10 August 2017 | New York-Rotterdam

Seven months after his younger brother Paul, Egbert Haverkamp Begemann, the éminence grise of art history, passed away in New York on 5 August, aged 94. Begemann was born in Naarden, Holland, in 1923 and spent his early youth in the colony Kemerovo (Siberia) and Moscow until his idealist father decided to return to the Netherlands in the mid-1930s and settled in Haarlem. After studying Art History at the University of Amsterdam under professor Dr. J.Q. van Regteren Altena, he was appointed curator of drawings and paintings at the Museum Boymans (now Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen) in Rotterdam in 1950. Eight years later, in December 1958, he received his PhD at Utrecht University from professor Dr. Jan G. van Gelder (his Boymans pre-predecessor). In January 1959 Begemann left the Netherlands for the USA with his American wife (whom he had married in Amsterdam in 1954) and three young children. It was Princetonian professor Erwin Panofsky, visiting Rotterdam on the occasion of the Rembrandt exhibition in 1956, who had suggested him to send him a letter whenever he felt the urge to move West. After short stints as a lecturer at Princeton and at Harvard, he served at Yale for 14 years as both full professor and curator of prints & drawings at the University Art Gallery, before moving to New York, where he was appointed professor at the Institute of Fine Arts in 1978.  After his (legally forced) retirement at age 65 (which he personally regretted), Begemann continued his active involvement in the curriculum, lecturing and working in his small, book-crammed study on the top floor of the Institute for more than two decades.

Professor Begemann is famed for the series of excellent students he educated, his art-historical off-spring (whose preponderance of young women led to the nickname ‘Begettes’). He specialized in Dutch and Flemish painting and drawing and is the author or editor of numerous publications in this field, including the series of 14 scholarly catalogues of the Robert Lehman Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1980-2014). He was one of two founding Associate Editors of the periodical Master Drawings (1963), a revival of the earlier journal Old Master Drawings (1926–40), whose adjective ‘Old’ was dropped on his insistence, and he played an important role on the Master Drawings Editorial Board until his resignation in 2002. Tirelessly, he served as acting head of Drawings and Prints at the Pierpont Morgan Library from 2001 to 2004.

During the almost 60 years after his departure to the USA, Begemann kept in contact with his successors at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, regularly inquiring about the ongoing research, acquisitions, exhibitions and the attempts to recover missing drawings from the Koenigs Collection from Russia. As he repeatedly stated, the Rotterdam collection always stayed his primary point of reference. For this reason, the catalogue to the exhibition Bosch to Bloemaert. Early Netherlandish Drawings from the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (venues in Paris, Fondation Custodia, 2014 and Washington, National Gallery of Art, 8 Oct. 2017- 7 Jan. 2018) is dedicated to Egbert Haverkamp Begemann. Also recently dedicated to him was the catalogue to the monographic exhibition on Hercules Segers (the subject of another of his early publications) recently held at the Rijksmuseum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2016-17).

Concluding this obituary, a quote from Gary Schwartz, who received much assistance from Begemann when founding the international network of Curators of Dutch and Flemish Art (CODART) in 1998, especially involving art historians from Russia: “All of us who have worked with him have benefitted immensely from Haverkamp Begemann’s readiness to cooperate on worthwhile projects and to endow them with the extra historical and personal dimensions that only he can provide. He is the only member of the older generation who continues to fill this essential role so consistently. It is a blessing for all of us that he does so, and that he does it so graciously and so well.” (source)

Egbert Haverkamp Begemann was an Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau and a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW), since 1978.

[ Albert Elen ]

See also the obituaries in The New York Times, on the Historians of Netherlandish Art website and the CODART website.