A Transformative Gift of Dutch Drawings

George Abrams ’54, J.D. ’57, donates his collection to the Harvard Art Museums. 

Four Tulips, a nature study by Jacob MarrelCourtesy of the Harvard Art Museums
Four Studies of Male Heads, c. 1636, by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn Courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums

Read the 1992 cover story “Dutch Treats,” on an earlier exhibit of Dutch masterworks from George and Maida Abrams’s collection. 

The Harvard Art Museums have received 330 seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish master drawings—according to the museum, the finest private collection of such images anywhere—from George Abrams ’54, J.D. ’57. His gift includes work by more than 100 artists, including Rembrandt and de Gheyn, as well as lesser known names, and will distinguish Harvard and the Boston area as a top site for the study of Dutch art outside Europe.

Almost exactly 25 years ago, the Fogg Art Museum presented an exhibition of Dutch master drawings from the collection of Abrams and his late wife, Maida Abrams (featured in a 1992 cover story in this magazine); in 1999, it received a gift of 110 drawings from Abrams. The new gift includes most of the remaining pieces in the collection. Abrams, a corporate lawyer who spent his career in Boston, fell in love with Dutch art as a law student, during summer trips to Holland in 1955 and 1956, and he and his wife began collecting in the 1960s, when such small works were relatively cheap. The couple was drawn to them, in part, because they conveyed closeness to the artists. Abrams noted in 1992 that “Dutch art, in particular drawings and paintings, tells us an enormous amount about what life was like, in part because the Dutch loved to depict everyday things.”

The Abrams collection is particularly strong in genre drawings (representations of scenes from everyday life among both the upper and lower classes); studies of nature; and work by Rembrandt and his followers. It augments the Harvard Art Museums’ existing collection of 24,000 European and American drawings, including notable holdings from France and the Italian Renaissance.

“The Harvard Art Museums’ support of original scholarship and their dedication to training tomorrow’s leaders in the field have long been important to me and my late wife, Maida,” Abrams said in a press release. “As a result, I am delighted that our collection will now be housed at the museums and available to a range of audiences. With leadership from director Martha Tedeschi, who deeply understands the importance of works on paper, the museums now stand to have the leading Dutch drawings collection in the United States.”   

“The latest gift from the Abrams family is truly transformative for our museums—indeed, for the entire Boston area, especially as the city strives to become a major destination for the study and presentation of Dutch, Flemish, and Netherlandish art,” said Tedeschi, Cabot director of the Harvard Art Museums. “Together with the newly founded Center for Netherlandish Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, we now can pursue institutional collaborations that will serve visitors and scholars from around the world,” she added, referring to the gift last month of more than 100 Dutch Golden Age paintings to the Museum of Fine Arts.

A daylong symposium was held Saturday in Abrams’s honor; in an earlier ceremony, he was named by the Kingdom of the Netherlands a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau for his contributions to the study of Dutch art. A related exhibition, The Art of Drawing in the Dutch Golden Age, includes pieces from the collection and is on display at the museums through January 14. 

Read more articles by Marina N. Bolotnikova

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