Collecting for the Haags Gemeentemuseum: Cees Kuijlman, collector of Dutch twentieth-century art on paper (I)

Jan Piet Filedt Kok

Between 1971 and 1975 the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague acquired over 1000 works on paper (prints and drawings) by twentieth-century Dutch artists from the collector Cees Kuijlman (1917-1995) in Maasland; they were purchased in four groups for a total of about 250,000 guilders.1 Assembled between 1966 and 1971, the original collection probably encompassed around 1500 sheets. Little attention has been paid to the formation of this collection and its purchase by the museum in The Hague, but this story paints a fascinating picture of the manner in which contemporary Dutch art on paper was collected in this period, and lessons for the future can possibly be learned about institutional collecting, in particular of contemporary art.

Besides fine selections of works by deceased artists such as Jan Toorop [1], Samuel Jesserun de Mesquita, Herman Kruyder and Piet Ouborg, the collection consisted mainly of sheets that had been acquired directly from a small group of contemporary artists, among whom Co Westerik, Dick Cassée, Carel Visser and Peter Vos stand out as clear favourites. In addition, Kuijlman added a number of works by JCJ VANDERHEYDEN, Sipke Huismans and Henri Plaat, as well as younger artists, for instance Jeroen Henneman, Wim T. Schippers and Peter Struycken.

Cees Kuijlman
Born in Weesp, Cees Kuijlman went to a HBS [Hogere Burgerschool] secondary school after which he embarked on, but did not complete, a degree in biology, which inspired his life-long interest in all aspects of nature. He was in Vlaardingen during the Second World War, where he met Leni van Dooren whose family ran a local printing firm. They married in 1947 and had three children. After the war he joined his wife’s family business, serving as assistant director for a number of years before becoming co-director until 1976, alongside his father-in-law Van Dooren (1897-1977).
The firm mainly made money from commercial printing, but also produced catalogues and other publications for museums in the region, including the Haags Gemeentemuseum, the Stedelijk Museum in Schiedam and the Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. The printers took special care with reproductions distributed by Openbaar Kunstbezit– a magazine which in its heyday had more than 100,000 subscribers – in advance of discussions in weekly radio talks. In order to ensure that the reproductions were of a consistently high quality, the original objects were photographed in the museums, and the printworks even had a special van to transport the requisite photographic equipment.2

Jan Toorop
Head of a girl 1896
lithograph, printed in green 266 x 214 mm
The Hague, Kunstmuseum (C. Kuijlman Collection)

Collector and skilful printer
When the Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen mounted the exhibition Co Westerik, tekeningen grafiek en aquarellen uit de verzameling C. Kuijlman [Co Westerik, drawings, prints and watercolours from the C. Kuijlman Collection] in the winter of 1968-1969, Hans Hoetink, who was then the curator, wrote the following in his introduction to the modest catalogue:

Kuijlman is a recent phenomenon in the meagre world of Dutch collecting. Through his involvement in the printing trade he got to see a wide variety of original works, and it was precisely because he had to reproduce these – for example for Openbaar Kunstbezit – that he gradually developed an eye for and interest in the originals whose subtleties were so difficult to reproduce. His thorough understanding of reproduction techniques stood him in good stead. He has moreover, through years of working with professional photographers, trained himself to ‘look.’ It is only a few years since Kuijlman threw himself into collecting with a passion, in the conviction that prints and drawings can best be appreciated by the viewer when they can actually be held in a comfortable setting. He soon came to realise that if he wished to build a collection of any significance, he should restrict himself to certain artists and time periods.

