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Dutch Modernism: The Schiller-David Collection of Symbolism, Art Nouveau
Image of the design by Jan Toorop for the famous Delftsche Slaolie poster. © Sotheby's Images.

AMSTERDAM.-On Tuesday 5 February 2008 Sotheby’s Amsterdam will sell a wonderful collection of Dutch fine and applied arts, brought together by two American collectors: Justin G. Schiller and Dennis M. V. David. The sale, entitled Dutch Modernism: The Schiller-David Collection of Symbolism, Art Nouveau
and Art Deco, is estimated to bring €2 million.

The Beginning - The foundation for this collection was laid twenty years ago in Amsterdam, at Sotheby’s. In 1986, Justin Schiller, a well-known antiquarian book dealer from New York, and his partner Dennis David visited the Dutch capitol for a book fair. Having some spare time, they decided to stop by at Sotheby’s, where a private collection of Dutch art nouveau and art deco was on view. As Justin Schiller recalls: with catalogue in hand Dennis and I got introduced to an artistry of exotic shapes and bold imaginative combinations of color that overwhelmed us. Enchanted by their discovery, Schiller and David attended the sale and purchased the first pieces of what was to become a remarkable American collection of Dutch Modernism from the period 1880 – 1930. From then onwards, they visited Amsterdam at every opportunity, searching for new treasures to take home to their Upper East Side Manhattan apartment or their impressive Victorian mansion in Upstate New York.

The Collection - The collecting passion of Justin Schiller and Dennis David has resulted in one of the finest private collections of works by important innovators of Dutch design such as Toorop, Van Hoytema, Van der Leck, Rietveld, Colenbrander, Mendes da Costa and Nieuwenhuis. The collection comprises over 300 objects varying from paintings, drawings and prints to sculpture, ceramics and furniture. For practical reasons, the last category is the smallest. Air hostesses of the Amsterdam – New York flight were once driven up the wall by a threefold screen that the collectors brought along as hand luggage in business class.

Provenance - The fact that all works have a Dutch background never stood in the way of the American collectors. It was the opposite: they considered their collection as surprisingly international in spirit and style. Take for instance Jan Toorop, a Dutchman born on Java, whose work influenced countless contemporaries, amongst whom no-one less than the Austrian Gustav Klimt. Or the versatile designer Theodoor Colenbrander, who made an artistic alliance with German nobleman Wilhelm baron von Gudenburg to produce pottery with forms and patterns in which influences from Indonesian batik and Indian architecture can be found. Or Joseph Mendes da Costa, an artist from Portuguese- Jewish background, who captured the typical spirit of his beloved Amsterdam in his portraits of city folk.

Innovation and tradition - Although many of the works in the Schiller-David Collection breathe the Zeitgeist from the turn of the last century, they also are remarkably modern; the title Dutch Modernism refers to this. At the end of the nineteenth century the foundations were laid for important developments in the twentieth century. The striving of Symbolist artists such as Toorop to depict a world beyond reality, by using lines and symbols as ways of expression, paved the way for abstract art. As early as the 1880’s, ceramic designer Colenbrander crossed the traditional borders between the applied and fine arts by presenting himself as an artist, titling his eccentric arabesque patterns and painting them on vessels which were inspired by architecture. In the decades to follow, the symbiosis between the various arts would become an important source of inspiration for Dutch avant-garde artists such as Van der Leck and Rietveld. Interestingly, of these two artists Schiller and David decided to purchase early works on paper which predate their famous De Stijl works. In the collection, a few works by Van der Leck can be found from his symbolist period, strongly influenced by Toorop, as well as a rare poster by Rietveld, showing the influence of the Amsterdam School.

Flora and Fauna - The nineteenth-century ideals of progress and innovation had a reverse effect on many artists, who fled the industrialized cities in search of unspoiled nature. Thus, flora and fauna became a beloved subject in fin-de-siecle art and design. In the Schiller – David collection, idyllic depictions of animals in their natural habitats can be found in beautiful drawings, prints and illustrated books by Theo van Hoytema. In the collectors’ mansion and apartment, pride of place was given to Rozenburg egg-shell porcelain because of the delicately painted floral and animal motifs by artists such as Schellink and Hartgring. Animal sculpture is another strong section in the collection. Schiller and David were especially fond of the endearing monkey figures modeled by Joseph Mendes da Costa, because of their almost human postures and expressions.

The Sale - Being true collectors, Justin Schiller and Dennis David realize that nothing lasts forever; one who collects art will eventually have to part with it again. In this phase of their lives, the collectors want to sell their spacious upstate home and relocate back to Manhattan, which has necessitated them to part with many of their treasures. Not wanting to be forced to choose, they decided to sell their collection of Dutch Modernism in its entirety. The choice for an auction house and sales location was obvious: Sotheby’s Amsterdam, the place where it all began. According to independent specialist Rob Driessen, appointed by Sotheby’s as consultant for this sale, the Schiller – David collection is the best to come on the market in twenty years. The beautifully illustrated sales catalogue, which will become a collector’s item itself, will testify this.

Highlights - Paintings, Drawings, Prints - The Collection offers a large number of highlights. The original study design for the famous poster Delftsche Slaolie by Jan Toorop, 1895, executed in pen and yellow pencil, will probably fetch €70.000-100.000. An original lithograph poster of Delftsche Slaolie by Toorop is estimated €12.000-18.000. Also by Toorop is the original drawing of Paradise Lost from circa 1893, signed and inscribed “Fragment Verloren Paradijs (€60.000-90.000).

Of interest is the unique copy of the only poster ever designed by Gerrit Rietveld (€20.000-30.000). There are two original designs in gouache by Bart van der Leck for the Batavia Line, representing Cargo and Passengers (€40.000-60.000). Also by Van der Leck is the maquette for The Flax by Hans C Andersen, Amsterdam 1941 (€20.000-30.000). Two painted panels by Theo van Hoytema of Day Birds and Night Birds, made for the The Hague Kunstkring, 1892, could later be admired in the Café Riche, The Hague (€25.000-35.000). There is also a complete series of 24 signed proofs of calendars designed by Van Hoytema, 1905-09 (€10.000-15.000). The painting on panel by Lou Loeber, entitled Bouwen (Building) from 1932, in the original frame by the artist, was inspired by a mural by Gerd Arntz that is now in the Geselschafts- und Wissenschafts Museum in Vienna. Bouwen was exhibited in a.o. the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam in 1945 and in the Hague Gemeentemuseum in 1982.

Sculpture - The Bird of Prey by Johan C. Altorf, a sculpture in red brown clay from the 1920s is one of the items in the Schiller-David Collection that have also been part of the famous H.P. Bremmer Collection(€12.000-15.000). A bronze Sitting Cat by Bertha Koster is one of the only two known originals (€20.000-30.000). The Schiller- David Collection comprises the largest private collection of Works by Josef Mendes da Costa including a rare Clown,1901 (€10.000-15.000) and Javanese Princess (€18.000-22.000), the monkey sculptures Babij (€16.000-20.000), three sculptures of a seated monkey, stoneware, 1900 and 1902

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