Collectors Share Insight on How Old Master Paintings Are Still Relevant in Today’s World

Old Master refers to paintings or drawings created by great European painters before the 19th century. Many of us may find it hard to relate ourselves to these works created from a long time ago since the cultural background was so far from what we see in today’s world. Then why do people collect Old Master paintings, something that seems so irrelevant to people living in the modern world?

Dennis Albada Jelgersm

During the Christie’s preview in Hong Kong, we talked to two young collectors of Old Master paintings, Dennis Albada Jelgersma and Derk Albada Jelgersma, sons of Eric Albada Jelgersma (1939-2018). Their father, Dutch entrepreneur and owner of Château Giscours and Château du Terte in Margaux, started collecting Old Master paintings 50 years ago. Part of his collection will be auctioned at Christie’s in London. The brothers, together with their good friend Amjad Rauf, Director of European Private Collections, Christie’s, share insights with us on how Old Master paintings are still relevant even in today’s world.

Dutch entrepreneur and owner of Château Giscours and Château du Terte in Margaux, Eric Albada Jelgersma

Q: You two are young collectors. Why are you interested in collecting Old Master paintings?

Derk: My father was an avid collector of Old Master and we were brought up in an environment with his collection. We grew to appreciate Flemish and Dutch old masters. They get into our veins. Being a Dutch, we feel like Dutch paintings are part of our Dutch legacy and we are very proud of that.

Dennis: My father was even younger than I am when he started collecting Old Master 50 years ago. Old Master paintings are also decorative. We mix Old Master paintings together with modern artistic style in our house.

Zero movement calls for simple forms and colours

Q: What kind of combination do you have in your house?

Derk: We collect works of Zero movement, which started from the late 50s. We also collect works by great Chinese artists. We put them alongside Old Master paintings and they work very well together.

Amjad: Old Master paintings are abundant of colours whereas Zero Movement works have no colour. It’s interesting to see two completely opposite things are put together to create that kind of powerful artistic effect.

Dennis Albada Jelgersma and Amjad Rauf

Judith Leyster. Merry Company|£1,500,000 - 2,500,000

Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder. Flowers in a Berkemeier Glass on a Stone Ledge|£800,000 - 1,200,000

Q: There are different kinds of Old Master paintings. How do you decide which one to go which places in your house?

Derk: Take my father’s collection as an example. We have the flower painting by the Elder Ambrosius Bosschaert (1573-1621) in our dining room. It is a beautiful work showing a bouquet of flowers and butterflies, a wonderful work to decorate the dining room.

Dennis: Judith Leyster (1609-1660)’s Merry Company shows happiness of people in 400 years ago. It makes people feel so happy and excited by looking at it. I can identify myself with the painting. And we put it in the living room.

Derk: We have some formal paintings on the hall to welcome people. Such as the two portraits by Frans Hals (1582-1666). So when people come to the house and see these paintings, they would be impressed.

Derk Albada Jelgersm

Gerrit van Honthorst. Allegory of Love|£500,000 - 800,000

Q: Do you two have any strategy for collecing Old Master paintings?

Dennis: We don’t really have any strategy to buy works by specific artists or from any period. We go to big art fairs in Europe, museums, auctions, as a family. It’s more about enjoying the family moment. And when you see something very peculiar and beautiful at auctions, you have a feeling that the work could be yours.

Amjad: Your father was very passionate about collecting Old Master paintings and he had many great pieces of work from Dutch and Flemish artists. And your mother was very talented and tried to create a context by mixing them with silverware, sculptures and other important pieces of furniture. It’s like living with art. Art is not necessarily as formal as we see in museums. It can be integrated into your life.  

Jan Breughel, the Elder. An Extensive Wooded Landscape With Travellers on a Road, a Church in the Distance|£3,000,000 - 5,000,000

Amjad Rauf

Q: Many Old Master paintings are inspired by religious or mythological stories. Do you usually try to understand the stories before you decide whether to buy them?

Dennis: It’s more about following your heart. If you really like it, the work touches you. That’s the most important part.

Amjad: Of course it’s good if one has the knowledge of the work and the ability to appreciate it. But sometimes, the work of art speaks to you even if you don’t have the knowledge or any information about it. For instance, in areas which I don’t really understand, like Asian Art, I can connect myself with some great works of art even when I don’t have any knowledge of it.

Derk: Besides the stories of the artworks, I am also fascinated by the stories of collectors who once owned the works. It’s interesting to see how the work attracted certain people or collectors in the past and how it is still able to draw certain people today.

Frans Hals. Portrait of a gentleman, aged 37; and Portrait of a Lady, aged 36|£8,000,000 - 12,000,000

Frans Hals. Portrait of a gentleman, aged 37; and Portrait of a Lady, aged 36|£8,000,000 - 12,000,000

Q: We often see portraits in Old Master. But most of people depicted are complete strangers to us. What interests you about collecting portraits of people you don’t even know?

Dennis: They are like photographs from 400 years ago. They record someone who once actually lived. Maybe he is a nobleman, a merchant, or an important figure at that time. These portraits are taken as a legacy, something they could pass down to their next generations.

Amjad: Like these two portraits, we know who the painter is, when did he create these portraits, and the ages of people depicted here. The portraits open a door for us to take a glimpse of people in the past.

Derk: We don't know who they are, but I like the sense of secrecy and mystery when I look at them.

Q: Some Asian buyers who are interested in Old Master have found it hard to develop links between themselves and Old Master. What’s your advice?

Dennis: Old Master was made in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age when Dutch trade was flourishing. The Dutch had business with Asian countries like China, Japan, as well as other parts of Southeast Asia. In a way, Old Master paintings created at that period are also related to Asia.

Derk: We can see Chinese influences on Western fabrics, textiles, ceramics and furniture. Europeans also collect Asian art and mix them with contemporary and modern art or Old Master. So you see, there is no border for art.

Auction details

Auction house: Christie’s London
Sale: Important Old Master Paintings from The Eric Albada Jelgersma Collection: Evening sale
Lots offered: 40
3 December 2018|9am - 4:30pm
4 December 2018|9am - 8pm
5 December 2018|9am - 4:30pm
6 December 2018|9am - 3pm
Sale date: 6 December 2018|6pm