In the past, Kuijlman had spent his free time on activities such as hunting, fishing and photography, but in 1966 his health declined and he took up art collecting. His enthusiasm was stimulated by his contacts in the museum world, and he went about it in an ambitious and energetic way. The collection seems to have taken shape quite quickly as he acquired works by his favourite artists. Each new sheet was immediately placed in an acid-free mount and ordered in a cabinet containing hundreds of solander boxes. He built an annex specially for his collection of graphic art onto his house in Maasland, which also featured a perfect stereo system. There he would show recent acquisitions to friends and museum curators such as Hans Hoetink and Hans Locher, who were then responsible for the prints and drawings collections in respectively Rotterdam and The Hague and also in charge of exhibitions. In addition to catalogues for exhibitions in Rotterdam – Co Westerik in 1968-1969, and Dick Cassée in 1969 – Kuijlman’s business produced promotional books about Westerik in 1971 (drawings, watercolours and prints), and Carel Visser in 1972 (sculpture, drawings and prints), with introductions by Locher and Hoetink as well as unusually good reproductions.3

Approach to collecting
The distinctive feature of Kuijlman’s approach to the collecting of contemporary art is that he was not only interested in the artists’ best and most recent work, but also in their development and how the work came about. This is how Peter Vos introduced the collector in a letter from the summer of 1970 to the draughtsman and printmaker Theo Daamen (1939-2021):

A collector-printer from Maassluis – for example he collects works by Westerik, Cassée, J. v/d Heyden and me ­­– saw your drawings at our house and said straightaway that he had always wanted to meet you because he was keen to collect your work too. What he is most interested in is forming a more or less complete collection, that is to say with works from every period of a draughtsman or printmaker.[… ] He is nice and a superb printer, but like all collectors he tends to expect a discount. On the other hand, he takes good care of it all; everything is placed in beautiful mounts and specially made cloth-covered boxes. I also like the idea that there should somewhere be an overview of my work, properly stored and cared for. I mean, he is worth doing business with. It’s up to you….4

Because Kuijlman began selling off large parts of his collection soon thereafter, the purchase of Theo Daamen’s work never took place. However, the picture of Kuijlman’s method painted by Peter Vos is certainly corroborated by the recollections of Dick Cassée and Co Westerik, both of whose work he collected with verve. Kuijlman started by buying in galleries. Fenna de Vries, whose gallery opened in 1959, remembered that he enjoyed bringing along his own big red dots and sticking them next to the works he purchased. Soon he began buying works directly from the artists, regularly visiting them in their studios, and also looking for work from earlier periods. Both Cassée and Westerik remembered that he could not be stopped from even looking under the bed, thinking that they might have set aside their best work and/or hoping to find unknown early pieces. He had an unusual interest in the various aspects of their work and in their way of working. He carefully followed their development and regularly acquired recent work. He paid cash, and although he asked for a discount when buying a number of sheets, he rarely left having paid less than the artists would have received if they had sold the work through a gallery. His frequent purchases thus provided support directly to the artists, and Kuijlman’s enthusiasm led to friendly relationships. Dick Cassée remembered that Kuijlman would often pick him up in Amsterdam to go and look at his collection in Maasland. As mentioned above, his regular visitors included curators such as Hoetink and Locher, who would come to see his latest acquisitions. Kuijlman carried on enthusiastically collecting works on paper by a select group of Dutch artists until the summer of 1971. The books he printed on Westerik and Visser must have been a way of affirming the quality of the works by them in his collection. The same applies to the exhibitions in Rotterdam of work by Westerik and Cassée from his collection, his loans to the Amsterdam exhibition of graphic work by Jan Toorop in 1969, and the travelling Westerik show in 1971.5

Sale of the collection
In the summer of 1971 Kuijlman was forced to sell his collection. Hans Locher, who was curator of the print room of the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague from 1965 to 1969, and later chief curator of modern art until 1978, took this opportunity to acquire the entire collection for the museum in the form of instalments spread over several years. In the autumn of 1971 The Hague city council agreed to the purchase of 214 drawings and 268 prints by Jan Toorop, Samuel Jesserun de Mesquita, Jacob Bendien, Charley Toorop, Co Westerik, Jan Mensinga, Piet Ouborg, Carel Visser, Peter Vos, JCJ VANDERHEYDEN, Henri de Haas, Henri Plaat, Sipke Huismans and Dick Cassée for the sum of 80,000 guilders. The argument put forward in the proposal for the acquisition read thus: ‘Right now the museum has a unique opportunity to acquire over the coming years, in its entirety, the well-known collection of modern drawings and prints assembled by Mr C. Kuijlman from Maasland. Over a number of years we will be able to acquire the collection, one part at a time.’ After listing the artists in the collection, the proposal went on to say that ‘it is clear from this that the focus is on Dutch prints and drawings from the twentieth century, fitting perfectly with the Gemeentemuseum’s collection and its collecting policy. Almost all of the artists mentioned have already had exhibitions at the Haags Gemeentemuseum.’6

