The constant flow of publications on art and commerce in the Netherlands shows no sign of abating. Indeed, it may be a sign of our times that scholarly preoccupation with the finances, market, and economic structure of the region in the seventeenth century is so intense, whether dealing with tulips (Anne Goldgar, 2007), peasant scenes (Larry Silver, 2006), still lives (Julie Berger Hochstrasser, 2007), or, of course, Rembrandt. Uylenburgh & Son: Art and Commerce from Rembrandt to de Lairesse 1625-1675 was published in connection with an exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Rembrandthuis in 2006. However, it is a not a traditional exhibition catalogue. There are no entries focusing on individual works of art. Rather, the essays in this book (written by Friso Lammertse and Jaap van der Veen) are connected with the overarching theme of the exhibition, namely Rembrandt and art dealing in the seventeenth century. Van der Veen and Lammertse examine the art dealers Hendrick Uylenburgh and his son Gerrit Uylenburgh, key players in the Dutch art market between 1625 and 1675. Since Hendrick Uylenburgh’s fame as an art dealer rests in part upon his close relationship with Rembrandt in the 1630s, the painter (and his issues) play a large part in this text.
Lammertse and Van der Veen divide their material approximately in half. Each takes on the history and significance of one of the Uylenburgh dealers: Jaap van der Veen focuses on Hendrick Uylenburgh and art dealing c. 1625-55, while Lammertse works with the younger Uylenburgh and the market in art from 1655-75. Similarly, the book is divided into two separate types of enquiry. The first two chapters are primarily biographical, devoted to uncovering and restoring the genealogy, movements, and social networks of the two Uylenburghs. The final two chapters discuss their respective business practices. The book is completed by appendices that document the Uylenburghs’ major business transactions and, as much as is possible, their holdings.
The biographical enterprise adds much to our understanding of the Uylenburgh family. Based on an extensive study of documentary evidence, these chapters lay out a detailed account of the ancestors of the two Uylenburghs under consideration. The activities of Hendrick’s father Rombout in Cracow and Danzig (Gdansk) are meticulously discussed, as are the origins and social network of Hendrick’s wife and the couple’s various residences and neighbors in Amsterdam. The strengths of these chapters are the authors’ focused, even relentless, archival investigations. From a wide variety of sources including baptismal records, inventories, church council records, bankruptcy and financial proceedings, studied in Poland as well as the Netherlands, the authors reconstruct the convoluted social and business structure of their subjects’ lives.
Jaap van der Veen traces Hendrick Uylenburgh’s courtly and international connections, an orientation that later came to serve his son Gerrit well. The maze of neighbors, clients, friends, and relatives uncovered by Van der Veen is shown to be a thriving Mennonite commercial network, which sustained Hendrick Uylenburgh throughout his career. While considerable archival losses require much historical supposition, Van der Veen negotiates the gaps clearly and with sensitivity, though his text is hampered at times by an awkward translation.
Friso Lammertse’s chapter on Gerrit Uylenburgh’s life follows along with the development and internationalization of the business after Hendrick’s death in 1661. Gerrit’s connections to the nobility in Europe gave him a privileged position from which to advise and sell art to the rich and powerful. Lammertse discusses Gerrit’s business role in the context of politics (the Dutch Gift to Charles II in 1660), and large-scale sales (to Friedrich Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg). Lammertse’s account provides a fascinating window into Gerrit’s activities, from individual sales to management of inventory, and covering services such as valuation, acquisition, financing of purchases, large-scale brokered deals and even management of international branches.
The third and fourth essays analyze the Uylenburgh art business. The authors have adopted an approach based primarily on the documentary evidence – they are concerned with providing a factual, historical understanding of the business of art dealers, not with reading the evidence to any other end. The result is a significant contribution to our understanding of the workings of the Amsterdam art market, framed carefully to avoid undue speculation. Readers looking for a continuation of the polemical debates over Rembrandt’s relationship with the market should go elsewhere; those interested in an intensive study of financial proceedings, workshop organization, sales, and other pieces of financial evidence involving both the Uylenburghs and their extensive client base, will be more than satisfied. There are many intriguing details embedded in these dense (and long) chapters. Van der Veen teases out the documentary evidence for the collaboration between Uylenburgh and Rembrandt between 1631 and 1635, and concludes that the two engaged in a productive collaboration, rather than the hierarchical arrangement posited elsewhere. Van der Veen also discusses the role of other painters in the shop (such as Dirck Santvoort and Govaert Flinck) after Rembrandt’s departure. Much attention is devoted to the identification of sitters in Rembrandt’s extant portraits made during the period working with Uylenburgh. Although some of the identifications are intriguing, the enterprise is hampered by the lack of evidence: the author scours the archives to provide some possible relationship between the sitter and the artist, but the results are often so tangential as to seem tenuous. The discussion of Rembrandt’s oil sketches in the context of Uylenburgh’s business provides an intriguing new market-based take on these problematic works, whether seen as a series or as studies for reproductive prints.
The final chapter, on Gerrit’s business, controls the large amount of material involved by categorizing Gerrit’s activities and listing, for example, artists, clients, and investors involved with the business. Lammertse’s approach in this chapter results in a fragmented narrative, but it does allow him to effectively survey Gerrit’s many deals. Of interest is Gerrit Uylenburgh’s trade in prints and sculpture, as well as in coins, which are not commonly considered in the scholarship. In places, Lammertse follows up on themes generated from Van der Veen’s text, allowing an extremely valuable glimpse into how the business developed over time. For example, Lammertse continues the discussion of the managed workshop of artists, now under Gerrit’s leadership. Painters such as Jürgen Ovens, Johannes Lingelbach, and Gerard de Lairesse emerge as operating in a veritable sweatshop for art, where mostly anonymous artists painted originals and copies on demand for a faceless audience. The audience for such works was clearly different from Hendrick’s stolid Mennonite merchants seeking portraits. Both Gerrit’s artists and his inventory appear to have focused on Italian and Italianate works with classical themes. Lastly, Lammertse shows how Gerrit built upon his father’s innovation in branch management, especially in London. There, Sir Peter Lely operated as an associate of the business and extended the Uylenburgh reach to the English upper classes.
It is the nature of an exhibition catalogue to leave gaps. Yet, while this text is well illustrated and copiously documented, one would have liked to see the authors dedicate more time and attention to how their two accounts work together. The lack of any synthetic conclusion renders it impossible to gather large-scale conclusions from this substantial endeavor. The reader must delve into the individual chapters to find discussion of particular themes, artists, and issues (fortunately, subheadings are provided). However, this book provides a treasure trove of information and description of the Uylenburghs, and will be an essential resource for further discussion of the making, marketing, financing, and selling of art in the seventeenth century.