The Monuments Men

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Karel Gerald Boon ( 1909-1996 )

Karel Gerard Boon was a noted museum director and expert on Dutch prints. Born in Lawang, Indonesia in 1909, he studied art history at Amsterdam University in the Netherlands before completing his studies in Paris at the Sorbonne and the École du Louvre. He began his museum career as a volunteer at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where he caught the attention of M.D. Henkel, the museum’s Keeper of Drawings. Impressed with Boon’s discerning eye and knowledge of Dutch art, Henkel took Boon under his wing and made him his assistant. Under the tutelage of Henkel, Boon developed an interest for late fifteenth-century prints, a fascination which dictated the rest of his career. In 1940 Boon was appointed as an assistant at the Municipal Museum of The Hague, where he helped create Algemeene Kunstgeschiedenis (1941), a six-volume Dutch survey of art history.

Following their invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940, the Nazis purged Dutch museums of all staff members with Jewish ancestry. Although Boon himself was not Jewish, it angered him to witness the disrespect shown to his colleagues and friends. He finally resigned in protest in 1942, and then went into hiding along with his wife, who was of Jewish descent. In early 1945 Boon joined the newly-established Stichting Nederlandish Kunstbezit (the Foundation for Netherlands Artistic Property), the organization tasked by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Fine Arts, and Science to recover looted Dutch cultural property. He visited the various collecting points for looted art, examining many Dutch-owned works and identifying lesser-known prints.

Boon continued his involvement with the Dutch restitution effort until 1948. He then worked at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht and the Print Room at Leiden University, both in the Netherlands. In 1948 Boon returned to the Rijksmuseum as Curator of Prints, beginning a twenty-six year career which included his appointment to Director of the Print Room in 1962. During his tenure as director, he oversaw the acquisition of valuable drawings and prints from noted Dutch artists as well as foreign schools, expanding the collection into one of the largest and most well-respected print collections in the world. Boon also curated a number of successful exhibitions on all manner of prints, including medieval drawings, Japanese woodcuts, Italian drawings, the drawings of Francisco Goya, and nineteenth-century French prints. In addition to numerous exhibition catalogues, Boon published Netherlandish Drawings of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries (1978) and catalogues of the prints of several artists, including Rembrandt, Goya, and Hercules Seghers. In honor of his retirement in 1974, the Rijksmuseum held a special exhibition, Veelzijdig verzameld (“Accumulated Versatility”), which showcased the wide diversity of Boon’s most notable acquisitions.

Karel Boon died in Haarlem in 1996.