Catalogue Entries

Workshop of Adriaen Brouwer (Flemish 1605/6-1638)

Nenagh Hathaway

en français

Figure 1

The Drinker / The Bitter Draught

Workshop of Adriaen Brouwer (Flemish 1605/6-1638)

The Drinker / The Bitter Draught, c. 1635-1638

oil on oak panel on oak cradle

34.3 x 27.1 cm

Gift of Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E., 1984

 

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Provenance

Purchased from Brod Gallery, London, England, 1970

Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E.

 

Exhibition History

The Herman H. Levy Collection, McMaster Museum of Art, Togo Salmon Gallery, 11 June 1994 – 9 November 2006

Levy Series, Northern Art in the Age of Cock, Durer, Rubens & Rembrandt, McMaster Museum of Art, Levy Gallery, 10 May – 25 August 2007

The Last Things Before the Last, McMaster Museum of Art, Levy Gallery, 24 May – 18 August 2012

Worldly Possessions: Visualizing Ownership in the Age of the Baroque, McMaster Museum of Art, Levy Gallery, 27 August 2013 – 25 January 2014

This painting presents a compelling expression of revulsion. The man contorts his face, reacting to the taste of the liquid in the small glass vessel he clutches. His disgust is palpable; it is almost possible for us to hear his roar of displeasure and to taste the “bitter draught” that he sips. The painting is attributed to Adriaen Brouwer, an artist known for depicting his subjects—usually peasants in taverns or inns—with strong facial expressions. Brouwer’s own life had no shortage of dramatic events including a stint in prison, possibly related to debt issues. His self-portrait in The Smokers (Fig. X)—he is the figure in the central foreground—might support the argument that Brouwer’s own experiences provided the basis for many of his paintings.

Several other versions of The Bitter Draught (sometimes referred to as The Drinker) exist,[i] attesting to the popularity of this composition. The McMaster painting may have been part of a series of the senses, as might the other versions of this image. Although unusual as a representation of taste, which is more traditionally shown as a group of figures eating food at a table, the McMaster painting is an immediate and powerful expression of a very human reaction. One of the other versions is housed at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt (Fig. X). The Städel painting, which measures 47.4 by 35.5 cm, includes Brouwer’s monogram “AB” on the right side of the panel, a feature that is missing from the Hamilton painting.[ii]

Comparing the results of technical research conducted on these paintings helps to establish their relation. Like the McMaster work, the Städel version has been ascribed to the period between 1630 and 1640. Both works are painted on oak supports,[iii] and both were analyzed with dendrochronology by Dr. Peter Klein, who proposed 1635 as the earliest possible date of creation for the McMaster version and 1638 for the Städel work.[iv] Based on dendrochronological analysis, it is possible that the two works were painted within the same period, close to the end of Brouwer’s life.

The two works are also extremely close compositionally. In both paintings, the man’s jacket is fastened by three buttons, although this is more difficult to make out in the McMaster version. Infrared reflectography does not reveal an underdrawing in either painting (Fig. X). This emphasizes another parallel in artistic working method. However, the two works are not identical. An obvious difference is the amount of empty space left above the sitter’s hat.[v] It has not been possible to establish whether the McMaster painting had been cut down and was, therefore, closer in composition to the Städel version in its earlier state.

A comparison between the painting techniques of the two works, which are markedly different, offers more insight. The Städel work exhibits a greater sense of liveliness and three-dimensionality, created by the confident application of brushstrokes. On the other hand, the McMaster painting has areas of relative flatness, as can be seen in the hair at the left side of the panel, for example. Part of the reason for this apparent difference seems to come from the greater tonal range of the Städel painting in comparison to the more restricted palette of the McMaster work. By employing a more varied set of colours and shades, the Städel version displays an image that more accurately renders a sense of form and expression. The careful application of this more varied palette reflects a general level of artistic quality that is not quite matched by the McMaster version.

Condition issues can complicate a comparison of technique. The McMaster painting appears somewhat flatter and more thinly painted than the Städel work. When oil paint ages its refractive index changes, and the paint can become more transparent. Such changes will have a greater impact on the visual appearance of more thinly painted works. In addition, human intervention can play a role in making it difficult to compare works. Previous cleaning campaigns carried out on the McMaster painting may be the reason it looks less three-dimensional than the Städel version. Glazes, which are areas of thin oil-rich paint, can be more easily over-cleaned; this may have been the case in the McMaster painting. Under ultraviolet (UV) illumination, large sections of the painting fluoresce blue-green, suggesting the presence of an aged natural resin varnish (Fig. X).[vi] This layer has been selectively cleaned in the past, creating the dark areas and horizontal streaks visible in the UV picture. The middle finger of the hand holding the cup is a good example of an area that appears dark in the UV image as a result of cleaning.

The strong similarities between the McMaster and Städel paintings underscore the possibility that the works were produced in close physical and temporal proximity. Given the existence of many versions of this composition, and the difference in quality between the Städel and McMaster paintings, it can be proposed that the McMaster work may have been produced under Brouwer’s supervision, perhaps to satisfy the demand for a less costly product.[vii]


[i] Agnes Tieze, Flämische Gemälde im Städel Museum 1550–1800. Teil I. Künstler von A-R (Petersberg, Germany: Michael Imhof Verlag, 2009), 101–12.

[ii] The monogram is painted in dark brown paint, a device that can be found on other works associated with Brouwer. Only two of Brouwer’s works have full signatures:The Smokers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Peasant’s Feast at the Kunsthaus in Zurich. To further complicate matters, works associated with the artist do not include a date, creating a challenge in attempting to chart his artistic development. See Konrad Renger, “Brouwer, Adriaen,” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 23, 2014, http://www.oxfordartonline.com.proxy.queensu.ca/subscriber/article/grove/art/T011573.

[iii] For details related to the Städel version, see Tieze, Flämische Gemälde, 101–12.

[iv] Information about the McMaster painting can be found in Dr. Klein’s report from March 5, 2013. Klein’s analysis resulted in an earliest possible felling date of 1627 for the McMaster painting. He factored in a minimum of two years of seasoning and a median of fifteen sapwood rings to arrive at his earliest possible date of creation. The Städel version was found to have an earliest possible felling date of 1630. Considering the seasoning period of at least two years and the allowance for sapwood rings, an earliest possible date of creation of 1638 has been suggested. For details related to the Städel version, see Tieze, Flämische Gemälde, 101–12.