In 1972 a second group was acquired for the sum of 135,000 guilders, consisting of 292 drawings and 326 prints by Jan Toorop, Jacoba van Heemskerk, S. Jesserun de Mesquita, Co Westerik, Jan Mensinga, Piet Ouborg, Carel Visser, Peter Vos, JCJ VANDERHEYDEN, Henri de Haas, Henri Plaat, Sipke Huisman and Dick Cassée.7 In 1974 a further 48 drawings by Co Westerik were bought for 25,145 guilders.8

When Kuijlman began to dispose of parts of his collection, he held on to a considerable number of the best works by several of his favourite artists. In the years that followed he added recent works by Co Westerik to the collection. Hans Locher assumed that these would eventually go to the museum through donation or purchase; however, this did not happen in the end.

A different collecting policy
When Kuijlman finally decided to stop collecting works on paper in 1975, the museum was given another chance to make a selection from what remained in his collection. A hundred or so boxes of prints and drawings were sent to the museum, from which a modest selection – 50 drawings and 20 prints – were eventually acquired for the sum of 50,000 guilders.9 By then Hans Locher had already handed over responsibility for the collection of prints and drawings to his colleague Kees Broos (1940-2015), and to Flip Bool (1947) who had been taken on as assistant curator in 1974. They took the museum’s acquisitions and exhibitions policies in new directions, pursuing a strong interest in contemporary typography and photography.10 They found the quality of the works in the Kuijlman collection too uneven, and they believed that museum collecting requires a different approach from private collecting.11 Although Kuijlman’s favourite artists were already well represented thanks to previous purchases, ultimately several hundred sheets from his collection, including many of Co Westerik’s best works, did not find their way into the Haags Gemeentemuseum. This must have been a major disappointment to Kuijlman, especially since he had started forming a new collection: art from Africa.12

Other buyers
It must have been shortly thereafter that Kuijlman offered the collector Karel Levisson (1917-1999) the opportunity to make a selection from the remainder of his collection. Levisson thus added 150 sheets to his collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century art on paper, which was presented in its entirety to the Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede in 1995.13 We will return to the Levisson collection below, because we can learn more about Kuijlman’s collection from it.

On this occasion Kuijlman once again seems to have decided to keep the remaining drawings by Co Westerik together. The last Westerik he bought must have been the fine watercolour Self-portrait made in September 1975 [2]. In 1979 and in 1986 Kuijlman offered the Gemeentemuseum two groups of Westerik drawings, mostly watercolours, through the then curator Mariëtte Josephus Jitta. The group offered in 1979 consisted of nineteen sheets, five of which were purchased; in 1986 a further six sheets, including the Self-portrait, were bought from a group of sixteen offered.14 In contrast to the years 1971-1975, when he had stuck to the amounts he had originally paid, Kuijlman demanded steep prices for the sheets, presumably based on current market values. This demonstrates that the friendly relations between Kuijlman and the Haags Gemeentemuseum had come to an end, and after the sale in 1986 he felt entitled to sell his remaining Westerik drawings to the Van Oosterom-Kleijn couple in Amsterdam. Their splendid Westerik collection of almost 100 drawings was donated to the Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen in Rotterdam in 2004. Thanks to these transactions, a significant part of Kuijlman’s collection has ended up in Dutch museums.15

Co Westerik
Draughtsman wearing a smock and cap 1966
pen, watercolour and gouache 200 x 246 mm
The Hague, Kunstmuseum (C. Kuijlman Collection)

