Ary Robert (Bob) de Vries (1905-1983)
Museum director and art historian, Ary Robert (Bob) de Vries was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on October 26, 1905. His studied art history in locations across Europe, including Paris, Vienna, and Rome, where he spent one year as an assistant at the Netherlands Historich Institut (today, The Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome, KNIR). In 1934 he began working at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam while completing his doctoral degree in sixteenth-century North Netherlandish portraits. De Vries spent the next six years studying the great Dutch masterpieces firsthand. His in-depth examination of the works of Johannes Vermeer resulted in a published monograph on the artist, Jan Vermeer van Delft (1939), which remains a highly regarded source for contemporary scholars.
Following the German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940, the Nazis cleansed the Dutch museums of all staff members with Jewish ancestry. De Vries was dismissed from his post at the Rijksmuseum and later fled to Switzerland. His family settled in London, where he began working for the exiled Dutch government. Using his encyclopedic knowledge of the locations of Dutch-owned art, he compiled lists of missing Dutch cultural objects. He helped in the early planning stages of the Dutch restitution effort and selected the Dutch Restitution Officers, many of whom were noted art scholars and curators.
As Dutch-owned works of art, archives, and libraries were discovered in art repositories across Germany and Austria, each object was identified by the Restitution Officers, who accepted them on behalf of the Dutch Government. In June 1945 de Vries helped establish the Stichting Nederlandish Kunstbezit (the Foundation for Netherlands Artistic Property) with fellow Dutch Monuments Man Jonkheer David C. Roell. As Secretary-Director in Amsterdam, de Vries and his staff received and evaluated all restitution claims submitted by Dutch citizens anxious for the return of their looted property.
In 1946 de Vries returned to the Netherlands as Director of the Mauritshuis (the Royal Cabinet of Paintings) in The Hague. During his twenty-five year tenure as Director, de Vries expanded the collection of the Mauritshuis with the best examples of Dutch art available on the market. Through both gifts and purchases, he added still lifes, self-portraits, and architectural drawings to the collection by such noted artists as Peter Paul Rubens, Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Jan Steen, and Pieter de Hooch. De Vries also mounted several successful exhibitions, including Masterpieces of the Dutch School from the Collection of H.M. the King of England (1948), Jan Steen (1958), In the Light of Vermeer(1966), Goya (1970), and The Shock of Recognition (1971). In celebration of his retirement in 1970, the museum held the exhibition “25 Years of Acquisitions, 1945-1970” as a testimonial to de Vries’s “taste, artistic judgment, and unstinting energy.” In addition to his work at the Mauritshuis, De Vries also served as Director of the Netherlands Institute for Art History (the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorisches Documentatie, RKD) from 1946 to 1954, and of the Rijksmuseum H. W. Mesdag from 1954 to 1970.
A.B. de Vries died in the Netherlands on November 10, 1983.