[v] In the McMaster painting the hat just touches the top of the panel, whereas in the Städel painting there is more room between the top of the hat and the upper edge of the wooden support.

[vi] See the essay “Conservation and Condition Issues” in this volume.

[vii] Gerard Knuttel makes the important distinction between works executed entirely by the master and copies that had been “more or less ‘guaranteed’ by him—if not, indeed, touched up.” See Gerard Knuttel, Adriaen Brouwer. The Master and His Work (The Hague: L. J. C. Boucher, 1962), 61.

Unknown, in the manner of Edwaert Collier (Dutch, Breda, c. 1640–after 1707, London or Leiden)

Stephanie Dickey

en français

Collierlayersnew-visible

Unknown, in the manner of Edwaert Collier

Unknown, in the manner of Edwaert Collier (Dutch, Breda ca. 1640–after 1707 London or Leiden)

Untitled Trompe L’Oeil, n.d.

oil on canvas

54 x 37.8 cm

Gift of Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E., 1984

 

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Provenance

From an English collection

Purchased from Brod Gallery, London, England, 1968 as Evert Collier

Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E.

 

Exhibition History

The Levy Legacy, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 1 September – 3 November 1996

Light Echo: Dianne Bos and Doug Welch, McMaster Museum of Art, Panabaker Gallery, 17 September – 31 October 2009

Worldly Possessions: Visualizing Ownership in the Age of the Baroque, McMaster Museum of Art, Levy Gallery, 27 August 2013 – 25 January 2014

Edwaert Collier was born in the Dutch city of Breda around 1640. He established himself as a painter of vanitas still lifes in Leiden and later in Amsterdam, but his best-known works date from a period of residence in London, England (1693–1706), where he developed the pictorial formula seen here, known as a letter rack: a flat board with ribbons tacked across it to hold personal items ranging from sealing wax, quills, and scissors to newspapers, letters, and engravings. These still-life paintings belong to the genre of trompe l’oeil, intended to fool the eye of the viewer by creating an illusion of three-dimensional reality. Collier was not the first artist to develop the letter rack as a pictorial type—he may have seen similar paintings by Rembrandt’s pupil Samuel van Hoogstraten—but he made it a specialty during his London period, painting dozens of variations. As Dror Wahrmann has shown, Collier aimed to do more than delight viewers with his masterful technique. The objects in his letter racks were carefully selected and arranged to contain hidden allusions to contemporary politics and topical events. He often depicted actual dated newspapers or royal speeches, but, as Warhman discovered, made minute changes to the text or juxtaposed motifs to create playful associations.[i] Although difficult to decode today, the witty implications of these manoeuvres would have been appreciated by politically savvy contemporaries as well as by connoisseurs.

The Hamilton painting is clearly inspired by Collier’s letter-rack formula. Elements such as the knotty pine backboard and the red stick of sealing wax are found in numerous compositions by the master. However, careful analysis of form and content suggests that this painting is by another hand: either a copy of a work by Collier (if so, the original has yet to be traced) or an imitation in which another artist develops his own composition following Collier’s lead. This judgment is the product of connoisseurship, built on close visual analysis as well as consideration of the painting’s iconographic content. In building the case, it is helpful to compare the Hamilton painting with a signed work by Collier such as The Smell, now in the collection of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation in Houston, a painting from around 1706 in which several similar motifs recur (Fig. 1).[ii]

Overall, the composition of the Hamilton painting closely resembles a type perfected by Collier, but the problem lies in the details. In formal terms, the rendering of individual motifs is less accomplished than one would expect from Collier himself. For instance, the folded newspaper seems too heavy and limp to be made of crisp newsprint and is not convincingly rectangular in shape. The front page text is sketched in, but only the title can be made out. In contrast, the printed and handwritten texts in the Houston composition (Fig. 1) are more legible. In addition to a London newspaper, we see a royal speech and a letter addressed to Collier, providing an illusionistic way to include his signature. The folded pages of these documents are convincingly modelled, with careful attention to the play of light over their wrinkled surfaces.

The paper, at upper-left, bearing an oval bust of a young man seems to be a portrait print. This was a popular and highly collectible art form of the time, but its appeal consisted mainly of public figures such as monarchs, preachers, and artists, usually identified by laudatory inscriptions. Printed figure studies could also depict anonymous character types whose colourful costumes, expressions, or attributes lent emotional depth or humour to the scene. An example is the jovial figure in the engraving featured in the Houston painting, whose pipe identifies him as a smoker. As indicated by the print’s inscribed caption, the figure and his activity are meant to symbolize the sense of smell. Collier renders portrait prints so accurately that in many cases his motifs can be matched with existing engravings. In contrast, the young man in the print depicted in the Hamilton painting lacks both particularized features and a caption to identify him.[iii] If there is an actual prototype, the artist has not provided enough information to identify it.

Another motif favoured by Collier is the folded letter with traces of red sealing wax and a round postmark visible on one corner. In Collier’s paintings (for instance, Fig. 1), the date on the postmark can often be read.[iv] In the Hamilton painting, the postmark is illegible. This could be due to surface abrasions, but, like the bland character of the portrait print, it might also be the work of an artist who simply imitated this motif without concern for its specific meaning

These traces of carelessness or ineptitude in both form and content are inconsistent with Collier’s precise attention to detail, leading to the conclusion that the Hamilton painting is by another hand. It is one of a number of extant paintings that can be described as generic, simplified variants on Collier’s letter-rack formula, but, so far, it cannot be connected with any of Collier’s known imitators.

The trained eye of the connoisseur can evaluate character and quality, but further research through technical analysis could yield useful insights. For instance, scientific examination could determine whether the paint and canvas date from the artist’s own time and locality, or from a later period. Autoradiography might reveal whether changes are preserved beneath the surface, suggesting the development of an original composition rather than a copy. In the present exhibition, these tools are applied to other puzzles, leaving this one still to be solved.


[i] Dror Wahrmann, Mr. Collier’s Letter Racks: A Tale of Art and Illusion at the Threshold of the Modern Information Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) provides the first thorough study of Collier’s work. I am grateful to Prof. Wahrmann for corresponding with me about the Hamilton painting.