It remains a remarkable fact that Kuijlman assembled his collection in a mere five years between 1966 and 1971 – and that when it was dispersed soon afterwards, an important part of it found its way into museums. The collector’s son Kees Kuijlman remarked that in his father’s view the ownership of works of art is always a temporary matter. They remain the property of the artist and were intended for a wider audience: ‘He collected a period, or an oeuvre, or the technique of an artist and stopped when he could add nothing more to it. Then he would move on to something else. Getting to the bottom of something and then moving on is certainly a pattern that repeated itself in his life, not just in art.’ Hans Hoetink described him as ‘an obsessive and fanatical collector, but with greatly varied interests, and this despite his perfectionism. For example, I remember the perfect order he maintained in the shed for his gardening tools and so on.’16 Others who knew him said that his perfectionism manifested itself also in his choice of hi-fi, hunting and fishing equipment, and in the efforts he took to create perfect reproductions for Openbaar Kunstbezit.


1 The impetus for this article was the introduction I gave at the opening of the exhibition De jonge virtuoos Peter Vos, grafiek, tekeningen en getekende brieven 1952-1970 [The young genius Peter Vos, prints, drawings and drawn letters 1952-1970] on 10 February 2017 at the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague. Since almost all of the works by Peter Vos in the Gemeentemuseum had been bought as part of the Kuijlman collection in 1971-1972, I was surprised to find that so little was known about the man behind this collection. This prompted me to find out more. My thanks go to Susan Adam, Dingenus van de Vrie, Hans Locher, Hans Hoetink, Flip Bool and Kees Kuijlman, the collector’s son, for providing me with information. Their material was later supplemented with memories of the collector provided by Fenna de Vries, Co Westerik, Dick Cassée and former museum staff members, including Mariëtte Josephus Jitta. I am grateful to Joost Bergman for his observations about the prints of Carel Visser; to Ton Geerts, Paul Knolle, John Polder and Ruud ter Beeke for information about the Levisson collection in Rijksmuseum Twenthe; to Susan Adam and Vivien Entius for giving access to museum files in the Gemeentemuseum; and to Marja Stijkel for supplying comparative material from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. At the Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, I was kindly helped by Dingenus van de Vrie, Julia van de Bergh and Jan de Klerk, and in the depot of the Stedelijk Museum by Rolf de Kat; I thank them all. I am especially grateful to Carel Blotkamp, Ton Geerts, Jeroen Kapelle and Flip Bool for their critical reading of this article, suggestions and editorial advice and many thanks for the careful translation to Katy Kist and Jennifer Kilian. For the history of the museum, now known as the Kunstmuseum, see Wikipedia.

2 Both Hans Locher and Co Westerik recalled that the firm’s in-house photographer Rob Broere played a key role in ensuring high-quality results, while Kuijlman’s son Kees said that it was Wim Fruitbos who worked out the best printing processes to use for reproduction. In an anonymous interview titled ‘C. Kuijlman verzamelt prenten om mensen te kennen’ (C. Kuijlman collects prints in order to understand people) in the Nieuwe Leidsche Courant of 1 February 1969, Kuijlman observed that his inspiration for collecting prints came from contacts made when producing reproductions for Openbaar Kunstbezit. He states that he had started his collection ten years earlier. ‘Ik verzamel mensen, geen platen. […] Ik koop tot ik het beeld [van een kunstenaar] compleet heb. Zo heb ik alle prenten van Westerik. Ik haal ze onder zijn handen vandaan. […] Als ik er niets meer in zie, doe ik het weg.’ [I collect people rather than plates […] I buy until I have a complete picture [of an artist]. I have all of Westerik’s prints, for example. I pluck them right from under the artist’s nose. […] Whatever I don’t like, I get rid of.’]

3 H. Hoetink, Co Westerik. Tekeningen grafiek en aquarellen uit de verzameling C. Kuijlman, exhib. cat. Rotterdam (Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen) 20 December 1968-10 February 1969; H. Hoetink, Dick Cassée. Grafiek en tekeningen uit de verzameling Kuijlman, exhib. cat. Rotterdam (Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen), 24 March-10 May 1970; J.L. Locher, Westerik. Tekeningen, aquarellen grafiek, Vlaardingen (Van Dooren Printers) 1971, with essay by H.R. Hoetink, as well as a biography and bibliography; a second, revised edition in 1979 was published by De Centaur/Omega Boek, Amsterdam and Standaard Uitgeverij Antwerp, with cloth cover and four additional illustrations of watercolours (pp. 73-76, figs 64-67, dated 1974-1977), a revised introduction by Locher and amended biography; J.L. Locher, Carel Visser. Beelden, tekeningen en grafiek, Vlaardingen (Van Dooren Printers) 1972.

