Despite the fact that three times during the second half of the twentieth century the need to pay death duties or raise funds for other reasons led to the departure of substantial groups of drawings, in terms of its range and quality, the Duke of Devonshire’s collection at Chatsworth remains second only to the Royal Collection amongst private collections of Old Master Drawings in Britain. It is also the only one of the many great drawings collections formed in eighteenth-century England that has survived in anything approaching its original form; some drawings were added after the early nineteenth century, and others left in 1957, 1984 and 1988, but the disposals are well documented, allowing us to form a very clear picture of how the collection was constituted in the early/mid eighteenth century.
Although the 4th Earl and 1st Duke of Devonshire (1640/41-1707) did buy drawings (for example the 14 Guercino landscapes acquired sometime between 1681 and 1689 from the artist’s nephew, Benedetto Gennari, who was then working at the English court), the key figure in the creation of the Chatsworth drawings collection was William Cavendish, the 2nd Duke (1673-1729). He seems to have been buying as early as 1693-94, at the 2nd sale from the Lely collection and the two Lankrink sales, and clearly continued to be a very active collector for the rest of his life, benefiting from the advice of Jonathan Richardson the Elder. Amongst his more successful art market forays were the acquisition of a number of lots at the 1717 sale that dispersed many of the drawings originating from the collection of Padre Resta and subsequently owned by John, Lord Somers, and his 1723/24 purchase in Rotterdam of at least 225 drawings from the estate of Nicolaes Flinck. Including, amongst many other highlights, the famous Rembrandt landscapes, Van Dyck portraits and Leonardo caricatures, the Flinck collection had also been targeted by Pierre Crozat, but the Duke snatched the drawings out from under the nose of the great French collector. As late as 1728, only months before his death, he bought the Claude Lorrain Liber Veritatis, with its 200 highly important drawings by the master. This was a hard act to follow, and no subsequent member of the family was to match the 2nd Duke’s contribution to the drawings collection, although the 4th Duke’s marriage to the daughter of Lord Burlington in 1748 did bring in important drawings by Palladio, Inigo Jones and Rubens, and the 6th Duke bought the majority, if not perhaps the most important, of the drawings by Callot.
The composition of the Chatsworth collection reflects the date and method of its formation. As in other collections that were largely gathered in the early eighteenth century by one or two individuals relying on their own taste and the specific opportunities that presented themselves, there are highly important, and often very numerous, groups of drawings by certain artists, but nothing at all by other contemporaries. Just like the Royal Collection, where there are unparalleled holdings of Avercamp, Canaletto, Guercino and Sebastiano Ricci, but not a single study by Rembrandt, so here we have disproportionately fine groups of drawings by artists such as Van Dyck, Claude, Callot and, of course, Rembrandt, within the context of a collection of Northern drawings that is very far from encyclopaedic. This is surely because in the early eighteenth century, albums of drawings originating from the studios of seventeenth-century artists often still remained intact, reflecting both the preferred method of storage of drawings, and the simple fact that not so much time had actually passed since the drawings were made. Whereas by the mid nineteenth century many Old Master drawings had already been circulated on the market as individual sheets, in about 1700 there had often not been time for this to happen. Nor was the market for individual, separately mounted sheets yet highly developed. Thus the album of Rembrandt landscape drawings that had passed from the studio of the artist via his pupil Govaert Flink to the latter’s son, Nicolaes, was still intact when acquired, with the rest of the Flinck collection, by the 2nd Duke of Devonshire in 1723/24 (little more than half a century after Rembrandt’s death).
Our understanding of the overall nature, scope and quality of the collection has been immeasurably enhanced by the publication of the magnificent, boxed, five-volume catalogue of the Northern drawings at Chatsworth, written by the late Michael Jaffé, which describes – and perhaps more importantly reproduces in generally excellent, large-size color illustrations – nearly 1,000 drawings of these schools. Together with the four volumes by the same author on the Italian drawings, which appeared in 1994 and describe a similar number of drawings, this means that full technical descriptions and images of all the Old Master Drawings still at Chatsworth, and a number that once were but are no longer, are now for the first time generally available. The high points of the collection were, of course, already long familiar from a host of travelling exhibitions, and a typescript list of the entire collection was prepared by the Courtauld Institute in 1963, but although the preparation of a full catalogue had first been discussed as early as the 1870s, nothing concrete was actually done to bring this about until Jaffé began his work in 1980.