[ii] Edwaert Collier, The Smell, c. 1706, oil on canvas, 62.5 x 52 cm, Houston, Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, inv. 1986.9.

[iii] The lack of a caption could indicate that this is a proof before letters, but the print remains unidentified.

[iv] Wahrmann, Mr. Collier’s Letter Racks, 98–9 and fig. 5.7; Wahrmann has identified thirty-nine examples and suggests that Collier may have used these postmarks to date his paintings or to mark canvases in a series.

Circle of Jan Gossart (called Mabuse), (Netherlandish, about 1478 – 1532)

Nenagh Hathaway

en français

Gossaert-layered-new-visible

Untitled, Portrait of a Man

Circle of Jan Gossart (called Mabuse), (Netherlandish, about 1478 – 1532)

Unknown, portrait of a man, c. 1520

oil on oak panel

40.6 x 30 cm

Levy Bequest Purchase, 1994

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Provenance

Sir F.J. Charles Robinson, England

Frederick R. Cook, Richmond, England

Sir Herbert Cook, Doughty House, Richmond, England

Thos. Agnew & Sons, London, England

D.G. van Beuningen, Vierhouten, The Netherlands by 1940

E.V. Thaw & Co., Inc., New York

Peter J. Sharp, New York

Museum purchase, Sotheby’s, New York, via agent Thomas and Brenda Brod, 1994

Exhibition History

National Exhibition of Works of Art, Leeds, England, 1868, no. 555 (as being by Holbein)

Holbein Ausstellung, Der Zwinger, Dresden, Germany, 15 August – 15 October 1871 (as a Portrait of Antonio Fugger by Holbein, no. 282)

Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters, and by Deceased Masters of the British School, including a Special Collection of Work by Holbein and His School, Royal Academy of Art, London, England, 5 January – 13 March 1880 (as a Portrait of Antonio Fugger by Holbein, no. 190)

The New Gallery, London, England, 1898, no. 111

Exhibition of Flemish and Belgian Art, 1300-1600, Royal Academy of Art, London, England, 8 January – 5 March 1927 (as Attributed to Mabuse, no. 196)

Het Portret in de Oude Nederlanden, Stedelijk Museum, Bruges, Belgium, June – August 1956, illus., no. 34

Jan Gossaert genaand Mabuse, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and Bruges, Rotterdam, 15 May – 27 June 1965, illus. p. 200, no. 34

Jan Gossaert genaand Mabuse, Groeninge Museum, Bruges, Belgium, 10 July – 31 August 1965, illus. p. 200, no. 34

Levy Bequest Purchases, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 6 June – 21 October 1994

Enduring Influences, McMaster Museum of Art, Togo Salmon Gallery, 5 April – 11 June 1995

The Levy Legacy, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 1 September – 3 November 1996

Levy Series, Northern Art in the Age of Cock, Durer, Rubens & Rembrandt, McMaster Museum of Art, Levy Gallery, 10 May – 25 August 2007

Light Echo: Dianne Bos and Doug Welch, McMaster Museum of Art, Panabaker Gallery, 17 September – 31 October 2009

 

Provenance

Levy Bequest Purchase, Sotheby’s, NY; Thomas and Brenda Brod; Peter J. Sharp, NY; E. V. Thaw & Co., NY; D. G. van Beuningen, Vierhouten, the Netherlands by 1940; Thos. Agnew & Sons, London, England; Sir Herbert Cook, Doughty House, Richmond, England; Frederick R. Cook, Richmond, England; Sir F. J. Charles Robinson, England; McMaster Museum of Art

In this striking portrait, a man in a black cap sits in front of a trompe-l’oeil frame and gazes directly out at the viewer (Fig. X). In his right hand he holds a book, marking his place with both the book’s cover flap and his index finger. Just above the book, light shines off the handle or hilt of a silver object. The sleeves of the man’s shirt are slashed, exposing a red undergarment that provides colourful accents to his otherwise dark costume. The identity of the sitter is unknown. The portrait survives in its original size and format, although it has lost its original frame.[i] This painting was acquired by the McMaster Museum of Art as a Jan Gossaert, a famous Netherlandish artist known for his portraits as well as his religious and mythological scenes. However, this attribution has been questioned, and technical investigations, especially using infrared reflectography (IRR), have helped clarify this issue.[ii]

IRR revealed extensive underdrawing in the portrait, which was executed in at least two different stages (Fig. X). A rounded arch was initially drawn behind the man, using a liquid medium and a relatively large brush, but this feature was later abandoned. The drawing of the sitter was executed in a dry medium. Adjustments were made to the sitter, for example, to the curve of the sitter’s own right shoulder as well as to the shape of his collar and hat. Such changes suggest that the artist was not making a copy from an existing composition, but rather experimenting with various ways to frame and enhance his subject. These alterations are indicative of the creative process at work. There is, however, an area of the underdrawing that lacks the freshness of these areas of change: the modelling of the face has been rendered in a more precise manner, carefully employing parallel hatching to indicate areas of shade (Fig. H). This difference may suggest that the artist was working from an existing study drawing of the subject’s face. A drawing would provide the essential features of the likeness and could be used later to create the painting in the workshop. The lack of significant changes to the face and the confident manner of the underdrawing supports this view.

Many portraits attributed to Gossaert exhibit similar features to the McMaster portrait of a man such as the illusionistic frame and three-quarter view. However, based on her recent study of its underdrawing, Maryan Ainsworth has rejected the attribution of this portrait to Gossaert.[iii] Ainsworth argues that Gossaert did not use parallel hatching when completing the underdrawing of his subjects’ faces for portraits (Fig. H). She also cites the relatively poor execution of the sitter’s hands as evidence that Gossaert did not create the McMaster painting.[iv] It seems possible that this portrait was produced in Gossaert’s workshop by one of his assistants or journeymen. The large number of copies that exist after Gossaert’s smaller works has led to the hypothesis that he indeed established a workshop to help satisfy the demand for his paintings, which was common practice in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.[v]

Ainsworth tentatively attributes this portrait to the Master of the Lille Adoration.[vi] This suggestion is complicated by the fact that the style of the available underdrawings from this latter master does not compare well with that of the McMaster work. Furthermore, no portraits are firmly attributed to the Master of the Lille Adoration. Without a solid comparative foundation of similar works, a conclusive attribution of the McMaster painting to the Master of the Lille Adoration is not possible.[vii] If Ainsworth’s attribution were to be correct, the McMaster portrait would be of critical importance for further research into the works of Gossaert, especially in regard to his portraits.


