A Collector of People and Places June 4, 2012

“You’ll never regret this,” the seller told him.

That’s what art collector George Abrams remembers from his first Rembrandt purchase. Now, five decades later, selections from the Maida and George Abrams collection comprise the exhibition Drawings by Rembrandt, His Students, and Circle. This show marks the first time drawings by Rembrandt and his circle have been presented as an exhibition in Houston.

On a private tour of the galleries, members of the MFAH patron group Art + Paper had the unique opportunity to hear George Abrams’s lively anecdotes about each of the works.

“I like paintings, but I love drawings,” says Abrams, who lives in Boston. “Drawings are an acquired taste, like martinis. You may not like them, but you can grow to love them.”

For Abrams, one of the great things about drawings is that they are often more spontaneous than paintings and reflect the thinking of the artist at a particular moment or time. Drawings are also intimately involved with the creative process, often at the earliest stages. These qualities are perhaps nowhere more apparent than in Rembrandt’s works. Rembrandt was devoted to drawing from life and capturing human emotions in fleeting moments of expression. The artist often assigned his students to portray climactic moments from biblical stories, thus maximizing the expressive potential of drawing.

Maida and George Abrams showed this same devotion to human emotions when they started their collection, acquiring figurative works of people who are fishing, sewing, farming, dancing, and engaging in other everyday activities. In essence, the Abramses were people collectors, as Paul Sachs, former associate director of the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard, pointed out to them.

The couple did some reevaluating and began to collect more landscape drawings. Today, landscapes are one of the strongest areas of their collection. Among the exhibition's highlights are beautiful examples by Rembrandt as well as Lambert Doomer, Abraham Furnerius, and Jan Lievens.

With nine works by Rembrandt and nearly 50 sheets by his pupils and followers, the exhibition spans this range of subject matter. George Abrams says his favorites include Rembrandt’s Four Studies of Male Heads, Doomer’s Two Bactrian Camels in a River Landscape, and Gerbrand van den Eeckhout’s Woman Doing Handwork. "But in some ways the drawings are like children; it is hard to list favorites,” he adds.

More than 50 years after Abrams purchased his first drawing, it’s clear to see he doesn’t regret it for a minute. He encouraged the budding collectors in Art + Paper by letting them know that even they can buy great drawings. “Maybe not Rembrandt, but ones that move you.”