To take on the single-handed writing of a catalogue of some two thousand drawings of the Italian, French, German, Dutch, Flemish, English and Spanish schools requires a certain kind of mind. It demands an astonishingly broad understanding and knowledge of the art of drawing, of a type that is all too rare in the modern age of monographic expertise, and it also takes a degree of self-belief that allows the writer to express strong opinions about such a variety of specialist fields. Most readers of this review will not need to be told that Michael Jaffé possessed both of these elements in bucket-loads. (Perhaps he should have worked for an auction house!) Looking (and talking) more and more like an Old Testament patriarch as the years went by, Jaffé knew an extraordinary amount about so many aspects of Western art, not just the Flemish painters with whom his name is most closely associated, and was always extremely willing to share what he knew, both through his highly influential years of teaching at Cambridge and in less formal contexts. But he was also an astonishingly opinionated man, and the volumes of this catalogue reflect both these strands of his personality. Few other scholars in modern times could have catalogued such a wide range of drawings with such deep knowledge and insight, but few would have been so outspokenly sure of their own judgement across the board, and so cursorily dismissive on occasion of the views of other, generally highly respected, scholars. Frequently, attributions are not defended with substantial arguments so much as delivered as incontrovertible statements of fact: the word “manifestly” recurs in many a one-sentence note. On a few occasions the bombastic language becomes quite startling, notably in the vitriolic attack directed at Oliver Millar for his “senseless” review, of “unbecoming arrogance,” of Jaffé’s own earlier publication of Van Dyck’s Antwerp Sketchbook. Though in principle rather refreshing, this sort of outspokenness does not sit entirely comfortably with the format and scholarly apparatus of a modern systematic catalogue.
Equally, the way some drawings are accorded relatively extensive commentaries while others of similar importance receive only a sentence or two, is a little surprising. There is certainly a tendency these days to write far too much about drawings of little importance, but the minimalism of some of Jaffé’s notes is more frustrating than refreshing (e.g. the Rembrandt drawing, no. 1494, for which the total commentary is “Benesch dated this 1654-1655, but it could be five years earlier”). While this was also to a certain extent a characteristic of the Italian volumes, the imbalance in terms of depth of treatment is more pronounced here, perhaps partly due to the fact that Jaffé’s health was declining for several years prior to his death in 1997, and although he submitted a nominally complete manuscript at the end of 1996, he had clearly not been able to bring his full previous powers to the final stages of its preparation. This is particularly evident in the literature cited for the individual drawings, where there are fairly numerous omissions; with the few exceptions listed below, this is not the place to provide missing references, but users of the catalogue should nonetheless be aware that despite the publication date of 2002, virtually no post-1996 literature is given for the drawings, and the references are also by no means complete regarding earlier publications. By contrast, the concordances, general bibliographies, indexes, lists of exhibitions in which Chatsworth drawings were included, etc., which fill the last 53 pages of the fifth volume, are nothing if not exhaustive; there is even a list of all the drawings, organized alphabetically by title, the usefulness of which is not immediately apparent.
Jaffé’s catalogue is not a precise reflection of the current holdings of Northern drawings at Chatsworth, in that it includes a number of works that are no longer there, and excludes certain large groups of drawings which are, but have already been fully published elsewhere – notably the 400 Inigo Jones designs for the court masques of Charles I. Although initially somewhat confusing (one might not at first expect to find entries on drawings in the Getty Museum in a catalogue of the Chatsworth collection), this arrangement is actually very satisfactory, as it is much more useful to have, for example, the entire group of 30 Rembrandt landscapes from the Flinck album published together, than to read only about the 18 that remain at Chatsworth today. The fact that a certain drawing is no longer in the collection is clearly indicated, with an asterisk by the Chatsworth inventory number, and in the provenance notes. The inclusion of these drawings also reveals the precise effect on the collection of the two main disposals of the twentieth century. In 1957, to help pay the taxes arising from the death of the 10th Duke, Holbein’s cartoon of Henry VIII and Henry VII(no.1546) was transferred to the National Portrait Gallery, and the Claude Liber Veritatis, and Van Dyck’s Italian Sketchbook went to the British Museum (the Claudes, already fully published elsewhere, are not included in this catalogue, but the Holbein is, as is the Van Dyck, the first complete publication of this highly important sketchbook). Then, in 1984 and 1987, 86 individual sheets were auctioned from the collection, including great works by Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck and others. The present catalogue, where all these drawings are included in their original context, reveals that while these losses unquestionably diminished the collection, this effect was by no means catastrophic, and very few works were sold when there was no counterpart of approximately comparable quality that remained.