[i] Like this painting, many works produced during this period were created with the frame already attached to the panel support. Although the original frame of this McMaster portrait has been lost, the current dimensions are original, since the panel retains its unpainted outer edge (where the panel was covered by the frame) and the barbe on all four sides. The barbe was created when the ground layer was smeared into the corner where the panel and frame met. Even if the original frame is removed, the barbe and unpainted edges remain intact as long as the panel is not then cropped.

[ii] See the entry on infrared reflectography and underdrawings in this volume for more information.

[iii] Ainsworth lists the portrait, along with others, under the heading “previously attributed to Gossaert” in Maryan W. Ainsworth, ed. Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 306.

[iv] Specifically, Ainsworth cites modelling of the sitter’s thumb as an area of lesser technical facility. Ainsworth, Man, Myth, 79. However, the thumb’s somewhat awkward appearance may be due to the fact that its position was changed during the painting process.

[v] Jacqueline Folie, “Gossaert, Jan,” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 18, 2014, http://www.oxfordartonline.com.proxy.queensu.ca/subscriber/article/grove/art/T033403.

[vi] Ainsworth, Man, Myth, 79. The Master of the Lille Adoration is an artist whose oeuvre had been previously attributed to Dirck Vellert, who was an artist popular among his contemporaries for his stained glass windows. See Ellen Konowitz, “Dirck Vellert and the Master of the Lille Adoration: Some Antwerp Mannerist Paintings Reconsidered,” Oud Holland 109, no. 4 (1995): 177–90.

[vii] This view is also supported by Ellen Konowitz. Ellen Konowitz, e-mail message to author, August 27, 2014.

Alexander Mikhailovich Rodchenko (Russian 1891-1956)

Ihor Holubizky and Brandi Lee MacDonald

Untitled

Untitled

Alexander Mikhailovich Rodchenko (Russian 1891-1956)

Untitled, 1919

oil on spruce panel

25.7 x 21.5 cm

Levy Bequest Purchase, 1995

© Aleksandr Mikhajlivich Rodchenko Estate / SODRAC (2016)

 

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Provenance

Museum purchase, Annely Juda Fine Art, London, England, 1995

Alexander Rodchenko[1] is considered among the four most important artists—the others were Kasimir Malevich (1879–1935), Vladimir Tatlin (1885–1953), and El Lissitzky (1890–1941) of the Moscow avant-garde period, which began around 1912 with the publication of the Russian Futurist manifesto A Slap in the Face of Public Taste, and ended in the late 1920s with the increasing “Stalinization” of the Soviet Union and promotion of Social Realism.

Rodchenko’s work was multifaceted: painting, sculpture, graphic design (agitprop), photography, and “pedagogy,” as he was active after 1918 in the Art and Production Department, a subsection of the Bolshevik government’s Museums Office, and in 1920 was an initial member of INKhUK, the Institute of Artistic Culture in Moscow. In the period 1915 to 1919, Rodchenko increasingly moved away from the “subjectivity” of even the radical non-objective painters—Malevich for example, who embraced a form of mysticism—to analytical-objective/non-objective works. These are his so-called “compass and ruler” works, for which he used drafting tools and experimented with a wide range of techniques and media “including metallic and reflective paints and varnishes, as well as gouache and oils, to emphasize…material qualities.”[2] Rodchenko became a member of the First Working Group of Constructivists, formed in the spring of 1921, to “ Joining this group marked Rodchenko’s departure from studio painting entirely.[3] In 1921 he exhibited a three-panel monochrome painting that he declared was the end of painting—although he returned to painting in the late 1930s, working in an “expressionist style”.[4]

At the time of writing, provenance, attribution, and comparative object research continues, but remains inconclusive. [5]

 

Exhibition History

Ideals and Illusion, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 9 April- 11 June 1995

I Know What I Like! McMaster Museum of Art, Sherman and Panabaker Galleries, 26 May – 18 August 1996

The Levy Legacy, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 1 September- 3 November 1996

Inner Nature, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 14 June – 16 August 1998

Translinear, McMaster Museum of Art, Sherman Gallery, 5 September – 24 October 1999

Markers, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 24 March – 2 June 2002

The Vaults Revealed: Modern European Masters, McMaster Museum of Art, Sherman Gallery, 3 November – 1 December2002

Dada and their Colleagues, McMaster Museum of Art, Togo Salmon Gallery, 10 May – 25 August 2007

A Field Guide To Observing Art, McMaster Museum of Art, Sherman Gallery, 17 September – 31 October 2009


[1] There are variations of spelling for “Alexander”—the Museum of Modern Art uses Aleksandr, for example (see “Aleksandr Rodchenko,” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed May 18, 2015, from http://www.moma.org/collection/artist.php?artist_id=4975)—but these are the consequence of transliterations from the original Russian Cyrillic to English.

[2] John Milner, “Material Values,” in Alexander Rodchenko 1891–1956, ed. David King and David Elliott (Oxford: Museum of Modern Art, 1979), 50.

[3] See “Constructivism, Russian, Formation 1914–21,” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed May 18, 2015, http://www.moma.org/collection/details.php?section_id=T019195&theme_id=10955.

[4] See “The Death of Painting,” the Museum of Modern Art, accessed May 18, 2015, http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/1998/rodchenko/texts/death_of_painting.html.

[5] Attestation of authenticity from Dr. A. [Andrei] B. Nakov, Paris, dated 12 October 1994 on the verso of a photograph provided by Annely Juda Fine Art, and sent to the McMaster Museum of Art, February 15, 1995.

Workshop of Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577–1640)

en français

Rubenslayersnew-visible

Portrait of Maximilian, Archduke of Austria

Workshop of Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish 1577-1640)

Maximillian, Archduke of Austria, 1621-1640

oil on canvas

36.6 x 30 cm

Gift of Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E., 1984

 

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Provenance

Harry Axelsohn Johnson, Stockholm

Sven Boström, Stockholm

London, England

Christie’s London, “Pictures by Old Masters,” 15 April 1966. Catalogued as by Del Mazo, “Head of a Man with Grey Beard and White Ruff,” no. 125.