4 Jan Piet Filedt Kok and Eddy de Jongh in collaboration with Saïda Vos, Peter Vos. Getekende brieven, Amsterdam 2017, p. 157, no. 75.

5 K.G. Boon, B. Spaanstra-Polak and J. Verbeek, De grafiek van Jan Toorop (1858-1928), exhib. cat. Amsterdam (Rijksprentenkabinet, Rijksmuseum), 8 February-13 April 1969, printed by Van Dooren Printers.

6 The Hague, Kunstmuseum, acquisitions register, file B 5282-KUIJL 1971. In this period all purchases over 5000 guilders had to be authorised by The Hague’s city council. Proposals first needed to be approved by an advisory committee which included the alderman for culture. The committee discussed the proposal on 17 November 1971; the museum’s purchase budget for 1971 was 550,000 guilders.

7 It was not possible to find a purchases file at the museum, but this information can be deduced from other sources, such as registration cards; the acquisition proposal was discussed on 11 September 1972; the purchase budget for 1972 was 555,000 guilders; file B 6003-KUIJL 1974 reveals that 10 boxes of drawings arrived at the museum, as well as 36 boxes and 2 portfolios of prints from the Kuijlman collection.

8 The Hague, Kunstmuseum, acquisitions register B 6780-KIJL 1974, inv. no. 1974, T 50-97: in 4 boxes, 48 drawings by Co Westerik. The purchase proposal was discussed on 19 April 1974; the purchase budget for 1974 was 600,000 guilders.

9 It was not possible to find a file for these purchases at the museum, but from other sources it can be deduced that the purchase proposal was discussed by the advisory committee on 7 May 1975; the purchase budget for 1975 was 700,000 guilders.

10 Kees Broos worked at the museum from 1967 until 1982, and Flip Bool from 1974 until 1989, from 1982 as Head of Modern Art.

11 Email from Flip Bool, dated 13 February 2017: ‘Kees en ik voelden er – in tegenstelling tot Hans Locher – niet voor om alle tekeningen en grafiek over te nemen. De kwaliteit was ons inziens immers nogal wisselend. Daarom maakten wij er een beperkte keuze uit.’ (‘Unlike Hans Locher, Kees and I were reluctant to take all of the drawings and prints. In our view the quality was rather mixed. So we just made a small selection.’).

12 This emerged from discussions with Kees Kuijlman Jr. in 2017-2018. A number of African works from his collection eventually went to the Africa Museum in Berg en Dal.

13 I am grateful to Ton Geerts for drawing my attention to Levisson’s handwritten list of his collection, which mentions the provenance from Kuijlman (without specifying the year), and the price paid ‘-20 %.’ It seems reasonable to assume that he used the same rate as for the Gemeentemuseum: the purchase price he had paid, less 20 %.

14 Earlier in 1978 three unique impressions of prints by Westerik had been bought from Kuijlman for 3000 guilders (see: purchase BN 943-KUYL 1978); for the purchases in 1979, see: acquisitions register BN 1030-KUYL 1979. A total of 17,900 guilders was paid for the five sheets by Westerik. For the purchases in 1986, see: acquisitions register BN 3072/73-KUIJL 1986; the six drawings and watercolours were bought for 35,000 guilders. In addition, the museum paid 15,000 guilders to acquire six watercolours by Cassée, three drawings by JCJ VANDERHEYDEN, two drawings and one print by Visser, as well as a Book of Fairy Tales by Edgard Tytgat.

15 Kuijlman’s heirs still own a number of sheets from his collection. In 1995, after Kuijlman’s death, a group of works by Westerik was sold to the Fenna de Vries Gallery.

16 Email from Hans Hoetink, 12 February 2017.

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