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Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis

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    Full Name: Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1863

    Date Died: 1930

    Place Born: Dwingeloo, Drenthe, Netherlands

    Place Died: The Hague, South Holland, Netherlands

    Home Country/ies: Netherlands

    Subject Area(s): connoisseurship, Dutch (culture or style), painting (visual works), and seventeenth century (dates CE)

    Career(s): art collectors


    Art historian, art collector, expert and connoisseur; specialized in Dutch seventeenth-century painting. After finishing his Gymnasium education in Coburg, Germany, Hofstede de Groot briefly studied Art History in Leipzig. The death his father, a professor in Groningen, forced Hofstede de Groot to return to Groningen, where he altered his studies to Classics. Later he transferred to Leiden, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree. In 1889 he moved to Leipzig and studied Art History, where, encouraged by Abraham Bredius, he specialized in Dutch seventeenth century painting. In 1891 he obtained a doctorate in Art History, with a dissertation on Houbraken’s Groote Schouburgh. During his study he became a temporary assistant at the Print room in Dresden. In 1891 Bredius, then director at the Mauritshuis, invited him to became his assistant director. The relationship was rancorous, however, with the petty Bredius leaking stories of their disputes to the newspapers. One of the results of their collaboration was the Mauritshuis Catalog, published in 1895. The next year, Hofstede de Groot left the Mauritshuis to become director of the Rijksprentenkabinet in Amsterdam (National Print Cabinet) in Amsterdam, but resigned after two years, discouraged by the authoritarian administrative style of the head of the Directory of the Department of Arts and Sciences of the Ministry of the Interior, Victor Eugène Louis de Stuers (1843-1916). From this moment, Hofstede de Groot worked as an independent art historian, researcher and connoisseur, earning a livelihood as a publisher and art expert, living in Amsterdam. He published most frequently in Oud Holland and in the Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft. He wrote more than seventy biographies of Dutch painters for biographical dictionary of Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker. He traveled extensively in Europe to study private and public collections of Dutch art. He used his research touring to assemble an impressive personal collection of paintings, drawings, medals and object d’art. At the request of the U.S. millionaire art collector Peter Widener (1834/6-1915) he went to America. Together with the director of the Berlin Museum, Wilhelm Bode, he was the author of eight volumes on Rembrandt paintings, which appeared between 1897 and 1904 (1905?). In 1906, the year of the Rembrandt Commemoration, he edited Die Urkunden über Rembrandt, and the first catalog of Rembrandt drawings. In the same year he was awarded, together with four other Rembrandt scholars (Wilhelm Bode, Abraham Bredius, Jan Veth, and Émile Michel), a doctorate honoris causa at the University of Amsterdam. His most important work appeared between 1907 and 1928 in ten volumes: Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts, a revision of John Smith‘s Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters, (1829-1837). Hofstede de Groot changed the makeup of Smith’s catalog, omitting Flemish and French painters and replacing them with more Dutch artists. The Werke benefited from the collaboration a number of mainly German art historians: Wilhelm Rheinhold Otto Valentiner, Kurt Freise, Kurt Erasmus, Eduard Plietzsch, Karl Lilienfeld, Heinrich Wichmann, Otto Hirschmann, Hans Kauffmann, Wolfgang Stechow, Kurt Bauch, and Elisabeth Neurdenburg, only the latter of whom was Dutch. In 1928 Horst Gerson, then still a student, became his assistant. In 1907 Hofstede de Groot was offered a prestigious professorship in Art History in Leiden. However, he declined the associate professorship, insisting that the city where Rembrandt was born deserved a full professor. Wilhelm Martin subsequently accepted the position. In the same year, however, a full professorship for Art History was established at the University of Utrecht, the first in The Netherlands, of which Willem Vogelsang was the first appointment. As a Rembrandt scholar, Hofstede de Groot was involved in the question of the authenticity of the Rembrandt oeuvre. After the controversial publication of Valentiner’s Wiedergefundene Gemälde, in 1921, Hofstede de Groot vehemently defended Valentiner’s number of 690 authentic Rembrandts against scholars like Martin and Bredius, who doubted a number of attributions (Bredius’ The Paintings of Rembrandt, 1935, put the number of paintings at 630). In addition to his work as publisher and researcher, Hofstede de Groot engaged himself in various responsibilities. In 1916, he became a member of the Rijks Monumentencommissie (State Commission for Monuments) and collaborated in the making of the “provisional lists” of monuments all over the country. He also participated in the development of museum management, as a member of different advisory committees. The inflexibility of his character more than once caused problems with people with whom he had to collaborate. In 1919, when the Rijkscommisie voor het Museumwezen (State Commission for Museum Affairs) was set up, Hofstede de Groot became its first secretary. But his inability to embrace modern notions about art caused an almost immediate resignation. At the end of his life, Hofstede de Groot had gathered a huge collection of photographs and reproductions of works of art, documents and thousands of museum-, exposition- and auction-catalogs. His collection was (and still is) accessible to students and researchers. In 1926 he donated this important archive to the State of The Netherlands and in this way he can be considered the founder of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie (RKD) in The Hague, which was opened in 1932 and where other collections of documentation found their destination. He bequeathed his collection of drawings to the city of Groningen, while the Amsterdam Rijksprentenkabinet acquired 65 Rembrandt drawings. He donated his Italian medals to the municipal Museum of The Hague. Smaller donations also went to the museums of Haarlem and Leiden. But old animosities remained even after his death. Bredius, so reviled the memory of Hofstede de Groot, that he refused to speak to the current head of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie except outside the building that housed his papers. Methodologically Hofstede de Groot depended strongly upon stylistic analysis and an intuitive eye to authorize his art work. Horst Gerson, in his memorial to Wolfgang Stechow, asserted that Hofstede de Groot frequently ignored iconography in favor stylistic judgments.

