Quentin Buvelot, Jacob van Ruisdael Paints Bentheim. Cat. exh. Mauritshuis, The Hague, February 26 – May 31, 2009. Zwolle: Waanders, 2009. 104 pp, 60 color, 36 b&w illus. ISBN 978-90-400-8598-7. Also published in Dutch.
Frederik Duparc and Quentin Buvelot, Philips Wouwerman 1619-1668. With essays by Kathrin Bürger and Gerdien Wuestman and contributions by Gregor Weber, Edwin Buijest, Lea van der Vinde and Alice Klaassen. Cat. exh. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel, July 1 – October 11, 2009; Mauritshuis, The Hague, November 12, 2009 – February 28, 2010. Zwolle: Waanders, 2009. 270 pp, 80 color and 35 b&w illus. ISBN 978-90-400-8592-5. Also in Dutch and German.
Two outstanding landscape painters, Jacob van Ruisdael (1628?-1682) and Philips Wouwerman (1619-1668), were born in Haarlem, the “cradle of Dutch landscape painting.” They both came from families of painters and achieved great success during their lifetimes. As members of Haarlem’s Guild of St. Luke – Wouwerman joined in 1640 and Ruisdael in 1648 – they would have met some of the best Dutch painters of their time, including Jacob’s uncle, Salomon van Ruysdael, Cornelis Vroom and the brothers Adrian and Isaac van Ostade.
In Jacob van Ruisdael Paints Bentheim, Quentin Buvelot places Ruisdael’s paintings of Bentheim Castle in the context of his development as a landscape painter and at the same time creates a platform from which to introduce the Mauritshuis’s recently acquired Landscape with Bentheim Castle (cat. no. 2), purchased in 2005. (The painting came to the attention of Ruisdael scholars when it appeared in Seymour Slive’s monograph on the artist, published in 2001. Its early provenance has now been extended.) It is believed that during his lifetime, Ruisdael produced at least twelve Bentheimpjes, the term coined by Buvelot to distinguish them from his views of Haarlem or Haarlempjes, the latter used in Dutch inventories as early as the 1660s.
Ruisdael, like many of his peers, heeded the advice of Karel van Mander who, in Het Schilder-boeck, published in Haarlem in 1604, encouraged artists to travel outside the boundaries of their hometown. In 1650, Ruisdael, probably in the company of his friend Nicolaes Berchem, also a member of the Haarlem guild, went over the Dutch-German border to Bad Bentheim in Westphalia, where they recorded images of Bentheim Castle, the subject of some of Ruisdael’s most dramatic landscapes. Although none of Ruisdael’s original drawings of the castle has survived, we do have that of Half-Timbered Houses Near a Hill, c. 1650 (cat. no. 7, private collection), taken from an area near the castle, or possibly from the wooded region in the Dutch province of Gerdeland, through which the artists must have traveled.
In his fascinating and well illustrated account, Buvelot takes the reader through Ruisdael’s portrayals of the castle, painted from a variety of distances and angles, over a span of approximately twenty-four years. The earliest, dated 1651 (cat. no. 1, private collection), shows Bentheim Castle from the southwest. Taken from a considerable distance, it is dwarfed by a sandy road which dominates the foreground and by a heavily wooded hill to the left. One of the last in the series is Landscape with Waterfall and Bentheim Castle (c. 1670-1675, cat. no. 6, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum) which, as pointed out by Buvelot, is a variant on the Mauritshuis painting. However, as an upright picture, the emphasis here is placed on the build-up of the landscape in the foreground with, at the same time, a reduction of the castle’s profile – achieved by eliminating the large circular tower to the right and the church spire which would have appeared to the far left.
Also included, under ‘Other artists’ is a drawing of Bentheim Castle by Berchem, dated 1650 (cat. no. 8, Frankfurt, Städel Museum) and a painting dated 1656 (cat. no. 9, Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister), the latter with its focus on the bucolic scene in the foreground. In addition is a watercolor by Isaac de Moucheron and four drawings by Anthonie Waterloo, which give us a more accurate idea of the land on which the castle was built – not the steep pile of almost mountainous proportions that we see in the Ruisdaels but, rather, a small knoll. The appendices contain a short biography of the artist, a nineteenth-century elevation and ground plan drawing of the castle, and recent photographs of the site.
While the catalogue on Ruisdael focuses on a single theme, that on Wouwerman takes us across the full array of his subject-matter, ranging from a single horse in a rural setting (e.g. The White Horse, cat. no. 4, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), to his elaborate hunting scenes, battles, military encampments and genres, portraying peasants gathered outside village inns. There are also a few paintings of religious subjects, some of them incorporating a horse, and Wouwerman’s only mythological painting, which touchingly portrays the dying lovers in Pyramus and Thisbe, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Highly regarded during his lifetime, Wouwerman’s paintings were so popular during the eighteenth century that they were copied to meet collectors’ demands. But, like the work of the Dutch Italianates, his paintings went out of favor during the nineteenth century and, in spite of their inclusion in Cornelis Hofstede de Groot’s Holländische Maler, published in 1908, they were slow to regain their reputation until well into the twentieth century.
With the exhibition, the first one-man show of the artist, and the catalogue, Wouwerman has been reinstated to his rightful place – as the leading Dutch painter of the horse and an outstanding painter of Dutch landscape. When Frederik Duparc published his groundbreaking article in Oud Holland in 1993, the problems surrounding Wouwerman, including dating and chronology, began to be resolved. The article has been extended and revised to form Duparc’s introductory essay to the catalogue.
While Karel van Mander could well have been the catalyst that sent Ruisdael on his travels, he could also have provided Wouwerman with the incentive to borrow motifs from other artists. This he certainly did, particularly from Pieter van Laer who, in 1639, had returned to Haarlem after a fifteen year stay in Rome, bringing with him a new form of genre painting, known as ‘bambocciate’, after his nickname ‘Bamboccio’ or ‘Clumsy puppet.’ In his early years Wouwerman relied heavily on Van Laer’s work, but by 1646 he had established a personal style which he continued to refine until his untimely death at the age of 47. In The Stag Hunt (Florida, Eijk and Rose Marie del Mol van Otterloo), painted on copper around 1659-1660, we see Wouwerman’s ability to produce an extremely elegant scene in an exquisitely lit landscape, in which we sense the forward rush of horses and hounds towards the dying stag.
All of this is explored in Quentin Buvelot’s dazzling catalogue, including 31 paintings and ten drawings by Wouwerman, which are beautifully presented with a number of useful, comparative plates.