Archive for the ‘Dutch paintings’ Category

Your pictures – no, really

July 19, 2011

Landscape with arched gateway, by Adam Pynacker (c. 1620-1673), at Penrhyn Castle. ©NTPL/National Museums and Galleries of Wales

The BBC and the Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) have teamed up to make all the oil paintings in Britain’s public collections available online. The PCF has already been working for several years to record and produce catalogues of all paintings in public ownership, and the fruits of that work are now also being made accessible through a BBC website called Your Paintings.

Moonlit landscape, by Aert van der Neer (1603/4-1677), at Penrhyn Castle. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The National Trust is collaborating with the PCF to include all its paintings in the survey. The first National Trust picture collection available through Your Paintings is Penrhyn Castle, in Gwynedd (which can be found by searching for ‘National Trust’ on the Your Paintings site).

Penrhyn slate quarry, by Henry Hawkins (1822-1880), at Penrhyn Castle. Accepted in lieu of inheritance tax by HM Government and allocated to the National Trust, 1951. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Shown side by side as thumbnails, the images throw up unexpected insights. Seeing the array of Dutch old master paintings collected by the Douglas-Pennants of Penrhyn, you suddenly understand why they would choose to commission a painting of their own slate quarry (one of the sources of their wealth) in the ‘picturesque’ style of a Ruisdael, a Pynacker or a Van der Neer.

Gabriel Metsu reassessed

June 8, 2011

A man writing a letter, by Gabriel Metsu (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin), on the cover of the exhibition catalogue. ©Yale University Press

A review in the June issue of Apollo reminded me of the important exhibition about the work of seventeenth-century Dutch painter Gabriel Metsu at the National Gallery of Ireland (and currently at the National Gallery of Art, Washington), curated by Adriaan Waiboer. The catalogue can be obtained through Amazon.

Gabriel Metsu, A black woman in a window, at Polesden Lacey, Surrey. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

The exhibition and catalogue explain how Metsu succesfully worked in a variety of different genres. He created little vignettes in the style of fijnschilder Gerrit Dou, but also produced conversation pieces similar to the work of Pieter de Hooch. He even occasionally emulated the balance and stillness of Johannes Vermeer’s compositions.

Gabriel Metsu, A couple making music in an interior, at Upton House, Warwickshire. ©NTPL/Christopher Hurst

I found it enlightening to learn that the narrative and sometimes sentimental aspects of Metsu’s work were particularly appreciated by eighteenth-century French artists like Chardin and Greuze. It is always fascinating to get a glimpse of how the past appreciated its past.

I met Adriaan a couple of years ago when we were both acting as courier, accompanying old master paintings to an exhibition in Tokyo. After our duties were done we ended up in an Irish bar in downtown Tokyo, discussing Dutch painting among the Guinness-quaffing hip young Japanese – one of those post-modern, post-surreal Japanese experiences.

A Breenbergh returns to Belton

December 1, 2010

Landscape with figures bathing near classical ruins, by Bartolomeus Breenbergh. ©Sotheby's

Yesterday we bought a painting at auction at Sotheby’s Amsterdam that was sold from Belton House in 1984.

Belton House seen across the Italian Garden. ©NTPL/Nick Meers

At that time Belton was being acquired by the National Trust with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund. However, there were not enough funds to purchase all of the contents of the house, and some of them were dispersed at auction, including this painting.

Classical ruins with Christ and the woman of Samaria, by Bartholomeus Breenbergh, at Ham House, Surrey. ©NTPL/John Hammond

It is by Bartolomeus Breenbergh (1598-1657), a Dutch painter who spent time in Rome and developed a style of landscape painting that usually included classical ruins. Indeed, ruins became such a part of the Breenbergh ‘brand’ that he even included them in scenes from the Old and New testaments.

King Charles I owned no less than six Breenberghs, one of which ended up at Ham House, and is still in its early seventeenth-century frame.

The Red Drawing Room at Belton, showing some of the old master paintings still at Belton. ©NTPL/Mark Fiennes

In 1984 the Belton Breenbergh still had its ‘Belton’ frame, which many of the pictures there were fitted with. After being sold from the house it was given a new, seventeenth-century Dutch-style frame, which the new owner must have thought looked more authentic. The painting will now have a Belton-style frame made for it once again before it goes on display.

Birds in a garden, by Melchior de Hondecoeter (1636-95), at Belton. ©NTPL/Christopher Hurst

The Breenbergh originally came to Belton as part of the inheritance of Frances Bankes (1756-1847), who married Sir Brownlow Cust, 1st Baron Brownlow (1744-1807). Her father, Sir Henry Bankes (1714-1774), was a wealthy London merchant who assembled a substantial collection of Continental paintings.

The Hondecoeter Room, with paintings by Jan Weenix the Younger and Melchior de Hondecoeter. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The acquisition of the Breenbergh for Belton was supported by the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund.

Water water everywhere

September 30, 2010

A river scene with a ferry by Salomon van Ruysdael (1600-1670), at Polesden Lacey, Surrey ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

In an earlier post I was musing about the degree of realism in Dutch seventeenth-century landscape paintings.

View in Ottoland, Zuid Holland, the Netherlands. ©Emile de Bruijn

I have just been visiting family in Holland. At my mother-in-law’s place in the Alblasserwaard polder I was struck by how picturesque the landscape still occasionally is.

Cottage beside a track through a wood by Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709), at Ascott, Buckinghamshire. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The village where she lives also has lots of ugly modern developments, but here and there the classic Dutch landscape does shine through.

©Emile de Bruijn

And it is a cliché, but the flatness of the landscape does make the sky seem bigger, and the cloudscapes more prominent (sadly not shown in my amateur snaps).

River scene by Salomon van Ruysdael (1600-1670), at Petworth House, West Sussex ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

The older farms in the village tend to sit on little hilllocks, the age-old precaution against flooding. These days they have river dykes, sluices and pumps, but the water is still present everywhere you look.

©Emile de Bruijn

The combination of a low horizon, a dominant sky, an abundance of water and a pattern of small neat fields creates a particular, perhaps unique kind of beauty.

So Neer, and yet so far

June 22, 2010

A river scene by Aert van der Neer (1603/4-1677), at Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd. ©NTPL/John Hammond

I shall be away until 30 June, visiting relatives in the Netherlands.

Of course Holland isn’t quite as picturesque any more as in the painting by van der Neer shown above. Mind you, it probably never was: the picture’s subtle composition, dividing the view into thirds both horizontally and vertically, is clearly the artist’s invention.

In the mean time, Janet Blyberg is showing pictures from her recent tour of Dutch country houses and palaces. And for a remarkable visual record of contemporary Holland you can visit Thomas Schlijper’s photo blog – life as lived now seen through the eyes of an Old Master.


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