Purchased from Roland, Browse & Delbanco, London, England, 1966

Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E.

 

Exhibition History

The Herman H. Levy Collection, McMaster Museum of Art, Togo Salmon Gallery, 11 June 1994 – 9 November 2006

Levy Series, Northern Art in the Age of Cock, Durer, Rubens & Rembrandt, McMaster Museum of Art, Levy Gallery, 10 May – 25 August 2007

The Last Things Before the Last, McMaster Museum of Art, Levy Gallery, 24 May – 18 August 2012

Worldly Possessions: Visualizing Ownership in the Age of the Baroque, McMaster Museum of Art, Levy Gallery, 27 August 2013 – 25 January 2014

 

Ihor Holubizky

Peter Paul Rubens was born in the German city of Siegen. The family moved to Cologne, where Rubens’s father, Jan, died in 1587.[1] Two years later, Rubens’s mother and family moved to Antwerp, where Rubens received a humanist education in Latin and classical literature before commencing his painting apprenticeship at the age of fourteen, first with the Flemish artist Tobias Verhaecht, followed by others.[2] To further his education, Rubens lived and worked in Italy between 1600 and 1608, where he studied the work of Renaissance artists and received his first commissions. He returned to Antwerp in 1609, establishing a studio and workshop (the most prominent of his apprentices was Anthony van Dyck). Working in the Baroque style, Rubens produced allegorical and mythological subjects, portraits, history paintings, commissioned altarpieces, and landscapes.[3] As Hans Vlieghe noted, “After his return to Antwerp…Rubens not only created a new, Baroque style of history painting but also liberated the art of portraiture from a certain schematicism which had beset it since the middle of the sixteenth century.”[4] His mature period work and “animation by the flesh”[5] has generated the common usage term “Rubenesque.” The Rubens workshop also produced copies of paintings by other artists (a popular and accepted practice in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries),[6] as well as prints, engravings, and woodcuts from Rubens’s paintings, for which the artist established copyright in the Low Countries, England, France, and Spain.[7]

Rubens was an astute manager of his prolific workshop production, and was a collector of art and antiquities, which enabled him to amass considerable wealth[8] and achieve the status of diplomat, a consequence of his connections to nobility and his own personal ambitions beyond art alone.[9] Rubens lived and worked in Spain and England after 1621, before returning to Antwerp in 1630, where he died 10 years later.

The two outstanding questions regarding the McMaster painting are, is it attributable to Peter Paul Rubens and who is the subject?

The sitter’s identity was determined through a comparison with a three-quarter portrait of Maximilian illustrated in the Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard Part XIX (2) (catalogue raisonné no. 122[10]): the subject is Maximilian III, Archduke of Austria (1558–1618). It is described as a copy of Rubens’s original (no. 120[11]), which was possibly painted from life in 1615. A subsequent commissioned copy from Rubens (no. 121[12]) was most likely executed in 1619 for Maximilian’s successor, Archduke Leopold-Wilhelm.[13] The current whereabouts for both are unknown, and they are presumably lost.

A further comparison between the published and the McMaster painting was inconclusive on several counts. The comparison was based solely on a black and white image, and as the Rubens cataloguer Hans Vlieghe noted for the catalogued copy, “the portrait certainly displays the severity of design characteristic of Rubens’s style from c. 1615 to c. 1630 [but] I do not believe this to be an autograph [by Rubens’s hand] example [and] I believe the painting to be a studio replica untouched by Rubens.”[14] Vlieghe also noted that he had never examined the work, and his assessment was based on a photograph.[15]

The technical examination of the McMaster painting could not establish that it was done prior to Rubens’s death in 1640, only that the materials are consistent with the period as well as with paintings done after the artist’s time. The “burden” of the attribution, therefore, returns to connoisseurship, and it is complicated, as noted: working from photographic evidence and the recovery of useful documents (the paper trail chase).

We know that Rubens kept the originals of his “political” portraits (as well as other subjects) to be executed by apprentices and, depending on the merit or value of the commission, completed or finished by Rubens himself. They could also be done in variations.[16] The continuing investigation, therefore, turned to the ten catalogued Maximilian “copies”; six of these are paintings (adding to the confusion, no. 122 was included in this list). In due course, black and white photographs were uncovered for copy 3 and copy 5. The former, a same-composition three-quarter portrait, was formerly in the Bavarian State collections, and presumably destroyed in 1943 during the Second World War[17]. Copy 5 was sold from the collection of the 8th Duke of Buccleuch, Scotland, at Christie’s London in 1959.[18]

A comparison of the two copies of the three-quarter copy portraits of Maximilian show strong facial similarities (the McMaster painting is the face only), but there are differences in the background details and modelling of the face. Nonetheless, it is possible to suggest that the painters of both three-quarter portraits, if by workshop apprentices, had access to the Rubens original,[19] and the different compositions can be attributed to variations for clients. The unanswerable question is, in which order were they painted?

Other comparisons can be extrapolated from engravings after the Rubens portrait of Maximilian by Lucas Vorsterman (1595–1675), Pieter de Jode II (1606–74), and Jonas Suyderhoef (1613–86).[20] The features of the Vorsterman engraving are the closest to the paintings cited (although it is a reversed image, as a consequence of the engraving print process), and to that of the McMaster work. It offers a tempting connection as Vorsterman worked in Rubens’s studio from 1618–21, and therefore he could have had access to the original painting.[21] But the Vorsterman-Rubens working relationship ended with a dispute over copyright, and may offer an explanation as to why the Vorsterman engraving was not published until 1650, ten years after Rubens’s death.[22] However, it must be emphasized that the Vorsterman engraving only confirmed the identity of the sitter as well as evidence of facial similarities to the McMaster painting.

The link between the McMaster painting and the Corpus Rubenianum research came unexpectedly. Correspondence with Rubens House in Antwerp (which holds the Rubens catalogue raisonné files) that sought to locate a colour image of no. 122 uncovered an image of the McMaster painting. It is copy 6, whose provenance is recorded as Sven Boström, Stockholm, and a near-conclusive connection to the workshop of Peter Paul Rubens. The dimensions, very close to the McMaster painting, had been noted early on, but this “accidental” discovery gives evidence of the often protracted and circuitous route in research rather than a flawed process or methodology.

