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De Haagse kunstverzamelaar Hendrik Spaan (1851-1915)

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image of Oud Holland - Journal for Art of the Low Countries

The sparse literature on Dutch collectors around 1900 makes no mention of Hendrik Spaan (1851-1915; ill. I), a rather unfair omission. A baker of the Hague who lived at Korte Beestenmarkt 2, Spaan concentrated almost exclusively on the work of contemporary artists of The Hague, whether established or not. He was on good and even friendly terms with many of them. The younger ones regarded him as a kind of patron, not only because he purchased work at a time when it was extremely hard to find buyers, but also because he quite literally provided their daily bread when times were hard. One of his closest and longest contacts was undoubtedly with Jozef IsraelS. Interesting evidence of their relationship takes the form of a number of drawings, now scattered, which Israels dedicated to Spaan in gratitude for the pastries which the baker sent to Israels on St. Nicholas' Day for seventeen years (ills. 3a-f). Spaan owned some 1 14 paintings and watercolours, all described in detail in the 19 12 sale calalogue - the only source at our disposal, incidentally. No correspondence pertaining to his purchases exists, nor have any photographs or detailed visitors' descriptions surfaced which might hav e told us something about the hanging of the pictures and the growth of the collection. We do know that Spaan started to collect relatively late, in the early eighteen-eighties. He tended to buy fairly recent work, meaning early work by young artists and late work by such established masters as Israels, Bosboom or Weissenbruch. Judging by his personal contacts and undoubtedly limited funds - certainly in comparison with well-known collectors like Mesdag or Hidde Nijland - we may assume that he often bought pictures directly from artists' studios, avoiding accredited art-dealers whenever possible. Perhaps this accounts for the relatively large number of watercolours in his collection, and for the modest formats of many paintings, especially those by more established artists. Another reason for the latter circumstance may well have been the size of his house, which had to accommodate not only the bakery but his family of five children too. Since the much of the work cannot be traced with any certainty, it is difficult to assess the quality of the collection. Spaan exhibited a marked preference, though, for more or less 'impressionistic' work by representatives of the Hague School and younger artists closely connected with it: Arntzenius, for instance, and notably Willem de Zwart, with eighteen works by far the most generously represented artist in the collection. A striking feature of Spaan's collection, in comparison with others that focused on the Hague School, is the absence of its French precursors, the like-minded artists of the Barbizon School. Spaan was interested solely in Dutch art, preferably from his home-town of The Hague. In this, his collection is 'narrow' rather than specialized: work by younger artists who pursued a different, more audacious or more experimental path - figures such as Breitner, Witsen, Verster or Suze Robertson, not to mention the symbolist movement - is almost totally absent. Although his collection displayed a great variety of themes, he was not concerned with representative surveys either. Nor was he interested in medium or technique: his collection does not contain any drawings or the etchings that were so popular in his day. What remained was nonetheless a good and certainly representative cross-section of Hague, or Hague-oriented, art of the period of the Marises and Israels, pictures which fetched enormous prices on Spaan's death. Willem Maris' 'Morgenstond' ('Daybreak', ill. 12), which went for 12,000 guilders, beat them all. 'Together with portraits of Spaan and his wife (ill. 2), it was bequeathed in 1977 to the Haags Cemeentemuseum.


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