To conclude this review, I would like to give a brief summary of each of the five volumes, indicating the main highlights of the collection described therein, with a few comments on individual drawings.
Volume I. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Jaffé devoted the first volume to drawings by Van Dyck and Rubens. Here are the nine extraordinary black chalk portrait drawings by Van Dyck for his Iconography (one of which was sold), the three revolutionary landscape watercolors (one sold to the Getty), and the Antwerp and Italian sketchbooks (the latter, now in the British Museum, catalogued in full; the former, still at Chatsworth, represented only by an extended article, of ever-increasing vehemence, supplementing and supporting Jaffé’s own earlier publication; see M. Jaffé, Van Dyck’s Antwerp Sketchbook, 2 vols., London 1966). There are also exceptional religious drawings by Van Dyck, and figure and landscape studies by Rubens. Both artists have been the subject of numerous recent publications and exhibitions, but one new suggestion that should certainly be noted here is Martin Royalton-Kisch’s much-debated reattribution from Rubens to Van Dyck of the two splendid studies of dead trees (nos. 1156-7; see M. Royalton-Kisch, The Light of Nature. Landscape Drawings and Watercolours by Van Dyck and his Contemporaries, exh. cat., London, British Museum, and Antwerp, Rubenshuis, 1999, nos. 1, 2).
Volume II describes the other Flemish School drawings. Here, the most important individual drawing is the magnificent view of Rome by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (no. 1178). Also of considerable interest, though, are the two drawings (nos. 1179, 1180), long thought to be by Bruegel, here called “Attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder,” but already some years ago tentatively given by Mielke to Roelandt Savery, and subsequently included in the recent Bruegel drawings exhibition or mentioned in the catalogue under the newly-coined name, “The Master of the Mountain Landscapes” (see Nadine M. Orenstein et al., Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Drawings and Prints, exh. cat., Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, and New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001, pp. 266-76). Also in the immediate surroundings of Bruegel are the seven very good drawings by the Master of the Small Landscapes (nos. 1197-1203, several also included in the 2001 Bruegel exhibition). In addition, there are three other significant sets of Flemish drawings: the album of small but fine emblematic drawings by Crispijn de Passe (nos. 1208-1268), the album of largely Roman views attributed to Sebastian Vrancx, and a series of exceptionally good, though poorly preserved, watercolors by Vanvitelli (nos. 1327-1343). The condition problems suffered by quite a few of the drawings at Chatsworth can, by the way, be attributed to the misguided actions of the 6th Duke, who in around 1830 proudly declared that he had had drawings “rescued from portfolios and installed framed in the South Gallery”, a space expressly adapted for the purpose by Sir Jeffry Wyatville, and where drawings continued to hang, to their great disadvantage, right up until 1906.
A few specific comments on attribution. Jaffé catalogues only nos. 1161 & 1162 as autograph works by Paulus Bril, but Louisa Wood Ruby, in her recent monograph on the artist’s drawings, also accepts, seemingly with good reason, no. 1164, here called “Manner of Paulus Bril” (see L. Wood Ruby, Paul Bril. The Drawings, Turnhout 1999, no. 17). No. 1184, which Jaffé gives to Craesbeeck, seems close to the style of Dirck de Vries (who cannot possibly have drawn no. 1505, in the next volume). The attribution of no. 1270 to Artus Quellinus seems implausible. No. 1342 does not fit stylistically with the rest of the Vanvitelli sequence, and in my view is actually by Claude Lorrain.
