Netherlands collector and connoisseur Frits Lugt worked with the MFAA as a volunteer following his own persecution by the Nazis. He and his wife, Jacoba Klever, left the Netherlands in 1939 for Switzerland, and he later taught at Oberlin College in Ohio from 1940 to 1945 during their exile. Many of Lugt’s most valuable drawings were sent to America in sixty sealed letters in order to protect them from Nazi theft. He left the rest with an assistant in the Netherlands. In 1940 it was reported that Lugt ordered him to hide the remaining pieces. Upon learning of this, Dr. Kajetan Mühlmann, the Nazi Special Commissioner for the Protection of Works of Art in the Occupied Territories, deliberately confiscated the Lugt collection using his “anti-German attitude” as reasoning. Most of the collection was hidden in a salt mine in Austria at Alt Aussee, however some remained under Dutch care when it was discovered that Lugt’s assistant had fabricated part of his story in hopes of gaining Nazi trust.
Lugt began his career at a remarkable age. By age fifteen he had written a biography on Rembrandt complete with photographic reproductions. He abandoned his studies and joined the Frederik Muller auction house in 1901 and became a partner in 1911, remaining at the firm until 1915. In 1921, Lugt’s first major publication was completed, Les Marques de Collections de Dessins et d’Estampes. The book identifies collectors’ marks found on drawings and prints, and also includes biographies and collection descriptions. It is considered “the essential reference for establishing the provenance of Old Master drawings and prints.” Following the publication of his first book, Lugt was commissioned by the Louvre Museum in Paris to catalogue the Dutch and Flemish drawings in the museum’s collection. The first volume was published in 1927; eventually eight more were produced including the drawings of other Parisian collections.
Lugt is probably best known for the four volumes of his Répertoire des Catalogues de Ventes Publiques Interessant l’Art ou la Curiosité published in 1938, 1953, 1964, and posthumously in 1987. These books provide details of over 100,000 sales catalogues published in Europe and North America between 1600 and 1925. The entries include the date and place of the sale, the collector’s name, types of objects included in the sale, the auction house and other information. They also include the so-called “Lugt number” of the catalogue, which later became a familiar reference. The first three volumes have recently been made available for online reference through IDC Publishers. Lugt’s personal collection of catalogues was given to the Netherlands Bureau for Art History at The Hague (Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie) as a “permanent loan.”
Lugt’s collection of drawings, prints, paintings, artists’ letters, and his library are currently housed in Paris. He and his wife founded the Fondation Custodia in 1947 so that their collection would be preserved in the years after their deaths. The Frits Lugt Collection is located in the 18th century Hôtel Turgot and continues to be expanded. More than 30,000 prints, 7,000 old master drawings, 40,000 letters written by numerous artists, a collection of 220 old master paintings, as well as other decorative arts items, may be found at the Fondation Custodia. Also located on the same property is the Institut Néerlandais, founded by the Lugts in 1956 as a more public and vivacious establishment, designed for exhibitions, lectures, and conferences. Due to the continued efforts of the two institutions, the legacy of Frits Lugt and his collection have lived long past his death in 1970.