Wednesday, 11 April 2012

17th Century Dutch Paintings : Golden Age- Part 1 National Gallery and Wallace Collection

***Update 19/9/2012

Tweet exchange on Ask a Curator Day on Twitter

@rijksmuseum #askacurator How many of your Albert Cuyp pictures in collection feature cows, number + %

@ProfWhitestick I count 32 Albert Cuyp works featuring cows. But correct me if I’m wrong ;)

***end of update

Update 6/5/2012

A conversation on Twitter with the Wallace Collection:

new Post: Rediscovering an interest in 17th Century Dutch Paintings - at a gallery near you Tot ziens!

Wallace Collection
@profwhitestick Very pleased you enjoyed it - do you have a favourite art work in there?

@WallaceMuseum There is an Albert Cuyp painting with an avenue of trees and a view of Dordrecht and a group in the avenue.

@profwhitestick Brilliant choice!

*** end of update

I have always admired those 17th Century paintings that would fit nicely in a suitcase and could fit in quite well at home.  It may be that growing up near the sea in Edinburgh gave one a sense of sharing the North Sea with European neighbours.  It may be the light or the detail but I still find much enjoyment in the style of landscapes, seascapes, town scenes and genre paintings such as the The Lacemaker, which strikes an impression of gloom, dark clothes and possibly dour Scottish themes.  Perhaps that’s what draws me to these paintings.  As they used to say in the Lace making towns of Ayrshire (Galston, Newmilns and Darvel): there is a lot going on behind the lace curtain!

The Lacemaker by Caspar Netscher
(taken at the Wallace Collection on 7th April 2012)

I was in the Netherlands in 1966 on a school cruise and the students were rioting at the time.  We had to travel through Amsterdam on a waterbus and the closest place to the centre we could visit on dry land was the Rijksmuseum.  Memories of endless gables of Amsterdam have remained with me and I can still “spot” Dutch influences in Scotland at Culross, Preston Mill and the East Neuk of Fife.  Similarly the trade between East Anglia and the Low Countries has an influence on landscapes and buildings.  On 10th April BBC Radio3 Nightwave discussed landscape with Alexandra Harris contributing similar thoughts about Dutch influence on landscape culture in England.

Just as my peripheral vision can pick up the Shard in London, it can also pick up lines in a painting of steeples, ship masts, avenues of trees and bridges over a canal or river.  Soon after starting this blog I attended an Art Through Words talk about Dutch painter Gerrit Berckheyde ‘Groote Kirke in Harlem’.  This is a painting of a large church and town centre scene in Harlem in the Netherlands.  This is where we have a problem in the Dutch language and the variants in spelling and for that matter the way that a screenreader will pronounce the names.  Sometimes a search will be unsuccessful but the predictor can be lucky.  I tried to get Bergheide right and was often “corrected”.  Here is the link to the National Gallery for this painting. 

Indeed a search in the National Gallery website is accessible and many of the paintings, once found, have a description.  The National Gallery owes much of the collection to King George IV and Robert Peel.

The Gallery also has a trail round some of the Dutch paintings where it is possible to zoom into some of the images.  This can make some paintings more accessible depending on the type of vision you may have. 

Many of us with sight loss can make out something and these finely drawn paintings of the 17th Century allow me, with my peripheral vision, to get some idea of the painting while those with “tunnel vision” can often identify much of the detail.  I have written down some names, but be careful in copying and pasting into searches on the internet. There are a few lists on the Internet but with Dutch names both the first name and the surnames have changed over the years.

Johannes Vermeer

Rembrandt van Rijn

Esaias van de Velde

Frans Hals

Jan van der Heyden

Jacob van Ruisdael

Jan Steen

Pieter de Hooch

Willem van de Velde the Younger

Caspar Netscher

Gerard ter Borch

Aelbert Cuyp

Adam Frans van der Muelen

David Teniers the Younger

Ludolf Backhuyzen

Meindert Hobbema

Johannes Lingebach

Hendrick ten Oevers

Adrian van de Velde

Some of the problems in resolving the Dutch, Flemish, French and English search terms can be avoided with this very useful website for those interested in Dutch and Flemish Art.  It copes with the language divide in Belgium:

However, there is another problem with some art definitions.  Netherlandish is the term often used (see my post on Hieronymus Bosch) then Flemish Art is used for the period of Spanish occupied South Netherlands or Flanders.  Dutch is often used for North Netherlands, especially the Calvinist provinces which went on to gain independence and form the Kingdom of The Netherlands. 