Questions still remain unanswered. Why did the Rubens catalogue raisonné research, published in 1987, “end” with the Boström provenance? How did it get to a London gallery, and why was it catalogued as a work by the Spanish painter Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo in the Christie’s sale of 1966, yet suspected to be an early Rubens study by Henry Roland of the London dealers Roland, Browse and Delbanco, who purchased it at auction. Roland presented the work to the trustees of the National Gallery, London, for purchase acquisition shortly after. The offer was declined, and the minutes of the trustees’ meeting record the following: “It had turned out not to be a sketch of a head, but apparently had been cut from a larger portrait.”[23] This cropping, from a larger work, was also proposed in the technical examination of the McMaster painting prior to the recovery of the National Gallery records. Could the McMaster fragment have been cut from one of the other three recorded copies (whereabouts unknown), or perhaps cut from a yet undiscovered copy?

The research into the McMaster painting, while still unable to establish a definitive answer, is not a failure of the process. It highlights the ever-present challenges in art history: incomplete and fractional records over a long period of time, factors of connoisseurship and the “authority of the eye,” and how much data is retrievable from scientific methods. The case is not “closed” on the McMaster painting, but for now it appears to be the only version for which the whereabouts are known of Rubens’s 1615 original.


[1] Christopher White, Peter Paul Rubens, Man and Artist (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987), 1–51; Pierre Cabanne, Rubens (London: Thames and Hudson, 1967), 18–20.

[2] Other artists cited in Rubens’s early apprenticeship are Adam van Noort and Octave van Veen. Cabanne, Rubens, 29. Also see White, Peter Paul Rubens, 4–8.

[3] In essence, the majority of Rubens’s paintings are commissions, rather than what we think of as “exhibition” works. See Francis Haskell, “Feast Days and Salerooms,” in The Ephemeral Museum, Old Master Paintings and the Rise of the Art Exhibition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 8–9.

[4] Vlieghe, Rubens Portraits, 21.

[5] Cabanne, Rubens, 188.

[6] Jeffry M. Muller, Rubens: The Artist as Collector (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 59.

[7] Julius S. Held, Rubens and His Circle (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982), 115.

[8] The 1645 accounting of Rubens’s estate amounted to 283,987 florins. Muller, Rubens, 59. A current exchange equivalent is difficult to determine, but it could be in excess of USD15 million, keeping in mind that there were fewer millionaires in seventeenth century Europe in comparison to today’s global industrial economy. See “Rubens’ Remuneration,” last modified March 2012, http://ringlingdocents.org/rubens/dutchmoney.htm. As another comparison, Rubens’s inheritance from his mother was 200 florins. Muller, Rubens, 49.

[9] See C. V. Wedgwood, The Political Career of Peter Paul Rubens (London: Thames and Hudson, 1975), 13, where he contextualizes the period: “The span of Rubens’s life…covers the latter end of the Counter-Reformation, an epoch in which religious wars, which were always half political and often wholly so, repeatedly involved most of western Europe. [Furthermore] the prolonged power struggle [of] the Thirty Years War covered the latter part of his life and figures prominently in his correspondence.” It should also be noted that the status of diplomats and nature of diplomacy had a very different contour in the volatile political scene of Europe in the first half of the seventeenth century. Rubens was knighted by Phillip IV, King of Spain, and Charles I, King of England. In essence, he was a trusted free-agent confidant to many sides. Muller also notes that Rubens’s sale of antiquities from his collection to the 1st Duke of Buckingham allowed him the financial independence to pursue diplomatic work. Muller, Rubens, 62. See also “Rubens’ First Brush with Britain,” Phaidon News, accessed March 22, 2015, http://ca.phaidon.com/agenda/art/events/2011/november/22/rubens-first-brush-with-britain/.

[10] Vlieghe, Rubens Portraits, 135–36. This version is recorded as the collection of Heinz Kisters (1912–1977), a German art dealer and collector who specialized in old masters. The connection between the McMaster painting and the Rubens portrait of Maximilian was first identified by Dr. Jeremy Wood, University of Nottingham, and Dr. Gerlinde Gruber, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, in correspondence with Nenagh Hathaway in early 2013. Why this seemingly obvious evidence was previously overlooked is addressed in the publication essay “Limits of the Eye and the Engine of Curiosity.”

[11] Ibid., 134.

[12] Ibid., 135–36.

[13] In a circa 1641 David Teniers painting of the “gallery” of Archduke Leopold-Wilhelm in Brussels (collection of Staatsgalerie Schleissheim) Rubens’s portrait of Maximilian appears in the lower-right corner. Vlieghe, 134, cited as copy (1); illustrated as fig. [14]5.

[14] Vlieghe., 135.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Muller, Rubens, 60; Vlieghe, Rubens Portraits, 31.

[17] Dr. Andrea Christine Bambi, senior curator and head of art provenance research for the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, e-mail message to author, September 9, 2014. Vlieghe records the Munich Maximilian painting as having been “lost since 1945” (Vlieghe, Rubens Portraits, 134), whereas Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen records indicate that it was presumably destroyed in 1943; there was an RAF bombing of Munich in October 1943. The discrepancy in dates can be explained as a “margin of error” on Vlieghe’s part.

[18] Christie’s London, e-mail message to author, August 1, 2014; Buccleuch Collection archivist, e-mail message to author, September 3, 2014.

[19] The Kisters and Munich paintings are also very close in size 115 x 93 cm and 117.5 x 95.5 cm, respectively. It should be noted, however, that both can only be regarded as “sight measurements” and would have to be remeasured to confirm accuracy, which is, of course, impossible for the lost Munich painting.

[20] The Jode II and Suyderhoef are “identical,” although oriented differently. The facial handling differs from that of Vorsterman. Jode II did engraving work for Anthony van Dyck, but there is no other Jode connection to the Rubens workshop. Suyderhoef’s first dated engraving is 1641, after Rubens’s death. Examples of the Jode II, Suyderhoef, and Vorsterman engravings are in the collection of the British Museum, last modified February 14, 2015, http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx.

[21] Held, Rubens and His Circle, 114.

[22] Copyright for prints was extended beyond Rubens’s death in Spain. See Held, 115.

