoroughly renovated and modernized both the exhibition building on the street side and the 18th-century residence behind it in the Frits Lugt Samlingen.

The exhibition program was always in line with the collection: for example, old drawings from the collection were combined with related drawings from other museums or in the exhibition Drawings for paintings in Rembrandt’s age (2016), with the paintings they were a study for.

Because drawings of the caliber that Frits Lugt collected in the first half of the twentieth century – Rembrandt’s and Michelangelo’s – are now priceless, Luijten decided to take a different direction when expanding the collection. In recent years, he managed to add many beautiful acquisitions to the sub-collection of nineteenth-century oil sketches.

Oil studies in the nineteenth century fulfilled the same function as drawings in the centuries before: they preceded the official works of art and therefore provide insight into an artist’s thinking and experimentation. A selection from the rapidly growing collection of oil sketches – which, thanks to Luijten, now includes works by Constable, Degas, Delacroix and Corot, among others – was shown in Paris last winter in combination with comparable oil studies from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Boijmans and the Rijksmuseum

Such prestigious exhibitions would have been unthinkable without Luijten’s many good, often friendly contacts in the international museum world. His directorate in Paris was the crowning achievement of an already impressive record. In the 1980s he worked at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam and from 1990 to 2010 at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where from 2001 he was head of the Rijksprentenkabinet, the department for art on paper.

There he generously acquired post-World War II Dutch art that the Rijksmuseum had previously collected until around 1940. Luijten believed that twentieth-century graphics and drawing should be acquired ‘not monotonously’ but ‘in full breadth’: Mondrian and Armando should be represented , but also lesser-known figurative artists. And illustrators like Peter van Straaten and Dick Bruna.

“Do not take sides, as the city’s museums do for modern art, but generously collect the best from all directions,” he summarized the policy in 2010 NRC. “So that future generations can decide again and again what they find most interesting or important.”

In parallel with exhibitions of old art on paper, Luijten regularly showed works by contemporary draftsmen and graphic artists at the Fondation Custodia, to emphasize that the work continues to this day in the tradition of the old masters that Frits Lugt collected. Luijten hoped to stay on as director until after his seventieth birthday. His head was still full of plans for exhibitions and books. He lived with art and generously allowed others to share in that life.

He lived with his wife and small son in the director’s house above the Foundation, and everyone who was in the area – friends, acquaintances and even friends of friends – could count on a personal tour of the exhibitions and the museum if he was at home and available drawings depot and the walls with oil sketches. Also Sunday. Frits Lugt would have been delighted to have such a dedicated successor. It will now be a difficult task for Fondation Custodia to find a successor to Ger Luijten.

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