The Man Behind the Leiden Collection

This month an exhibition of the Leiden collection opened at the Pushkin Museum. The collection belongs to a couple of collectors from New York: Thomas Kaplan and his wife, Daphne. Thomas Kaplan is the chairman of a New York City-based investment firm. Over the past fifteen years, the Kaplans put together an amazing selection of works by old Dutch masters, including Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Jan Vermeer. The Moscow Times talked to Thomas Kaplan about collecting Dutch art and the exhibition in Russia.

How do you divide your time between managing an investment firm and collecting?

Most of my time is spent on wildlife conservation, which is for me at least as great a passion as Rembrandt. Collecting itself maybe takes five percent of my time, when the opportunity arises. And then the balance would be on the family business — the investment company.

What compelled you in 2003 to start collecting Dutch art?

I found out that the art that I loved all my life could still be acquired by private collectors. I thought it was all gone — all in museums. I thought: “Well, if people are willing to sell me the art that I love, why not build a collection?” The Dutch golden age fascinates me. My educational background as a historian and a combination of passion, intellectual interest and opportunity proved to be irresistible.

Why Rembrandt?

Rembrandt to me is the greatest artist in history — not just because of his work, but also the impact that he had on the trajectory of art, by allowing artists to express themselves with unprecedented freedom. The DNA of Rembrandt can be found in Goya, Van Gogh, Picasso, Delacroix, Turner and all the way through to Russian avant-garde and Chinese contemporary art. That’s what I would call transcendent influence.

Where did you find all these Rembrandts?

Most of the Rembrandts we acquired through private sales, which is my preference. I prefer the intimacy of a private transaction through dealers than auctions. If I need to compete at an auction, I will do it, but it’s my second option, Plan B. We would send out the dealers and tell them to look for what we like. There’s no guarantee that we’d buy everything that we like but if we see it we’ll give the answer within hours. And on occasion, we’d know that paintings are in private hands and we’d ask the owners if they’d be willing to sell.

Have you had cases when people tried to sell you fake Rembrandts?

I’ve actually had cases when people tried to sell me Rembrandts I already owned! They weren’t fake, but they didn’t know that I already bought them. There had been times when people tried to sell us paintings that were not by the artists that they claimed to be. Most of the time I don’t believe that they were being dishonest; they just didn’t understand that what they owned was not by Rembrandt. I actually think that with the old masters it’s easier to buy something that can be confirmed to be real than with modern art. There are more fakes in modern art than there are in old masters.

Do you collect any other art?

Our collecting began with my wife collecting 20th century design, in particular modernist furniture, primarily from European countries. I like to joke with her that she opened the door to my own obsession, which is old masters. That’s where we remain; we are not collecting anything else.