Ambassador Nicolaas Arie Johannes de Voogd was a Dutch citizen, spoke seven languages including Mandarin, Chinese and Japanese, and served in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs between 1930 and 1966. During this time, he was sent around the world to serve in ambassadorial positions on behalf of the Netherlands, during some of the most turbulent and fascinating decades of the 20th Century.
His first position was with the Netherlands Consulate in Kobe as Consul and official translator, a post which lasted from 1930 to 1942. It was during this time in Kobe that Mr de Voogd and his wife Amarintia began collecting Japanese works of art including prints, netsuke, paintings and Imari wares. During the Second World War much of this collection was stored in Kobe, where some pieces were damaged in bombings but remarkably, most survived. Upon their departure, he was given a joint gift from the offices of the Dutch Ambassador of Tokyo, the Consul-General of Kobe and the Consuls of Yokohama and Seoul of a four-fold screen depicting a Dutch ship at Deshima in the 1660s, a fitting gift and a mark of great respect and admiration.
In 1940, he was part of a plan between a small group of Dutch nationals to help as many Jews escape from Poland and Lithuania as possible. At this time, Russia was willing to accept Jewish people into the country as long as they had a visa to Japan on the other side. One Japanese national, Chiune Sugihara, who was Vice-Consul in Kaunas, Lithuania at this time, was willing to provide visas for entry to Japan despite being ordered to the contrary, and Nicolaas de Voogd was instrumental in obtaining further visas for Curacao, also illegally, thereby assisting many Jews to leave Harbin and Vladivostock. It is estimated that as many as four thousand Jewish people were saved through this concerted, clandestine effort.
After the war, and after some further postings in New York and Manila, he was posted as Consul in Nanjing in 1948 to 1950, and then as Consul General in Beijing from 1950 to 1951. Not only were Nicolaas and his wife and children present to bear witness to this great period of change in China in 1949, but he is also now known to have been instrumental in fostering mutual understanding and recognition between the Netherlands and the newly formed People’s Republic of China.
This was the time when the de Voogd collection really flourished, with good pieces surfacing regularly in the markets of Beijing. Travelling merchants brought pieces of great quality directly to the doors of the Dutch Embassy, where the de Voogd family were keen buyers.
After leaving China in 1951, Nicolaas was posted to Canberra and then Bangkok, and finally elevated to Minister of Foreign Affairs in The Hague where he served until 1960. The final posting from 1960 to 1964 was back in Japan, but this time in Tokyo where he served as Ambassador for the Netherlands.
After this, he decided to move his family to Australia, where the collection has been enjoyed in the family home ever since. We look forward to offering this collection at our upcoming Asian Art auction on 23 June.
CARL WANTRUP / Asian Art Specialist