Note to our readers: in general, the HNA Newsletter has not been reviewing museum collection catalogues, but as the previous museum collection catalogues of Frankfurt were already reviewed, we complete the series here.
With a three-volume series, Frankfurt’s Städel Museum joins several other major institutions that have recently undertaken exhaustive and well-funded campaigns to publish their Dutch paintings, such as the Rijksmuseum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mirjam Neumeister’s lead tome covered artists born up to the year 1615 and was addressed here by the present reviewer; the second volume appeared from the pen of Léon Krempel in 2005, on artists born before 1630. For the third, covering all the remaining artists, Neumeister returns as author, joined by Julia Schewski-Bock who completed 23 of the 72 entries, and again by Christiane Haeselaer as technical researcher and author. The date-range begins with those painters who first flowered at the peak of the Dutch Golden Age, and provides a stage for two major masterpieces in the museum, by Johannes Vermeer and Aert de Gelder, but also for other late luminaries such as Meindert Hobbema, Frans van Mieris, and some notable artists who cross over into the unsung Dutch eighteenth century, including Gottfried Schalcken.
This part of the museum’s holdings is not far removed temporally from the initial sweep of acquisitions by leading Frankfurt citizens that founded the collection, and so it opens a window onto the impulses driving the rest of this collection, as well as the early international reception of Dutch art in general. Two iconic Amsterdam views represent the work of Gerrit Berckheyde, for instance, already evoking a foreign perspective. Genre specialists abound, including Cornelis Bega, with two scenes minutely dissected here, one in far better condition than the other, and Cornelis Dusart. Jan van Huysum is no surprise, but the collection also hosts the unpredictably impressive Jan Ekels the Younger, the more comfortable talents of Gerrit Zegelaar and Wijbrand Hendricks, the biographer-theorist and theological contrarian (his important biography by Hendrik Horn unfortunately overlooked) Arnold Houbraken and the enigmatic Parisian émigré Nicolaes van Haeften whose relationship to Chardin has yet to be assessed. The compelling topographical interest of Jan Hulswit is delivered with an aesthetic unabashedly derived from Hobbema. Frankfurt was evidently a sufficiently close vantage point to permit a sophisticated appreciation of the significant contributions that rode the wake of the Dutch Golden Age.
Averaging over eight pages each, the entries generously supply information about the works, and details of their scholarly discussion. The material is notably segregated in sections, on biography, technical examination, provenance, visual description, state of research, discussion, and a literature list. One drawback is a regular repetition of material between sections, in particular the state of research and the discussion. A democratic presentation of detail eschews selectivity, and with it authorial dicretion and stance. Much evidence is corralled in support of the attribution of the Van Haeften, for instance, although it is signed and dated. The entire pictorial tradition of village feasts is summoned for a Dusart that is firmly based on Adriaen van Ostade. The mass of commentary on Vermeer likewise could have used a firmer hand in highlighting significant contributions, such as Walter Liedtke’s on Adriaen Paets as patron, and some further development of the painting’s position in scholarly genre imagery of the period, also with respect to Rembrandt’s Faust (or Saint Paul) which is indeed duly mentioned. The authors’ identification of framing or repoussoir devices, here and with other works, as “barriers”, feels squeezed in between the details. It is with fastidious detail that this publication acquits the Städel Museum of its professional responsibility to provide access to the collection of Dutch paintings and knowledge about it, even if it leaves the reader looking for overviews or syntheses that express the institution’s viewpoint on its own works.
The Agnes Etherington Art Centre