Thursday, 17 May 2012

Dutch Paintings Part 2: Torrie Collection, Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh

Dutch Paintings from the 17th Century have proved to be interesting.  The pictures are not large but are still attractive to collectors.  Many museums, national art galleries and institutions have collections of Dutch Paintings.  One such collection is the Torrie Collection which is held by the University of Edinburgh. 

I was at the Talbot Rice Gallery several times last summer and went round the Torrie Collection, once on my own and once with a friend, who read out the captions from a catalogue.  My first visit to the Torrie collection was around the time of my visit to Surgeons’ Hall in Edinburgh and it was Jan Steen’s “Doctor Visit” which made me recall it.  Harbour scenes with ships and boats seemed familiar as did the painter William van de Veld. 

Landscapes with trees and perspective lines seemed to be 200 years in advance of the Corot paintings I had liked in 1975 and had viewed again recently at the National Gallery in London.  Some Dutch painters had gone to Italy and had developed in ways similar to Claude Lorraine. A few had returned to the Netherlands and influenced local painters while others continued in their own styles.

Following the topic of Dutch Pictures has led me to many other collections and The Zoffany’s picture of Lawrence Dundas around his pictures allowed a little detective work on the internet in matching some of the painter names (difficult) with recurring themes in landscape and genre painting.   I ordered some books on the internet and during my stay in hospital a friend read out extracts from two: a catalogue of Albert Cuyp pictures and drawings; and an introduction to Dutch Landscapes in the Royal Collection by Desmond Shawe-Taylor (with contributions by Jennifer Scott). 

The following quote from the latter is particularly noteworthy.  Shawe-Taylor talks about the process of cleaning and restoring a painting and in doing so draws parallels with the intellectual process of appreciating these paintings.  Thus:

“The understanding of painting can require a similar process.  Over the years the habitual way of thinking about the art of a particular period can start to obscure and discolour the works themselves; sometimes sincerely held ideas can overlay the truth with plausible anachronisms.  The process of intellectual restoration is as fraught with difficulties as that of real restoration; the ‘original experience of a work’ can seem as elusive a concept as the ‘original appearance of a work’.”

It has also been fun searching discussions of Dutch Paintings on You Tube and I have learned at least how the You Tube system works.  I could not resist tweeting out a link to a video of a restoration completed in the Mauritshuis in the Hague in Netherlands of a Jan Steen painting titled The Doctor’s Visit. (see below)

Having been in contact with Talbot Rice Gallery since last year I asked them about the Torrie Collection and while I was in hospital they very kindly sent me images of the paintings which I liked. I would have visited the gallery during the Easter period though my impending hip operation put all travel from London on hold. 

716 Jan van der Heyden - Wooded Park Landscape With Deer
By kind permission of "The University of Edinburgh
Fine Art Collection".

Jan van der Heyden was born in 1637 and died in 1712.  He was particularly noted for town scenes, but also painted landscapes such as this one. 

738 Jan Steen - The Doctor's Visit
By kind permission of "The University of Edinburgh
Fine Art Collection".

Jan Steen was born in Leiden around 1626 and died in 1679.  Steen painted many comic subjects, though there is frequently a moral content to the scene.  The Doctor’s Visit was painted several times and the restoration of the painting in the Mauritshuis in The Hague can be found on YouTube:

Although the video is in Dutch, it is sub-titled (but I can’t read them, of course) and there are quite a lot of scientific terms which are recognisable, such as infrared and ultraviolet.  The video, however, does show the process of restoring a painting and illustrates the important part which chemistry and spectroscopy plays in picture restoration.  I can’t detect any difference between the restored and unrestored images from the Torrie collection and on You Tube, the trained eye may well discover the benefits of the removal of previous restorations and newer ways of interpreting the artist’s original work - although, bearing Desmond Shawe-Taylor's statement quoted above, some care has to be taken in the interpretation of the thoughts of the artist when the work or works were commissioned.

739 David Teniers the Younger - Peasants Playing Bowls
By kind permission of "The University of Edinburgh
Fine Art Collection".

David Teniers the Younger was born 1610 and died 1690.  Sports and pastimes often feature in Dutch paintings and I was attracted to this painting of people bowling in the street as it reminded me of a craze in the 1960s for 10-pin bowling!  For some reason Edinburgh did not indulge in 10-pin bowling, though both Kirkcaldy (birthplace of Adam Smith) and Glenrothes (then a new town) had 10-pin bowling. 

744 William van de Velde - Fishing Boats in a Calm
By kind permission of "The University of Edinburgh
Fine Art Collection".

William van de Velde the younger was born 1633 and died in 1707.  He followed in his father’s footsteps in having an interest in painting marine scenes.  There are many paintings with ships in full sail, in various weather conditions.  Both father and son worked in London in Greenwich and are buried in St James’s, Piccadilly.  My father’s family had a couple of paintings of sailing ships which were probably done in the 19th century based on the harbour at Charlestown, near Dunfermline.  An ancestor of mine had been the harbour master there.

Also of interest is another You Tube video in which Desmond Shawe-Taylor discusses Aelbert Cuyp’s The Passage Boat:

In preparing this post, I’d like to thank Shawn Coulman, Marketing and Education Assistant and Jill Forrest, Museums Support Officer both at the Talbot Rice Gallery. 

Details for the Gallery are:
Talbot Rice Gallery
The University of Edinburgh
Old College, South Bridge

+44 (0)131 651 4784

The Talbot Rice Gallery is situated in the Old College of the University of Edinburgh and as well as housing the Torrie Collection there are frequent exhibitions and events.  The gallery is very welcoming and it was a member of the staff and a volunteer who alerted me to the Artlink project which I discussed last year.  I look forward to meeting up with both Talbot Rice and Art Link during the ‘summer’.  If you are visiting the Edinburgh Festival, it’s well-worth visiting the Talbot Rice Gallery.