Adriaan Jacob Domela Nieuwenhuis was born on 17 March 1850 in Amsterdam, the youngest son of the Lutheran clergyman and theologian Ferdinand Jacobus Nieuwenhuis Sr (1808 1869). He grew up in a religiously inspired, but also artistically minded and politically interested family. The well known socialist and, later, social anarchist Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis (1846 1919) was his elder brother. After studying chemistry in Karlsruhe and later in Stuttgart, Adriaan Jacob Domela Nieuwenhuis held various management positions with factories in Germany. Thanks to judicious investments, he was able to withdraw from business in 1885 and go on living as a gentleman of independent means.
He then went to study philosophy in Halle and, in 1891, he settled down in Munich, where he began his collection. After World War I, following revolutionary troubles and because of crushing inflation, his fortune was affected to such an extent that he was forced to part with his collection in exchange for an annuity. In the spring of 1923, Domela Nieuwenhuis asked the Utrecht eye specialist Dr H.G.M. Weve for advice. Dr Weve began negotiations with the Boijmans Museum. Mr Hannema, the museum's director, left for Munich to look at the collection and made an enthusiastic report on the quality of both prints and drawings. In exchange for an annuity of 10,000 guilders, a separate exhibition gallery and a study all for himself, Domela Nieuwenhuis's collection arrived in Rotterdam on 22 July 1923. In later life, he was still actively involved in his collection at the Boijmans Museum. A.J. Domela Nieuwenhuis died on 26 May 1935, leaving a considerable fortune.