Fifteen years after the appearance of its summary catalogue of European paintings, the Nationalmuseum’s former research curator Görel Cavalli-Bjorkman presents the fruits of focused research and review of the museum’s collector of Dutch and Flemish paintings of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This handsome cloth-bound volume follows on a slimmer volume devoted to the earlier Netherlandish paintings. As the introductory essay makes clear, the text was prepared with an awareness of the many developments in the research of the past decades, especially in Dutch art, which dominates this part of the collection. It must also be pointed out that the leadership of Cavalli-Björkman, whose established scholarly profile puts her firmly in the category of the “publishing curator”, sets forth an expectation of research, which this volume certainly realizes in many of the entries. Iconographical debates, problems of attribution, the rise of new artistic personalities, and the flourishing of technical research all make their mark here. At the same time, so does the weight of a superb collection that, besides masterpieces of world renown, also features a host of fascinating, lesser-known artists and works. Not neglected is the historical intertwining of Dutch art and Swedish history, which such a text is in a superb position to relate. On occasion, however, the reader will be struck by scantiness of information on some works and imbalance of interests.
With over six hundred works to cover in a single large volume, Cavalli-Björkman has opted for a pragmatic approach that will be welcomed by professionals using the text as a research resource. After a brief introduction tracing the history of the collection and the contributions of Dutch artists and patrons, the Swedish royal house and bourgeois collectors, followed by a signature of color plates devoted to the collection’s stars, the catalogue begins on page 50. The order is strictly alphabetical, with attributed works and works by followers trailing those firmly given to an artist, and anonymous works placed at the back. Multiple works by an artist are arranged by inventory numbers (not chronologically). Biographical material is given in single paragraphs often composed mainly of curt phrases. The usual provenance and publication information, here consisting of full bibliographies, is clearly presented in a smaller font, occasionally organized into sub-headings, as with the literature on Rembrandt paintings. The texts can be quite brief at times, and quite a few works receive no comment at all. The reader is on other occasions treated to extensive entries, even a bit unexpectedly, as with Ambrosius Bosschaert. It is clear that opportunities were taken as they arose, with many assistants and several authors making contributions, likely reflecting individual interests or the seminar contexts in which some of the contributions were generated, as the author explains. The Rembrandt entries, for instance, draw on previous exhibition publications, to which there would be little to add. Allaert van Everdingen receives due notice, as do several other artists who set foot on Swedish soil.
Many of the entries feature a separate section on findings of technical examination. There, the fruits of an important and extensive campaign of dendrochronological research carried out by Peter Klein and his Institute of Wood Biology in Hamburg figure prominently. The discussion is typically completed by observations on condition. This contribution does at times feel isolated, with limited engagement in the entry texts, sometimes even when there is an apparent conflict of dating (as in Pieter Codde’s family portrait, no. 150, where the indication of a date of around 1650-1660 seems to run counter to the fashion of around 1635 represented in the costumes).[*] Also, the attention to condition is generally not extended to the works on canvas, although it would be equally significant there.
In the important area of attributions, this catalogue is sure-footed. I would only wish to draw attention here to one work in this respect, no. 556, an accomplished male portrait that appears to have been prematurely taken away from Abraham van den Tempel, whose style it very closely follows. It should at least be “ Attributed to”, and cannot be placed any further than “Follower of”. On a different note, an Alchemist(not a “Chemist”), given to Jan Pynas (cat. 411) with good reason, is of special interest not only because of the unusual theme for the artist, but also for the curiously Rembrandtesque quality of the figure of the black assistant.
It is hard to overlook some omissions, for example the lack of discussion of an original by Ferdinand Bol of which no. 110 is a copy, or in the case of the painting by Paulus Bor (cat. 113), not giving Cervantes credit for the original theme, nor identifying the scene it might represent. “ Heydinnetje” is here mistranslated as “Shepherdess” but instead refers to “heathen,” and here more specifically to a “Gypsy”, the main figure in Jacob Cats’s adaptation of La Gitanilla di Madril. However, such quibbles do little to detract from the overall contribution made here by Cavalli-Björkmann and her team. They have endowed this venerable collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings with life, character and dimension, in the myriad details and pithy observations their entries provide.
Agnes Etherington Art Centre
* Also confirmed by costume specialist Marieke de Winkel, in e-mail correspondence of 27 March 2008.(back to text)