The landscape painter Alexander Keirincx deserves our attention with regard to various aspects. Firstly, in his time the development of landscape painting achieves its definitive recognition as an independent genre in European art. Secondly, Keirincx’s oeuvre bears witness to an artist who truly grows during his career, in the progress changing his style. Trained as a “one-trick pony” in the Antwerp workshop of Abraham Govaerts (1589–1626), specialist in brightly coloured forest landscapes, he continued to absorb diverse stimuli, ultimately achieving atmospheric effects evocative of his contemporary Claude Lorrain. Keirincx painted trees as animated beings of their own kind in a way not realized in painting until nineteenth-century Romanticism.
After reading the book one asks oneself why this surprising and charming artistic personality has attracted such little attention. One reason is the until now questionable impenetrability of attributions and the difficult issue of chronology of Keirincx’s works. With characteristic lucidity, Ursula Härting succeeds in cleaning the oeuvre of wrong attributions, dispelling ambiguities pertaining to the artist’s life and organizing his works chronologically. Her monograph is augmented by a chapter on Keirincx’s life in England by Richard P. Townsend, and an appendix on the archival sources by Rick C. Coone. The book is organized in the classic format of a monograph with a biographical and thematic first part, a documentary part with genealogical tables, followed by the catalogue of the works, consisting of 171 entries. Indexes make the volume accessible as search tool.
Keirincx’s life reflects the changes in the Netherlands in the first half of the seventeenth century. Soon after the death of his master in 1626 he seems to have moved to Amsterdam (without settling his full apprenticeship’s payment). Although spending a shorter period in Antwerp during the next years should not be ruled out, the artist primarily is documented in Amsterdam before he worked in Utrecht between 1632 and 1637. Between 1637 and 1640/41 he resided in London, before moving back to Amsterdam where he lived until his death in 1652.
Initially Härting defines the pictorial motifs in the master’s oeuvre in the context of the importance of forests and wood for the Netherlands, a subject she already treated in her 2004 monograph on Govaerts. While his teacher had made dense forest scenes his main subject, Keirincx soon isolates individual trees from this thicket. Besides works by Govaerts, he early on creates variations of compositions by Peter Paul Rubens and others. Without aiming at botanical precision, he considers more general landscape formulae, as for example the English hedgerow landscape.
Härting’s method of attribution and dating, lucidly explained, is based on several factors: important pictorial motifs (duck couples, branches with red leaves, characteristic representation of tree bark, e.g. knotholes shaped like eyes), colors used (sap green and verdigris), and painting technique (pointed brush, underdrawing in comparison to authentic drawings on paper). She also analyzes signatures and supports. Further references regarding the chronology of Keirincx’s works can be found in his collaboration with staffage painters from the Francken workshop in Antwerp, with Pieter van Avont and Cornelis Poelenborch. This is followed by an important chapter on deattributions. Several pictures previously ascribed to Keirincx are now assigned to different hands, such as the painter with the ‘Notname’ “Der Fiedrige” (Master of the Very Fine Leaves), or Gijsbrecht Leytens, Gillis Peeters, Jochem Camphuysen or Aert van der Neer.
The transparency of Härting’s arguments is also reflected in her clear and precise language. A look into this orderly work journal of a connoisseur reads like a few pages of Max Friedländer. Even complicated arguments are presented in a lucid voice. This is a serious and honest book about connoisseurship and its methods and limitations. In the process it transpires that the oeuvre of a painter as changeable as Keirincx cannot purely be made accessible in a positivistic inductive approach but that each image has to be perceived as a new touchstone of a ‘theory’ of stylistic development. Härting candidly acknowledges the growth and transformation of her expert assessment vis-à-vis her earlier judgments of some of the pictures – for instance in her 1989 PhD dissertation – among them repeated corrections of attributions regarding the staffage painters in the Francken workshop from Frans the Younger to Ambrosius Francken.
In the last years the knowledge of the psychological process in expert skills has noticeably increased. In this context a few words about art historical practices in connoisseurship may be expedient. In art history connoisseurship is a special form of expert knowledge that seemingly manifests itself in the spontaneous solution of difficult problems. Psychologically it concerns the recognition of memories stimulated by cue stimuli that cannot always be verbalized. This manner of decision making has been studied, for example, in chess players, firemen and anesthesiologists. Frequently such a ‘flash’ turns out to be correct if the subject was able to acquire her/his expertise over a long period of time in an appropriate environment: one generally speaks of 10,000 hours. In order to learn properly the environment must offer adequately ordered feedback. The production of monographs or catalogues is well suited for the acquisition of art historical expertise if it takes place in well organized photo collections, such as the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie in The Hague. However, In the case of Flemish landscape painting Härting had to build up her own archive with the help of the documentation in The Hague and the Rubenianum in Antwerp and with a critical eye on the art market over the last decades.
What is important to remember is that experts reach ‘spontaneous’ solutions on the basis of (A) true recognition or (B) errors. Outside the area of true expertise such a flash may be triggered by affect heuristic or availability heuristic. Errors are caused because of special preferences or easier recall of memories. For connoisseurship this means that for susceptible experts the dominance of a specific canon may generate a tendentious sensitization. Financial value or public recognition may lead to additional emphasis on the tendencies guiding attributions. That such distortive sources of error are completely absent in Härting’s monograph adds special emphasis to the quality of her work.
What impact does the book have on us? Its reading not only conveys knowledge but it changes our awareness in the contemplation of images. It provides a basic and at the same time an in-depth course in connoisseurship. In this respect, the book indeed is a continuation of Härting’s publications on the Flemish landscape. Together with the author’s other publications, it provides a valuable antidote to the perception of Flemish landscape painting all too narrowly defined by the workshop of Jan Brueghel the Elder. At the same time the monograph offers an important contribution to the origin and development of cabinet pictures and the specialization in painting in Antwerp, a subject Härting repeatedly has explored in her art historical work since her groundbreaking dissertation on Frans Francken the Younger. This, her latest publication, expands the subject further by investigating the impact of this phenomenon on art in the Northern Netherlands.
Translated by Kristin Belkin
 Daniel Kahnemann, Schnelles Denken – Langsames Denken, Munich, 2012, chapter 22: “Die Intuition von Experten: Wann können wir ihr vertrauen?”, pp. 289-302.