[23] National Gallery archives: ref. NG1/14 NG, Board Minutes, 5 May 1966. Alan Crookham, research centre manager, the National Gallery, London, e-mail message to author, July 23, 2014. Letters from Henry M. Roland of Roland, Browse and Delbanco Gallery, London, to Herman Levy on April 21, 1966, and on May 10 and 12, 1966 (invoice sent May 6), confirms the purchase arrangement. McMaster Museum of Art files.

 

Nenagh Hathaway

A gentleman with a white-grey beard and large moustache, depicted against a dark background, stares directly at the viewer (Fig. 1). He wears a fine ruff, the only indication of costume in this portrait. The relatively small work is linked to several other portraits of this sitter produced by the Rubens workshop, including a larger-format painting and an engraving by Lucas Vorsterman, a printmaker who worked for Rubens.

Rubens was a prolific artist celebrated for his monumental history paintings, altarpieces, landscapes, and portraits. While the latter was not a subject he preferred, as is clear from his correspondence, Rubens and his large workshop created many portraits over the course of his illustrious career.[3] The participation of workshop assistants was common, and in surviving documents Rubens himself acknowledges their important role in reference to the cost of his paintings. By employing assistants, Rubens could sell works at a range of costs depending on the degree of his personal involvement in their creation. Assistants and pupils would imitate Rubens’s technique quite closely, sometimes to the point that their participation is difficult to discern. The McMaster portrait does not display the characteristic appearance of a mature Rubens portrait, which suggests that if it was produced by an assistant in the master’s studio it was probably not intended for one of his wealthier clients.

The portrait depicts Maximilian III (1558–1618), Archduke of Austria and Count of Tyrol. This identification was accomplished through comparisons between the subject of the McMaster painting and other surviving portraits.[4] One such example is a highly similar knee-length picture of Maximilian (Fig. 2). Hans Vlieghe, a noted Rubens expert, considers this portrait, whose current location is unknown, to be a studio replica of a lost original by Rubens.[5] Although the knee-length version is considerably larger than the McMaster portrait, the dimensions of the heads in the two works compare well, and share extremely similar facial features. The remarkably close resemblance between the sitters establishes a connection between the McMaster painting and Rubens’s studio.[6] The robust similarity suggests that the painter of the McMaster portrait was well aware of the larger version, or of the lost original by Rubens, which could have served as the model for both.

An engraved likeness of Maximilian III by Vorsterman is also very close to the McMaster portrait, especially when we are reminded that an image engraved in the copper plate becomes mirrored when it is printed (Fig. 3).[7] Vorsterman (1595–1675) was a member of Rubens’s studio from about 1617–18 until the early 1620s. Rubens was able to generate additional income for himself from Vorsterman’s reproductions. The engraving includes the shoulders and chest of the sitter, which links the work to the larger-format painting. However, it is possible that the McMaster painting originally included these details found in the engraving and the knee-length portrait. The X-radiograph (Fig. 4) reveals significant damages around the edges of the McMaster portrait, which indicates that it was indeed cropped on all sides.[8] However, at the moment it remains impossible to determine the precise relationship between the engraving, the lost Rubens original, the McMaster portrait and Fig. 2.

On close inspection, the dark background of the McMaster painting is actually green-blue in colour. Coincidentally, this colour is similar to Vlieghe’s description of the stiffly hanging curtain behind Maximilian in the knee-length portrait.[9] Rubens used this visual strategy for emphasizing the sitters in other portraits.[10] Whether or not the McMaster painting ever featured a curtain behind Maximilian’s head cannot be confirmed. A cross section from the area demonstrates that the blue-green paint in the McMaster portrait is original, although it may have darkened slightly over time (Fig. 5).

A version of the knee-length portrait is depicted in the “gallery painting” of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s collection by David Teniers the Younger (Fig. 6), but it is again unclear whether this represents Fig. 2, the lost original by Rubens, or yet another version. The existence of what appear to be serial reproductions of varied quality attests to the fact that portraits of Maximilian were in high demand. It seems quite likely that an autograph Rubens portrait of Maximilian existed and that this likeness was popularized and circulated by copies—and copies based on copies—in different media.[11] These versions could be distributed to various locations for personal, political, or other motivations. A commemorative function is also possible, which would imply that the portrait was painted after November 2, 1618, the day Maximilian III died.[12]


[1] Hans Vlieghe, Rubens Portraits of Identified Sitters Painted in Antwerp (London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 1987), 134.

[2] The vendor to the Christie’s sale in April 1966 was a London gallery, but there are no further details at the time of writing because of a Christie’s 50-year confidentiality policy. Christie’s London, e-mail message to author, May 18, 2015.

[3] In a letter to Annibale Chieppio, Rubens writes, “Then I should not have to waste more time, travel, expenses, salaries (even the munificence of His Highness will not repay all this) upon works unworthy of me [portraits], and which anyone can do to the Duke’s taste.” See Ruth Saunders Magurn, trans. and ed., The Letters of Peter Paul Rubens (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1955), 38.

[4] This identification was made by Dr. Jeremy Wood, University of Nottingham, and confirmed by Dr. Gerlinde Gruber, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

[5] Vlieghe acknowledges that his analysis is based on a photograph and, presumably, the descriptions of others who had seen the work—or a colour image of the portrait—in person. Hans Vlieghe, “Rubens. Portraits of Identified Sitters Painted in Antwerp,” Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, vol. 19, 2 (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 135–136, no. 122, fig 146.

[6] Vlieghe also notes a resemblance between the hairstyle and facial expression of the Corpus portrait and a portrait of a (much younger) Maximilian III by Martino Rota (c. 1580) at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Attempts by Ihor Holubiszky to secure a colour photograph of the larger-format portrait resulted in the identification of the McMaster painting as copy number 6 in Vlieghe’s Corpus list for CR 121.

[7] Two other prints of Maximilian are known, one produced by Pieter de Jode and the other engraved by Jonas Suyderhoef. These do not resemble either the McMaster or Corpus portraits as closely as the Vorsterman image.

[8] This had been noted around the time of purchase by the Director of the National Gallery, London, Sir Philip Hendy, who also thought the work was created in the early part of Rubens’s career. See the archives at the Research Centre, National Gallery London, ref. NG1/14 NG, Board Minutes 5 May 1966.

[9] Vlieghe, “Rubens,” 135.

[10] The Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia at the Prado is a good example.

