Anne Charlotte Steland’s monograph and catalogue raisonné of the Dutch Italianate painter and draughtsman Herman van Swanevelt’s large oeuvre of paintings and drawings is the impressive result of decades of scholarship and connoisseurship. It is exemplary in its methodical research and thoroughness, clear structure, reasoned inclusion and reflection of all scholarly discussions in any language of each and every of Swanevelt’s works, and for its meticulous catalogue of 323 paintings (282 attributed, 41 disattributed) and 291 works on paper (244 attributed, 47 disattributed). The set is also superbly illustrated, often in color. The text volume contains a state of research account, a biography, two chapters on Swanevelt’s paintings during his Roman (1630-1640) and his mostly Parisian periods (ca. 1641-1655), another two on his drawings during those same two periods, followed by chapters dedicated to his style, influence on other artists, and market, and by appendices of primary sources – Sandrart, Passeri and a court case about contested ownership of paintings – and very thorough footnotes. The ensuing catalogue of paintings distinguishes signed and dated paintings, certain attributions, uncertain attributions, wrong attributions, and no longer identifiable paintings recorded as by Swanevelt. The catalogue of drawings follows the same structure. Following the bibliography are five different indices making this publication searchable in several ways.
In undertaking this daunting amount of work it is Steland’s project to establish Swanevelt as an important and internationally collected artist and to further his recognition for mainly two accomplishments: Among the Dutch-Roman “Bentvueghels” he was equal to if more innovative than the Dutch Italianate landscape painters of his generation, enjoyed high-level patronage (the papal Barberini and Pamphili families) and in Spain (Philip IV’s Buen Retiro), and he was one of the best and most significant draughtsmen of his generation in general. A further goal is to demonstrate the reciprocal relationship between Swanevelt and Claude Lorrain in the early 1630s and its lasting importance for both artists’ unprecedented ability to render natural landscapes plausibly and subtly illuminated by sunlight at specific times of the day, especially at dawn and sunset. Without any doubt Steland achieves her goal, methodically, but not impassionately, endorsing (“überzeugend,” “zu Recht”) or first proposing attributions to Swanevelt of works formerly attributed (“fälschlich”) or often just kept (“bewahrt”) according to tradition and assumptions of artistic signature styles, to other Dutch artists, especially Jan Both, or other French artists, especially to Claude.
To appreciate Steland’s achievement, we might recall Hoogewerff’s assertions that Swanevelt was “een leerling van Claude Lorrain” and since 1635 “diens helper” (De Bentvueghels, 1952, 90, 144), that it was only in the exhibition catalogue, Nederlandse 17e-eeuwse italiaaniserende Landschapschilders (Central Museum Utrecht, 1965), that Albert Blankert emphasized, criticizing M. Roethlisberger’s argument to the contrary, Swanvelt’s “directe invloed op Claude” (98) and “grote betekenis” for him (101), and that H. Diane Russsell regretted the absence of “monographs on such important figures as … Herman van Swanevelt” (Claude Lorrain, 1600-1682, National Gallery, 1982, 65). Steland generally considers the Swanevelt of Rome to be more interesting, innovative, and artistically engaged than the Swanevelt of Paris. There is common agreement that the Roman oeuvres of Adam Elsheimer, Paul Bril and Bartholomaeus Breenbergh provided the foundation and sources for the 1630s generation of Dutch Italianate landscape painters. However, the closeness of Claude’s early work to that of his Dutch colleagues, more so than their shared indebtedness to this earlier generation or to Agostino Tassi, remains a somewhat sensitive topic in Claude scholarship. Proper and just recognition of Swanevelt’s and Claude’s early works, in any medium, implies a paradigm shift in value judgement, away from the canonical textbook pairing of Claude and Poussin, and an actual appreciation of the international community of artists in Rome ca. 1630-1640 learning together and from each other. Steland argues that their early development as painters “verlief offenbar parallel” (50) and agrees that by 1640 Claude steadily continued to refine and modulate his landscape settings and their illumination, whereas Swanevelt abandoned the idyllic mode for a summary, monumentalizing, even fast painting while deepening his color contrasts and classicizing his staffage. In Paris he came to use a bolder palette, formal tightening and yet increased iconographic variety (if also repetition) in his ideal landscapes.
Swanevelt’s Parisian drawings are painterly, mainly preparatory works for etchings and paintings, yet his Roman drawings stand out as significant artworks in themselves. Steland demonstrates Swanevelt’s astounding certainty in combining a chiaroscuro technique ranging from deep dark foreground motifs to patches of luminous white paper ground, drawing in pen and brush, ink and wash, to represent ideal landscapes, classical ruins, travellers, pastoral scenes, a few biblical and Ovidian histories and saints’ legends, country and town folk going about their trades, deep vistas with bridges and waterways as well as close-ups of rocks and ruined monuments. Strikingly fresh and “treffsicher” (79), Swanevelt’s drawings, when paired with works by Sandrart and Claude, suggest their excursions together, sometimes sketching the very same motif, and possibly plein-air painting (according to Sandrart). Moreover, these artists came to use each other’s drawings as sources for paintings. Jon Whiteley describes this symbiotic artistic situation in the recent exhibition catalogue, Claude: The Enchanted Landscape (Ashmolean Museum, 2011, 57-59), albeit without reference to Steland, and so does Michiel C. Plomp, with reference to her work, in the exhibition catalogue, Claude Gellée, di le Lorrain: Le dessinateur face à la nature (Louvre, 2011), and yet asks: “mais qui a influencé qui?” (88). As Steland sees it, given that Claude rarely dated his early drawings, “ist nicht zu entscheiden, wer hier der Gebende, wer der Nehmende war” (79) (Here it is unresolved as to who was the one giving and who was the one taking).
Bryn Mawr College