|COLLECTORS WITH PANACHE
A diplomat discovers an underappreciated art.
Diplomat. Philanthropist. Winemaker. Art collector. Ambassador
John L. Loeb, Jr., scion of the distinguished Loeb and Lehman
banking families, has continued the family tradition of making
his mark in many fields.
Otto Bache, Flag Day in Copenhagen on a Summer Day,
in Vimmelskaftet, after 1892, oil on canvas.
Ambassador John L. Loeb, Jr.
Vilhelm Hammershøi, Interior, Strandgade 30,
1899, oil on canvas.
Peder Severin Krøyer, Self-Portrait, Sitting
by Easel at Skagen Beach, 1902, oil on panel.
Paintings of the 19th Century
From the Collection of Ambassador John
L. Loeb, Jr.
19 – June 19
Bruce Museum of Arts and Science
Twenty-four years ago, while serving as U.S. Ambassador to
the Kingdom of Denmark, Loeb recognized an opportunity and
has since built the most comprehensive collection of 19th-century
Danish art outside of Denmark, significantly enhancing the
appreciation for the art of this period in the process. Thirty-four
pieces from his remarkable collection will be displayed in
March at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, affording the
public a rare opportunity to view these works.
In an interview with Panache, Ambassador Loeb recounts how
he became the leading collector of this art.
When you were U.S. Ambassador to Denmark you began
collecting Danish art. How did you become interested in it?
In Denmark, Jacob Asbaek, who runs the most important gallery
of contemporary art, invited me to exhibitions of new Danish
art every few weeks. The pictures were quite fascinating and
very reasonable. So to reach out to the community I began
to buy the works of these artists.
The word got around that I was interested in Danish art. Mr.
and Mrs. Jesper Rasmussen of the Rasmussen auction house,
the Sotheby's/Christie's of Denmark, began sending
me their catalogs. The pictures were extremely decorative
and beautiful – wonderful landscapes, interiors and
seascapes, à la Hudson River School. I started attending
auctions and buying paintings.
Then I discovered what was probably the most important collection
of Danish art, assembled by a very successful businessman
and tobacco merchant called Hirschsprung. I visited the Hirschsprung
Museum many times and studied the catalog on his collection
very carefully. As I continued collecting, I wouldn't
buy a picture by a painter not represented in his collection.
Many works by the painters he had bought came up for auction.
At that time very few Danes were buying their own 19th-century
art. So gradually I began to collect and continued when I
How is it that the Danes did not collect their own
In America, many people would buy pictures after they made
money. This really wasn't done in Denmark. People kept
a very low profile and lived modestly even if they were rich
and successful. When they did collect, they tended to look
Has that changed?
A great deal. That was also a period when Denmark was in considerable
financial difficulty. A lot has improved over the years. As
I (and others) began to buy Danish art, the Danes began to
get a lot more interested in it. I bought a Hammershøi
anonymously from America in 1984, paying the highest price
for a Danish work of art, which was 84,000 American dollars.
There was a lot of publicity about who could possibly have
been so mad as to pay such an unbelievable price.
What about Hammershøi's work appeals
It has a Whistler and a Vermeer quality. There is a peace
but also a sadness and a particularly strong mystical quality
that is a special Danish quality. Hammershøi was uniquely
Danish and uniquely himself.
Many of the Danish Golden Age painters [1790-1850]
were said to be very influenced by other European artists
and lack that unique Danish quality that you speak about.
The Golden Age artists were much more precise and detailed
in their painting. There had been criticism of Danish art
being somewhat imitative of European art. But subsequent to
the Golden Age, starting in the late 1850s, there was a movement
in Denmark to reject what was “the rest of Europe.”
I think that's where Hammershøi comes in. Maybe
that's also subconsciously why I didn't buy as
many Golden Age paintings – they are more formalistic
and a bit colder.
However, the Golden Age painter I absolutely love is J.L.
Jensen. I have 12 of his most beautiful flower pictures.
Did you buy mostly at auction or through a private
I bought the majority of work at auction and at Rasmussen's.
I did buy some privately and one or two pictures in England.
In the 80s both Christie's and Sotheby's had evenings
where they auctioned only pictures from Scandinavia.
Was the majority of the collection built during your
years as Ambassador?
No. I bought only ten percent of the pictures from 1981 through
1983 when I was there, the majority since I returned to America.
I learned much more about Danish art subsequent to my being
in Denmark. I was very influenced by Kirk Varnedoe, a professor
at NYU. In 1982 he curated an exhibition of some of the greatest
pictures from the Scandinavian countries. It gave credibility
to Scandinavian art in America as well as the rest of the
Did you consciously try to build a collection of Danish artwork?
I first started buying on an unplanned, ad hoc basis. But
as I went forward and realized that I was one of the leading
Danish art collectors, I thought it would be fun to put together
a collection and, in a small way, trace the history of Danish
art from Abildgaard to contemporary times.
Are you still buying these paintings?
Yes, but less and less. Not too long ago I bought a work by
Anna Ancher, a Skagen artist and wife of artist Michael Ancher.
It is a picture of three women walking to church in Skagen.
About a year ago, there was a small exhibition of Eckersberg,
one of the most important Golden Age painters, at the National
Gallery in Washington, DC. One of his most famous paintings
is a nude model looking into a mirror. It's a small
picture but one of the most classical images in Denmark. Recently
I bought a very large version of the same model by L.A. Smith,
one of his pupils.
I now have 128 pieces of art from 63 artists – 126 paintings
and 2 sculptures. We have been putting together a catalog
for the last five years with three of the top scholars in
Denmark. These women have researched everything I bought and
have written about each painting and artist. The catalog is
being printed now.
I've always enjoyed collecting everything from old coins
to toy soldiers to art. If you are a collector, you like to
you still have any of your other collections?
The only other collection that I still have is packed up for
my grandson – English toy soldiers that I collected
in the 30s. At the moment, though, he is only interested in
credit: Courtesy of Ambassador John L. Loeb, Jr.