It may be helpful to check out a list of Dutch artists and spellings.  Also, if you have access to some collections on the internet, it is worth searching for a Facebook gallery and trying to enlarge the image.  This sometimes works with a high resolution image.  For a history of Dutch Painting I have found this link to the famous Boijmans museum in Rotterdam -

A few days after the National Gallery talk, I visited Kenwood House in Hampstead, London.  This is a beautiful Robert Adam House, though is closed till 2013 due to a major refurbishment. There is a fine collection of Dutch paintings including a Vermeer - Lady with Guitar - and some Rembrandts. The Rembrandt has gone on tour, though the Vermeer stays in the UK.   

This shows a scene in Dordrecht and on enquiring at the bookshop if there was a postcard of the painting I was told that there was a book of paintings with the Cuyp painting in it under the Phaidon Label.  These books are large format and are handy for having at home.  The pages are large enough for me to notice something and a friend can often be persuaded to go with you and “see” others in the book which covers paintings in the National Gallery, Wallace Collection, Kenwood House, Buckingham Palace, National Gallery of Scotland as well as institutions in Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and New York.

Wallace Museum

I mentioned to my friend Jackie as we made our first visit to the newly refurbished Wallace Collection galleries that optics was a new technique for painters to use in art and sharp lines were just about discernible to me.  Sure enough the gallery notes at the Wallace mentioned that some painters used lenses to fine tune details!

The refurbishment of the Wallace Collection gallery of Dutch Paintings is worth visiting with an hour or so to spare.  There are 3 rooms on the first floor and a lift is available if needed. I am still “scanning” the huge Boucher paintings on the stairway and remembered that Zoffany had copied the style early in his career. In each of the galleries there are notes and if a friend, or even another person, is around to read out these notes, they describe the painting if you can make out the detail. 

Me by View of the Westerkerk, Amseterdam by Jan van der Heyden
(taken at the Wallace Collection on 24th March 2012)

It is important to realise that viewing the collection is not the same as in a conventional gallery. This is quite literally a collection - as the painting of Zoffany (Lawrence Dundas) shows.  We asked one of the attendants if it was OK to take a photograph and having been told that it was (No flash), Jackie took one of me with a painting on either side and a view of the paintings on their own.  I even took my first photograph since I lost my sight. Jackie politely told me that she must have moved, but I treated the phone as a viewfinder and must have moved myself but I am thinking of getting a camera so that I can snap my own things.

Me standing by Ships in a Calm by Willem van de Velde
(taken at the Wallace Collection on 24th March 2012 )

We had a short discussion with the attendant on duty and I must have been talking about the paintings of Cuyp in Dordrecht when we were told that van de Velde was in the next room. With about half of the paintings at about head height, I found I could make quite a lot of many of them. 

Two weeks later I took another friend to visit the Wallace collection and we spent more time on the Dutch Galleries and had a more detailed look at the larger Dutch pictures in the Great Hall.  In walking back via the Bonington pictures of French scenes with boats and harbours, I admired these as much as when I first noticed them.  In the bookshop a selection of the black and white catalogues are on sale. These are a bargain as the monochrome photographs often give a clearer and sharper image of the painting.  The text does indicate the colours used and provides a more academic study of the genre.  I have often found that some descriptions are not easily matchable with a colour image. 

TIP: There is a lot of construction in London’s West End.  Many buses are on diversion and it may be easier if taking a bus going south bound from the north to get off in Wigmore Street and get to Machester Square.  If a bus is diverted in the north direction then Portman Square is navigable, though take care in crossing Baker Street at any time, any place and anywhere!

Books mentioned:

Dutch Painting by Christopher Brown, Phaidon (1993) (ISBN 978 0 7148 2865 7)

Van Dyck at the Wallace Collection by Jo Hedley (1999) (ISBN 0900 785 64 0)

The Wallace Collection – Catalogue of Pictures Volume IV - Dutch and Flemish (1992) (ISBN 0900 785 38 1)

Aelbert Cuyp Edited by Arthur K Wheelock Jr. (2002) (ISBN 0 89468 286 5)

Dutch Landscapes by Desmond Shawe-Taylor (2010) (ISBN 978 1 905686 25 4)