Erik Duverger will be remembered by all historians of Netherlandish art as a scholar who discovered and published enormous amounts of archival material. This publication, printed only just after his death earlier this year, was the last surprise he came up with.
Duverger discovered the Van den Berghe family archive (at some point devided in two parts and currently preserved in the Ghent City Archives and University Library) and brought it back to light. Francisco-Jacomo van den Berghe, as it now appears, was an important gentleman dealer, living in Ghent and working together with an associate, Gillis van der Vennen, who travelled all the time. They set up an art trade between Paris, Flanders, Brabant and Holland.
The documents, cover a period of some forty years (1692-1733). Duverger worked trough all documents in the collection and retained 427 for publication. The nature of the archival documents is diverse. The major part consists of letters, but accounts, inventories, stock-lists and auction catalogues are also included. Duverger does not explain his selection criteria, but we may assume that he only transcribed those documents mentioning works of art.
The large quantity of notes and letters written by these Ghent dealers and their foreign trading partners – as now published by Duverger – offers so much information that it will take years for several scholars to complete the puzzle of their trading network. Moreover one will undoubtedly have to go back to the archives to study all other documents as well in order to get a complete understanding on how the art trade of Van den Berghe functioned. Unfortunately, Duverger lacked the time to study that thoroughly himself.
In the introduction (in French) Duverger informs us on what he knew about the several people named in the documents. He starts with the key figures Francisco-Jacomo Van den Berghe and Gillis van der Vennen, followed by some brief information on some others mentioned in the book. It does him honor that he still underook this effort. The book has a good and almost complete index.
Though there remains work yet to be done, it is possible to give some indications on how important this publication is for Netherlandish art history and especially for scholars studying the art market. Of the few dozen paintings mentioned in the book, I will pick but one example, in order to show that this publication will open up a range of opportunities for renewed provenance research, as well as to show that it will provide us with new insights into the art market of the early eighteenth century.
A painting which was part of the the ‘stock’ of Van den Berghe en Van der Vennen in 1700 was the Drunken Silenus by Rubens (now in Munich, Alte Pinakothek). It was bought from a Ghent counseler named J. de Jonghe. By 1707 it was sold to the Rotterdam dealer Quirijn van Biesum, who apparently was the company’s Rotterdam associate. On one of his trips to Düsseldorf, Van Biesum took the painting with him, where he sold it to the Elector Johann Wilhem, with whose collection it ended up in Munich. Although the sheer fact that the painting came from a Ghent collection, was sold to a Dutch art dealer and brought to the elector is interesting by itself (all unknown), one should look at the complete picture. Quirijn van Biesum and Gillis van der Vennen, who seemed to have played an important role in this ‘transfer’ were merely delivery men. In Ghent, the financial backing came from Van den Berghe and in Rotterdam, it was the famous merchant and collector Jacques Meyers who supported these kinds of transactions financially. Jacques Meyers is known to have been a gentleman dealer with an aristocratic clientele. For example, he sold Nicolas Poussin’s Seven Sacraments to the Duke of Orleans in 1716. The Silenus is just one example. Other paintings mentioned are for instance Anthony van Dyck’s Portrait of Everhard Jabach(Hermitage), Poussin’s Entombment (Dublin), Rubens’s Landscape with a Cart Crossing a Ford (Hermitage) and many more.
As a few dozen paintings and persons are mentioned in the several letters and accounts of Van den Berghe and Gillis van der Vennen, one can imagine that studying these sources will give us new and clear insight into the elite art trade in the first decades of the eighteenth century. They operated in Paris, Gent, Antwerp, Rotterdam, The Hague and Amsterdam and only dealt with the wealthiest collectors, such as Meyers, Jan van Beuningen, Adriaen Bout, and several others. These in turn sold the works to German princes and English aristocracy. For our understanding of the elite art trade, these archival documents now provide us with an incomparable new entry which will be cited over and over again for many years to come. Let us get to work.
University of Amsterdam
The book was privately published by Duverger himself and is available from his widow: Denise Duverger-Van de Velde, Coupure 385, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium. Cost euro 30 + euro 5 for mailing. Account Denise Van de Velde, 446-4501121-73 (IBAN BE 27 44 64 50 11 21 73).