Katharine Fremantle Archive

 Archief Katharine Fremantle

The Katharine Fremantle archive arrived at the RKD in the autumn of 2019, as a gift from the couple Jan and Els Jimkes-Verkade from Utrecht.

A distinguished provenance

A substantial part of the Katharine Fremantle archive consists of correspondence, especially the many letters from Johannes Wilde (1891-1970), Jan van Gelder (1903-1980, during the Second World War director of the RKD), Elisabeth Dhanens (1915-2014) and Kerry Downes (1930-2019); sometimes Fremantle’s replies are also included. Kay Fremantle was born in Swanbourne in the UK in 1919, but she spent by far the largest part of her life in Holland, where she died in 2018. She was the daughter of Thomas Francis Lord Fremantle, 3rd Baron Cottesloe (1862-1956) and Florence Tapling (1875-1956), and so she had aristocratic origins. By moving to Holland she was able to escape from the constraints of that background. She worked first for the University of Utrecht, and later for the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Johannes Wilde and Jan van Gelder

Fremantle’s greatest achievement in art history is her dissertation about the Town Hall of Amsterdam which she completed at the Courtauld Institute in London under Wilde in 1956. This work, enlarged for publication, was published three years later, largely due to Van Gelder. What had begun as conventional research into sculpture that had hardly been studied, developed into a pioneering cultural-historical publication which has remained the standard work for all working on the Town Hall on the Dam. This development can be followed in the correspondence with Wilde and Van Gelder, two eminent, and original art historians with wide-ranging interests. It was also through the encouragement of Van Gelder that she undertook to publish the illustrated journal of the travels in 1711 of the English painter James Thornhill through the Low Countries (1975).

Elisabeth Dhanens and Kerry Downes

The correspondence with Elisabeth Dhanens runs from 1966 until 2014. There were two loves that they shared, and which took them on journeys together: art history and gardens. But there was a great difference between the two women: while Fremantle did little further research after working on Thornhill, Dhanens continued producing important and wide-ranging publications about the art of the Southern Low Counties. Her letters contain frequent mentions of her research into Van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Hugo van der Goes, but also glass painting in Ghent, and Giambologna. The correspondence between Fremantle and her younger fellow student, Downes, stretches over an even longer period: 1950-2016. Downes was a talented draughtsman, and in his letters, which are often enlivened with drawings, we can follow the ups-and-downs of the Courtauld Institute, including the unmasking of Blunt as a double agent, as well as his own research, exhibitions etc. Downes worked mainly on architecture, but also on painting. For example, he wrote a book about Rubens, using his own drawings to illustrate the original context for Rubens’s altarpieces.

 Archief Katharine Fremantle
Kay Fremantle in 1951, in 1960 (on the roof of Chartres Cathedral) and in 2010.