Louisa Holthuysen

Louisa Holthuysen (1824–1895) was born in Amsterdam, the only child of Pieter Gerard Holthuysen and Sandrina Louise Lepeltak. Louisa was particularly close to her father, who had made his fortune as a merchant of plate glass and English coal.

Her father’s passion for travel meant that the small family travelled extensively around Europe. Between 1833 and 1856, they took at least one trip a year, travelling by coach, train and ship – always accompanied by their staff and pet dogs. 

In 1855, the Holthuysens purchased Herengracht 605 – the building that now houses Museum Willet-Holthuysen. Mrs Holthuysen passed away suddenly in 1856 and two years later, Louisa also bade farewell to her father. She inherited the family home and its contents, and lived in the canal-side house until 1861 with her pets, lady's companion Mathilde Kleinmann and the rest of her staff. In 1861, Louisa married Abraham Willet, and together they redecorated the house in the prevailing French fashion, sparing no expense or effort.

Louisa was passionate about art, theatre and literature. This fondness can be traced back to her father; during family trips abroad, they visited numerous public art collections. In the evenings, Louisa would often accompany Abraham to concerts, the theatre or the opera. She also contributed to the expanding art collection in their house, particularly by acquiring paintings by contemporary French and Dutch masters: genre and animal paintings, and floral still lifes. Her most expensive purchase was a pronkstilleven (ornate still life) by Blaise Alexandre Desgoffe, for which she parted with no less than 5,000 guilders. 

Louisa’s day-to-day contact with the outside world consisted of activities including shopping expeditions with her lady's companion, walks with her dogs and receiving guests. Louisa outlived Abraham by a few years. They did not have any children together. Following her death in 1895, she bequeathed the house, its contents and the collection to the City of Amsterdam, on the condition that the building became a museum bearing the Willet-Holthuysen name.