    Selected Bibliography

    For a complete list, compiled by H. Gerson, see: Handelingen (as mentioned above): 126-155; Arnold Houbraken in seiner Bedeutung für die holländische Kunstgeschichte. Zugleich eine Quellenkritik der Houbrakenschen Groote Schouburgh. The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1891; Arnold Houbraken und seine Groote Schouburgh kritisch beleuchtet. The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1893; Die holländische Kritik der jetzigen Rembrandt-forschung und neuest wiedergefundene Rembrandtbilder. Stuttgart, Deutsche Verlags-anstalt, 1922; Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts: nach dem Muster John Smith’s catalogue raisonné. Assisted by O. Hirschmann, W. Stechow and K. Bauch. 10 vols. Esslingen am Neckar: Paul Neff Verlag, 1907-1928; Reprint: Teaneck, NJ: Somerset House, 1976; A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century: based on the Work of John Smith. 8 vols. Translated and edited by Edward G. Hawke. London: Macmillan (volumes 9 and 10 remain untranslated).


    Lugt, Frits. “History of Art.” in Barnouw, A. J. and Landheer, B., eds. The Contribution of Holland to the Sciences. New York: Querido, 1943, pp.187-90, 210; Panofsky, Erwin. “The History of Art.” In The Cultural Migration: The European Scholar in America. Introduction by W. Rex Crawford. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953, p. 85, mentioned; Van Gelder, H.E. in Handelingen van de Maatschappij der Nederlandsche Letterkunde te Leiden en Levensberichten harer afgestorven medeleden 1930-1931. Levensberichten: 99-125, English, F.M. Daendels-Wilson, see Van Gelder, H.E. “Dr Hofstede de Groot (1863-1930)” in Bolten, J. Dutch Drawings from the Collection of Dr C. Hofstede de Groot. Introduction and Critical Catalogue [Groninger Museum voor Stad en Lande] Utrecht: A. Oosthoek’s Uitgeversmaatschappij N.V., 1967: 17-36; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 47 mentioned; [discussion of his methodology] Gerson, Horst, “Wolfgang Stechow,” Print Review 5 (1975): 74-77; Ekkart, R.E.O. in J.Charité (ed.) Biografisch woordenboek van Nederland, 1.The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1979: pp. 248-249; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 497; Halbertsma, Marlite. “Die Kunstgeschichte in den Deutschsprachigen Ländern und den Niederlanden 1764-1933: ein überblick” in Halbertsma, Marlite/Zijlmans, Kitty (eds.) Gesichtspunkte. Kunstgeschichte heute. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1995: 56-57; Ekkart, R.E.O. “Grondleggers van het kunsthistorisch apparaat” in Hecht, Peter; Hoogenboom, Annemieke; Stolwijk, Chris (eds.) Kunstgeschiedenis in Nederland. Negen opstellen. Amsterdam:Prometheus, 1998: 9-24, in particular 15-21; Dolnick, Edward. “Bredius.” in The Forger’s Spell. New York: Harper, 2008, p. 122; [obituaries:] Van Gelder, H.E. in Jaarboek Die Haghe (1931): 1-5; Vogelsang, W. in Oudheidkundig Jaarboek (= 3e serie of the Bulletin van den Nederlandschen Oudheidkundigen Bond 10 (1930): 4-9.

    Contributors: Monique Daniels


    Monique Daniels. "Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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