Taste and Ambition: Dutch Artists and Their Collections of Works on Paper

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Lee, Casey
History of Collections , Prints , Drawings , Seventeenth Century
This dissertation is a study of Dutch artists as collectors of prints and drawings in the seventeenth century. The presence of works on paper in artists’ workshops and their use as visual reference tools and objects for inspiration is generally accepted, but the individual character of these collections is worth deeper consideration. In order to explore the maintenance of and motivations for artists’ collections of works on paper, my thesis draws on the history of collecting as broadly understood, and the often distinct fields of the history of print collections and drawing collections. The collecting of graphic arts was integral to the artistic process. In this thesis, I consider the historical context of this practice through a series of case studies that reconstruct the collections of Christoffel van Sichem the Elder (1546–1624), Adriaen van Nieulandt (1587–1658), Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669), and Peter Lely (1618–1680). These four artists’ practices varied dramatically from producing books and woodcuts made for wide circulation to royal patronage meant for the few, but they are united by their cultivation of works on paper collections. Their collections can be reconstructed with the help of inventories, sale records, the objects they owned, and their respective oeuvres. This thesis explores the different shapes and uses Dutch artists’ collections took in the seventeenth century, and how their content reflects both the tastes of the individual artists and the impact of the collecting and study of graphic art on the work they produced. By considering artists who were active at different points throughout the century, I demonstrate the continuation of collecting practices and provide insights into how artists’ collections changed over time. In doing so, I reveal the diverse ways in which these collections were built and used. Further, I argue that artists’ collections are reflective not only of professional practice, but also of individual taste, interests, and ambitions.
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