There are as many collectors as there are ways of collecting.
Among the eighty collectors I interviewed for my doctoral dissertation on private collectors of modern art in the Netherlands, there was a 21-year-old law student, but also a married couple of law practitioners who had been collecting for fifty years.[i] There were entrepreneurs with rather sizable budgets, as well as persons with a meager budget from disability insurance benefits, who had developed fine collections through ingenuity and resourcefulness.
You have the young, impulsive aficionados, who in their teens use their pocket money to buy their very first etchings, and you also have the cautious art lovers, who start by borrowing a piece of art from art stock libraries to see what they like. There’s the hunter who goes in pursuit of specific, important objects, and there are the shoppers who prefer to buy several small objects at one time for a good price. One of the most likeable ‘types’ is the social collector, who cherishes the personal encounter with the creator of an acquired work. Art lovers like these hardly ever buy a work of art without knowing the artist, as they see him as the key to the piece itself.
In reading the essays in this catalogue by admirers of the work of Lieuwe Kingma, one will notice that, without exception, they all mention the encounter with the artist as a decisive moment in the acquisition of his work. One is a teacher who meets Lieuwe at a birthday party. They hit it off and he visits the artist to look at his work, and immediately buys something. A couple stays over at Julie and Lieuwe’s place together with some friends, sleeping in the guest room right next to the studio. When they leave, they are carrying one of Lieuwe’s paintings with them. Even an elderly neighbor, well on in years, soon buys a canvas from the artist living next door to her.
An acquisition of this kind leaves a particularly strong impression: that of the artwork itself, and that of the human being behind it. Sometimes it develops into a lifelong friendship, including the celebration of the birthdays of each other’s children – the contact remaining intact, in spite of borders and relocations.
The exhibitions that Lieuwe and Julie have been organizing in their own home for the past 20 years have contributed a great deal to the cultivation of personal ties. Several collectors extol the natural surroundings in which they view the art: not at a sterile gallery with white walls, but a living room where they can take in the paintings at their leisure while sitting together, talking and eating. It is an intimate encounter with art, to which beginning buyers are especially sensitive. ‘He was my eye-opener,’ says a teacher about his meeting with Kingma, and an entrepreneur calls Lieuwe his ‘catalyst’, the one that inspired him to start buying art.
Another aspect is the fact that Kingma’s oeuvre is not seen as difficult or removed. Classic subjects like landscapes, still lifes and nudes are also accessible to laymen, and buyers appreciate that. Among the key words used by the collectors to describe the experience of his work are: warm; color(ful); intimate; honest; heartfelt; recognizable; uncomplicated; classical; timeless; inspiring.
‘I’m not a connoisseur,’ a female diplomat says, while an entrepreneur remarks: ‘I would definitely not call myself an art expert.’ And yet, with some thirty paintings, he is by now the largest collector of Kingma’s work. (At the same time, he’s business-minded enough to regard his acquisitions as a ‘good investment potential’.) Sometimes the love of art was instilled in one’s early years, as in the case of a bank manager who bought a painting of a tree in bloom.
‘May it simply be beautiful?’ is the rhetorical question above one of the contributions in this book. Of course it may – there is probably no better reason for collecting art. Decorating one’s house has also been the initial motive of major collectors who now own collections consisting of only big names. Everyone began with ‘something to hang above the couch’ – there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, you should want to have the work around you, to be able to live with it.
‘I buy art using my intuition,’ writes the wife of a former bank manager who bought art together with her husband. ‘I love beautiful things,’ says another admirer of Lieuwe’s work. That’s the difference with professional buyers, museums and company collections. For private collectors the pieces of art get to be like housemates. They are right there, in your most intimate living environment, yet they are not lost among the furniture, the television and the children.
Art has the peculiar quality of being able to hold its own amidst the tumult of family life. Enough moments remain for the piece of art to suddenly move you again – in the evening after work, when the children are in bed, or just in between, in passing. ‘Paintings are like relationships,’ said one collector quoted in my book. ‘Every now and then you need to feel again why you chose for that person, what is so great about him or her. Otherwise you will not be able to put up with each other for very long.’ [ii]
‘I must want to put it up in my house immediately,’ said one female collector. A retired diplomat named ‘hominess’ as the most important value of the works she owns. Her job and location always changed, but the paintings traveled with her, as one of the few stable factors that gave her a feeling of continuity. She pays little attention to fashions and big names. Lieuwe’s admirers are not trend chasers.
An often-mentioned motive of buyers is the recognition they experience when seeing ‘their’ painting. The general manager of an international company who traveled all over the world recognized the village of his own youth in the ‘portrait’ of Grijpskerk, the village of Lieuwe’s childhood years. Others also mention the shared Friesian background, manifested in the love of sailing and water.
The landscape of one’s childhood can be the stimulus. For a former hotelier from Texel, that meant dunes and sea, which is why he bought the painting Beach XV. A couple from Paris was magnetically attracted by a view of the South of France with its tall, dark cypresses, while a Californian woman contrasted the violent surf of the Pacific Ocean in Beach 43. The American consul general in Amsterdam chose the painting of the tall poplars along the Amstel, not for the art history associations (Mondriaan, Rembrandt), but because she used to do her long-distance running along this river.