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Abraham Willet

Abraham Willet (1825–1888) grew up in a well-do-to, artistic doctor’s family. The Willet family – comprising Abraham’s parents, older brother Dirk and sisters Kee and Margot – lived in a spacious house at Keizersgracht 522 in Amsterdam. This was also the location of Willet Senior’s flourishing doctor’s practice. 

Abraham – ‘Bram’ to his friends – developed an interest in art and literature at an early age. His father owned an extensive library and a collection of paintings including works by contemporary Dutch masters, primarily landscapes and still lifes.

Abraham studied law in Leiden but left university early following the death of his father in 1851. After all, with his share of the inheritance, he could pursue his passion: collecting art. Abraham was known for living beyond his means. His old friend Maurits van Lennep described him as “good-natured, but a spendthrift and a compulsive buyer, so that he went bankrupt every couple of years”.

In 1861, Abraham married Louisa Holthuysen. They had known each other for years, but her father was not keen on a son-in-law with no social standing, who spent money like water and who occasionally led a bohemian lifestyle in Paris. But when Mr Holthuysen passed away in 1858, there was nothing to stand in the couple’s way. They were married on 17 July 1861, both at the age of 36. Their union was subject to a marriage contract, which meant that Louisa retained complete control of her possessions. However, her ledger reveals that she provided her husband with 40,000 guilders a year.

The couple moved into Herengracht 605, redecorating the house in the latest French fashion. Abraham remained a bon vivant for the rest of his life; he was a fervent theatregoer and regularly dined out in the city with friends. He was also a very familiar face in Amsterdam’s cultural scene. He became a member of the artist's society Arti et Amicitiae in 1851. In 1869, he was appointed an honorary member following his involvement in the ‘Exhibition of Weapons’, which he organised and designed, and also loaned his own works. Abraham also organised art viewings for a select group of artistically-inclined friends at the house on the Herengracht. The men would gather round the large table in the gentlemen’s parlour to examine portfolios of drawings, prints and photographs. 

In the years before his death, Abraham increasingly withdrew from large groups. He died from pulmonary disease in 1888, at the age of 63. A few days after his death, he was interred in the Holthuysens’ crypt at the First General Cemetery in Utrecht.