This exemplary publication is the latest in a series of collection/exhibition catalogues devoted to Dutch and Flemish paintings in French provincial museums, which have been produced by the Fondation Custodia in Paris (Netherlandish paintings from Quimper were exhibited at the Institut Néerlandais in 1987, and paintings from Lyon in 1991). Seventy-three paintings were included in the exhibition, drawn from a collection of just over 200 works. The Musée Fabre was founded in 1828 by François Xavier Fabre (1766-1837), an amateur painter and a passionate collector. Although Fabre did gather a number of fine Netherlandish works, the greatest strength of his personal collection lay in the French and Italian paintings he amassed. In the years between the founding of the museum and his death in 1837, however, Fabre made an effort to acquire paintings that addressed specific lacunae in the original collection (eg, still lifes by Cornelis de Heem, Melchior d’Hondecoeter, Otto Marseus van Schriek, Nicolaes van Verendael, Jan Weenix, et al.).
Perhaps the most remarkable portion of the Netherlandish collection at Montpellier was bequeathed to the museum in 1836 by Fabre’s friend and colleague Antoine-Louis-Joseph-Pascal Valedau (1777-1836). As Michel Hilaire explains in his introduction to the catalogue, these two complementary collections document the dominant trends in collecting in France at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, and it is a testament both to the original collectors and to subsequent custodians of the Montpellier collection that it has retained such a homogenous and well-defined identity to this day. (Indeed, many later acquisitions, such as a fine group of eighteenth-century portraits by Tibout Regters given to the museum in 1968 and 1970, and a Landscape with Callisto by Alexander Keirinx and Cornelis Poelenburch purchased in 1997, would not have been out of place in the original collections.)
Fabre, influenced by a long stay in Italy, collected some stellar Italianate landscapes and genre scenes by (among others) Jan Asselijn, Nicolaes Berchem, Johannes Lingelbach, Thomas Wijck, and both Frederik and Isaac de Moucheron; as well as more contemporary Italianate works by Jan Frans van Bloemen, Simon Denis, and Hendrik Voogd. Valedau collected primarily cabinet pictures, and particularly admired the refined aesthetic, virtuosic detail and precise illusionism found in works by the Dutch fijnschilders: Gerrit Dou, Frans van Mieris, Gerard ter Borch, Jan Steen, and Gabriel Metsu are well represented in the collection, as are artists such as Adriaen van Ostade and Paulus Potter. Valedau’s collection was particularly rich in works by those two great heroes of eighteenth-century French collectors, David Teniers the Younger and Philips Wouwermans.
Somewhat typically for private collections formed in France during the period around 1800, there are few grand historical or religious scenes at Montpellier, and only a handful of portraits (a notable exception being the much-debated portrait of Frans Francken, now attributed to Rubens), but the wealth of landscapes, genre paintings, and still lifes more than compensates.
The individual catalogue entries in this publication (written by Quentin Buvelot, Michel Hilaire, and Olivier Zeder) are comprehensive, impeccably researched, and well supplied with comparative illustrations; also of interest are the numerous citations of descriptions of the paintings culled verbatim from early sale catalogues. The detailed entries are complemented by an illustrated summary catalogue (compiled by Buvelot) of the entire collection of Netherlandish paintings at Montpellier,”summary” is perhaps misleading, however, for descriptions are often quite lengthy and full of useful information. If there is one fault to be found with this admirable catalogue, it is the relative dearth of information concerning the condition of the works. In the introduction, Hilaire summarizes some notable discoveries made during a recent campaign of cleaning and conservation, but only a handful of entries include even a brief accounting of the painting’s condition, even when the accompanying illustration plainly raises questions about the technique or physical state of the work.
Marjorie E. Wieseman
Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College