While we commonly acknowledge that disproportionately little attention is given to Netherlandish art of the last quarter of the seventeenth century and to the eighteenth century, rarely does a study of that era entail the depth and breadth of Koenraad Jonckheere’s analysis of the 1713 auction of King William’s art collection. This is far more than an investigation of a moment in collecting, though it does that exceptionally well, and it is certainly not a historiographic ghost-image of earlier splendors. Rather, the examination encourages us to consider the “long” Golden Age (to borrow a phrase from scholars of the nineteenth century) in the realms of shifting tastes, market structure, and the lives and livelihood of the principal characters in the collecting and dealing world. Jonckheere provides a wealth of specific new information on people and objects alike.
Scholars of Dutch art in particular have also long held an aversion to emphasizing aristocracy and international diplomacy, settling all too comfortably within the bounds of the nineteenth-century articulation of the Dutch revolt as a bourgeois revolution. The Dutch court is historically undervalued and understudied, and when the Stadholder William III took up the crown of England in 1689 it has generally been seen as the beginning of second-class status for the Dutch Republic. Jonckheere points out however that the involvement of the Dutch on the international stage was continual, and the market for art, while interrupted by war, also benefited tremendously by the influx of diplomats to the marketplaces of The Hague and Amsterdam. The auction of the stadholder-king’s goods in 1713, eleven years after his death, proceeded only a few months after the Peace of Utrecht had concluded the War of the Spanish Succession. It thereby benefited from the presence of an international coterie that had encamped in The Hague for years of negotiations and suddenly felt unburdened from the tension and expense of formal conflict. Jonckheere demonstrates again, however, that this class of clientele was never truly put out by war, and indeed that their appreciation for and acquisition of art had never been interrupted. While the auction itself was truly a spectacle, Jonckheere rightly treats it as a well-documented highlight of the period. In other words, he sees it not as a singular event, but as an opportunity to glean the customary workings of the market for art in the Northern Netherlands of the late seventeenth to early eighteenth centuries, and to discern the modus operandi of the main operators in that market. As such, it is an exemplary study of many collectors and dealers whose importance stretched back to the middle of the seventeenth century. Jonckheere brings to light new material on known personages such as Jan Pietersz Zomer and Jan van Beuningen, but in many cases these individuals had never been researched at all and this study provides essential and intriguing new documentation. In the process Jonckheere opens doors to collecting in Rotterdam especially, which has seen less attention because it generally paled to other urban centers in art production. Jonckheere’s voluminous new material on foreign diplomats should be brought to the attention of early modern scholars beyond the realm of the HNA.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part accomplishes two objectives. It outlines the nature of William’s collection with respect to the history of Orange patronage (although William did not inherit much directly) and in the context of other princely collections around 1700. It then details the organization of the auction and the roles of Van Beuningen and Zomer in particular. The second part considers the buyers at auction in several chapters, grouping them by domestic and foreign interest. Utilizing an approach similar to the late Michael Montias, the details of the event are only the beginning of the documentary search, and fulsome biographical accounts and analyses of the career patterns of these buyers are taken into consideration. The third part of the book is the copious appendices. This section reproduces the essential material from the databases that Jonckheere compiled about the auction and buyers, but also, for comparison, brings together all other known information from important sales catalogues and advertisements from the period 1676-1739, building on the old and recent work of Jan Hoet, Frits Lugt and S.A.C. Dudok van Heel, respectively. This basic trove of information served as the foundation of this study and should also be a font for further research. Here one finds, just to cite a few examples, an alphabetical list of painters, with their average prices and frequency of attributions in this sixty-year period; five annotated major collection catalogues (including William’s) that track lots, bidders, prices and the subsequent provenance of the works when they can be identified with precision (an extraordinary feat even if that was the only item this study had to offer); and dozens of newly published letters written among the more important players in the marketplace at the time. If there is one lacking aspect of the study, it would be an assessment of the impact that this sale had on contemporary art production at the time, but that would surely have diminished its marketing and economic focus. Outside of the favorable comments provided by Houbraken, it is clear from the raw data that contemporary art, notably by Adriaen van der Werff, was valued as highly as most old masters and that our contemporary “canon” is less than fully synchronized with their notion of value.
Amidst the wealth of information, it is easy to lose track of Jonckheere’s main thesis, but it is an important one and, to my mind, soundly proved: the art market in Holland, which was mainly domestic through the seventeenth century, was internationalized by the early eighteenth century as a deliberate strategy to attract the interest of foreign princes, nobility and wealthy collectors. Jonckheere concludes that William’s auction in many ways marked the end of the Golden Age. It is an interesting phenomenon with respect to periodization and the concept of national “schools” to consider the demise of any given geo/chronological era to be the moment when it is effectively sold off to foreign powers. Ironically, the ever-increasing efficiency of the Dutch Golden Age art market eventually drained the country’s own coffers, as more and more prized paintings filled the noble collections of Europe and eventually the museums that we currently enjoy.
Washington University, St. Louis