Volume III contains a thoroughly eccentric selection of Dutch drawings: 30 Rembrandt landscapes and several other good figure drawings by the artist, but hardly any examples of the other leading landscape draughtsmen of the seventeenth century. The other main highlights of this part of the collection are the volume of drawings by Jan de Bisschop and Jacob van der Ulft (nos. 1398-1441 – with in some cases rather unconvincing transcriptions of Dutch place names), and the fine sheets by Goltzius (no. 1448), Goudt (nos. 1450-52) and Heemskerk (nos. 1454-8). But the Rembrandts, and the landscapes in particular, are the heart of this volume, and in several cases there is information to add, mainly as a result of the astonishing research of Boudewijn Bakker, Erik Schmitz, Marià van Berge and others in preparation for the exhibition Landscapes of Rembrandt. His favourite walks (Amsterdam, Gemeentearchief, and Paris, Institut Néerlandais, 1998-99). The exact locations depicted in several of the drawings have now been identified, notably nos. 1475, 1478 (both views on the Sloterweg), 1483 (Weesperzijde road), 1485 (Taphouses on Schinkelweg, looking towards the Overtoom), 1487 (the Inn “Huis te Vraag”) and 1488 (Amsteldijk, looking towards the Omval). For those sheets sold in 1984 and 1987, there is also some important recent provenance to add. No. 1480 was sold again, New York, Sotheby’s, 26 January 2002 (lot 45) and is now in a European private collection; no. 1481 was owned by Michael S. Currier, sold from his estate, New York, Christie’s, 28 January 2000, lot 115, is now in the Fentener van Vlissingen collection, and was recently exhibited in Haarlem (see Hans Verbeek, Travels through Town and Country. Dutch and Flemish Landscape Drawings 1550-1830, exh. cat., Haarlem, Teyler Museum, 2000, no. 39); and no. 1495 was also in the Currier collection, was lot 114 in the 2000 sale, and is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.
A few specific comments. The attribution of no. 1443 to Breenbergh is unconvincing, and it seems closer to, though probably not actually by, Asselijn. Nos. 1444-14447 were (convincingly) published as Hendrick Feldman by Gorissen as long ago as 1965. In no. 1459, the overworking in grey/white seems unconvincing for Hoogstraten; Sumowski’s suggestion of Renesse seems better. It is very peculiar that the fine plant study by the Flemish artist Jan Siberechts, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, is included here in the Dutch volume (no. 1501). No. 1502 seems unconvincing as Swanevelt, and closer to drawings recently published by Peter Schatborn as Horatius de Hooch (see P. Schatborn, Drawn to Warmth. 17th-century Dutch artists in Italy, exh. cat., Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 2001 p.142). The form of signature on no. 1503 is that generally used by Willem van de Velde the Elder, rather than the Younger, and the initials on no. 1504 are wrongly described in the catalogue, and are not autograph. Both drawings must be by the Elder van de Velde. The attribution of no. 1506 to Cornelis Vroom is unconvincing, and not accepted by other scholars. Finally, Jaffé’s doubts concerning the traditional attribution to Wieringen of no. 1507 seem misplaced, but I think the grey wash, the white heightening and possibly even the figure in the left foreground must have been added by a later hand.
Volume IV deals with the German, English and Spanish drawings. Here are the two magnificent Holbein portraits (nos. 1544, 1545), the cartoon and the jewellery designs by the same artist, the highly important series of drawings by Hollar documenting his journey to Prague with the Earl of Arundel in 1636, and notable one-offs such as the atmospheric Gainsborough landscape (no. 1583) and the large study by Peter Lely of one of the Knights of the Order of the Garter (no. 1584). The attribution to Baur of nos. 1512-1527 seems curious, and I would prefer to classify these drawings simply as by an anonymous follower of Callot. The inclusion of the beautiful early silverpoint drawing (no. 1538) in the German volume seems to me incorrect: I see it as Dutch, and very close to Lucas van Leyden, to whom it was, indeed, originally attributed in the collection.
Volume V, covering the French drawings, is again notable for the sequences of drawings by certain artists. Here, these artists are Callot (the famous Chatsworth Callot album contained 270 etchings and 146 drawings, some of which were described by Jaffé in a published paper given at the 1992 Paris/Nancy Callot conference), Claude Lorrain (still well represented here, despite the departure of the Liber Veritatis), and Jacques Rigaud (a splendid series of views of Lord Burlington’s house at Chiswick, nos. 1829-1836).
By way of conclusion, it is hard to improve on the words of the 11th Duke of Devonshire, printed inside the dust jacket of each of the five volumes: “The catalogue will stand as a monument to Michael Jaffé’s formidable scholarship and endeavour in producing it, for which other scholars and students will have cause to be grateful for many years to come.” One might only add that although there are certainly flaws in this catalogue, which His Grace was perhaps too polite to mention, these imperfections do not in any significant way undermine the enormous achievement that the publication represents, an achievement that is all the more powerfully presented thanks to the superb quality of the production and printing of the books themselves.