Italian artists in the Lederer collection

Well-known collector and arts writer Sándor Lederer (1854–1924) earned his degree in engineering at the technical university of Zurich but his interest soon turned to artworks, which he published numerous articles and essays on; he also regularly purchased paintings. When trying to take stock of the Italian works of his collection, we are in a most fortunate position since Lederer himself compiled the catalogue in 1920. The manuscript preserved in the Library of the Museum of Fine Arts Budapest lists thirty-two pictures by Italian painters besides a few Hungarian and 17th-century Dutch works. The first review of the Lederer collection was written by József Diner-Dénes in 1904, but the best part of the material was only exhibited in the National Salon in 1937, a long time after Lederer’s death, at which point they were already the property of his three children. The exact ownership of the pictures can only be established based on later documents. Mrs Andor Hesser (Erzsébet Lederer) placed some paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts as a temporary deposit in October 1943, twelve of which originated from her father’s Italian collection. Similarly to his sister, Miklós Lederer deposited works, including eight Italian paintings, at the museum in April 1944. The rest of the works must have been owned by Mrs Imre Benes (Klára Lederer), although this cannot be substantiated by existing documents.

The paintings deposited by Miklós Lederer probably survived the siege of Budapest in the museum building, unscathed. The Italian pictures deposited by Mrs Hesser were also returned: Mrs Hesser was officially declared dead in September 1944 so the paintings were inherited by her nephews, Miklós and András Lederer, the sons of the by then diseased Miklós Lederer. In the last few decades many of the thirty-two Italian works entered Hungarian public collections: the Museum of Fine Arts purchased one at a BÁV auction and six from private individuals.

The whereabouts of thirteen of the Italian paintings is unknown, despite the fact that reproductions are known of eleven of them. Finding the other two is not a daunting task either as Lederer’s manuscript contains their exact dimensions and descriptions. Eight of the collection’s pictures can be found in the Old Masters’ Gallery of the Museum of Fine Arts and thirteen are currently missing. One is preserved in the Mór Wosinsky Museum in Szekszárd, and five emerged at auctions in Hungary and abroad; six are in private ownership.

The artists of the Lederer collection’s Italian works include prominent painters like Giovanni Bellini, Moretto da Brescia, Giovanni Battista Moroni, Palma Giovane and Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo. It is important to note that Sándor Lederer’s art collecting was not motivated by a selfish ambition to achieve fame but, as he himself wrote in the introduction of his catalogue, by a desire to be surrounded by masterpieces of art history that would serve as inspiration for his study of art.