Alphonsus Petrus Antonius Vorenkamp (1898-1953)
Professor and museum director Alphonsus Petrus Antonius Vorenkamp was born on May 3, 1898 in the Netherlands. His interest in collecting began at a young age, driven by his own curiosity and an innate appreciation for objects of beauty. He attended the Gymnasium in Leeuwarden before studying law at Leiden University. In 1926 he moved to the United States to teach art history at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. He took a sabbatical leave from teaching in 1933 to briefly return to the Netherlands to complete his Ph.D. at Leiden University. He then returned to Smith College and was promoted to full professor in 1939.
Just before the start of World War II, Vorenkamp once again took a sabbatical to return to the Netherlands to conduct research on Rembrandt. He was thus in Holland during the German invasion on May 1940, and was forced to escape via Italy before boarding a boat to the United States. There, he helped Desi Goudstikker, widow of the late Dutch Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, store sixteen of her husband’s paintings at Smith College from 1940 to 1946.
Vorenkamp served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1943, but retained his Dutch citizenship for the rest of his life. In May 1945, due to his extensive knowledge of Dutch and Flemish art, he was selected by the Dutch government to assist in the Dutch restitution effort. He was sent to Germany as a lieutenant colonel in the Royal Dutch Army and worked at the General Commissary for Economic Interests in Germany, where he was tasked with compiling extensive lists of works of art and other cultural objects looted from Holland by the Nazis. With these lists in hand, he traveled to the Munich Central Collecting Point to work alongside the MFAA as Chief Liaison Officer to the Netherlands.
Vorenkamp was also instrumental in the planning of the 1946 exhibition, “Paintings Looted from Holland, Returned through the Efforts of the United States Forces,” arranged by the Dutch government as a symbolic gesture of appreciation to the United States. The exhibition, which included forty-eight priceless Dutch paintings, opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in December 1946. After a much success in Washington, the traveling show was displayed in fourteen other museums across the United States whose staff had served with the MFAA. Vorenkamp later said, “I thought it fitting that Dutch paintings should convey the thanks of the Dutch people. These are just a few flowers from a large bouquet.” That same year, he was knighted in the Order of the Dutch Lion.
Vorenkamp returned to Smith College in late 1946 but resigned one year later to become Director of the Boymans Museum in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. He later served as Director of the Museum of Antiquities for the Province and City of Groningen, his hometown. In addition to his continued lectures as a professor of art at multiple universities, he was named Inspector for the Protection of Art, Vice Chairman of the Art Council, and Member of the Commission for Provincial Cultural Awards.
Alphonse Vorenkamp died on August 18, 1953 in Groningen, the Netherlands.