[11] The Corpus Rubenianum (vol. 19, 134–135) includes three entries for portraits of Maximilian, Archduke of Austria. The portrait of Maximilian catalogued as CR 120 is listed as a work from the Rubens estate of 1640. Vlieghe considers this to be the original Rubens painting from which the other non-autograph works are derived. These copies are found under the entries CR 121 and 122. The provenance description for CR 121 (also Corpus vol. 19, 134) states that the work may have been painted for Archduke Leopold-Wilhelm of Austria in 1619. Vlieghe also inserts a list of copies in the CR 121 entry, one of which (number 6) is the McMaster painting. This list includes paintings, engravings, and drawings.

[12] This also coincides with the presence of Vorsterman in Rubens’s studio from about 1617–18.

Unknown Venetian

Nenagh Hathaway

en français

Unknown, portrait of a man

Unknown, portrait of a man

Unknown Venetian

Unknown, portrait of a man, 16th century

oil and mixed media on canvas

45.2 x 38.7 cm

Gift of Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E., 1984

 

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Provenance

From an English collection

Purchased from Brod Gallery, London, England, 1967

Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E.

 

Exhibition History

The Herman H. Levy Collection, McMaster Museum of Art, Togo Salmon Gallery, 11 June 1994 – 9 November 2006

New Dawn: Italian Renaissance Art from Canadian Collections, Art Gallery of Hamilton, 16 May – 27 September 2009

The Last Things Before the Last, McMaster Museum of Art, Levy Gallery, 24 May – 18 August 2012

Worldly Possessions: Visualizing Ownership in the Age of the Baroque, McMaster Museum of Art, Levy Gallery, 27 August 2013 – 25 January 2014

This engaging portrait depicts an unidentified gentleman with piercing blue-brown eyes, a large brown moustache, and close-cropped dark hair. He wears a high white collar and dark costume (Fig. 1). The portrait and its dark background are contained within an oval shape, which itself is framed by four gold-coloured quadrants. These quadrants are in turn framed by a dark rectangular perimeter (Fig. X). The material history of this portrait is intriguing because it reveals that the work was initially larger. A close examination of the painting’s support, which consists of no less than three separate canvases, provides an important key to understanding this complex history.

Although the paint within the oval is original, the shape itself is not. X-radiography establishes that the ground layer applied to the oval canvas is significantly more X-ray opaque than the paint in the surrounding area (Fig. X). Moreover, several paint strokes stop abruptly at the edge of the oval, demonstrating that the current oval-shaped portrait was cut from a larger canvas. This oval was then adhered onto a larger rectangular canvas support. Curiously, the texture visible in the four golden spandrels (Fig. X) is not created by a canvas support, but rather by a material that is masquerading as canvas. Examination of a minute cross section (Fig. X) determined that a chalk-like substance was applied to create a surface that is flush with the oval canvas. While still wet, this material was imprinted with the pattern of a rough canvas, creating the illusion that it is made of a similar support as the painting within the oval. In addition to this imprint, several scored lines (Fig. X) were also created by dragging a sharp tool through the soft, chalk-like material before it dried.

Within the black rectangular border, a series of small holes can be observed (Fig. X), a clear indication that yet another major intervention had occurred. These holes were caused by tacking nails, which adhered the tacking edges of the rectangular canvas to its stretcher.[i] Therefore, at some point, the secondary rectangular canvas was removed from its stretcher, its tacking edges were flattened, and the entire package was adhered to yet another canvas. The outer border of this third canvas and the tacking edges of the secondary canvas were painted black, helping to cover some of the damages in the latter.

Raking light is a simple and highly effective tool for surface examinations like these. This technique involves shining a light at a sharp angle to the painting, which emphasizes its surface texture (Fig. X). Reflectance transformation imaging was also carried out to better visualize the topography of the painted surface.

When or why the portrait was cut into an oval shape, or how much original material was removed, remains unclear. It is possible that the portrait was at some point exhibited in an oval frame, which might explain the shape of its supporting canvas. However, it seems more likely that the oval, immediately after being cut, was adhered to the rectangular secondary canvas, thus during the same intervention. Originally, the portrait may have been part of a much larger painting, perhaps a group portrait, such as Domenico Tintoretto’s group portrait of circa 1590 (Fig. X). If this is the case, the particular individual portrayed in the McMaster painting may have been selected as the most successful or most meaningful of the group, while the other sitters were discarded. Another possibility is that the group was cut up into several stand-alone portraits for the open market once the group portrait no longer served its original function.


[i] A stretcher is a more recently developed method of supporting canvas for painting. Stretchers are rectangular frames with moveable elements that can be fit together and then reinforced with keys. These joints are not glued, allowing them to remain flexible and capable of being re-stretched in the future. Strainers, on the other hand, have permanent joints, which are strengthened with glue, nails, or other adhesives. Strainers were used before stretchers became popular.

Aert van der Neer (Dutch, 1603/4–1677)

Nenagh Hathaway

en français

vanderNeerlayersnew-visible

Untitled, A Frozen Waterway with Villagers Playing Kolf and Skating and a Horsedrawn Sleigh

Aert van der Neer (Dutch 1603/4-1677)

Untitled, A Frozen Waterway with Villagers Playing Kolf and Skating and a Horsedrawn Sleigh, mid 17th Century

oil on oak panel

23.8 x 37.7 cm

Levy Bequest Purchase, 1993

 

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Provenance

Nicolaas Nieuhoff, Amsterdam, 14-17 April, 1777, Lot 147

William Theobald, London, England

Christie’s, London, England, 10 May 1851, Lot 78

George Field, London, England by 1856

Duits, London (advertised in Burlington Magazine CIV, No. 717, Dec. 1962, Plate XIII)

Museum purchase from Christie’s, London via agent Thomas and Brenda Brod, London, England, 1993

 

Exhibition History

Marlborough House, London, England, 1856

British Institution, London, England, 1866, No. 41

Twenty-Five Years, McMaster Art Gallery, 25 May – 20 August 1993

Levy Series, Northern Art in the Age of Cock, Durer, Rubens & Rembrandt, McMaster Museum of Art, Levy Gallery, 10 May – 25 August 2007

Worldly Possessions: Visualizing Ownership in the Age of the Baroque, McMaster Museum of Art, Levy Gallery, 27 August 2013 – 25 January 2014

As the sun peers out from behind a layer of clouds, groups of people enjoy various winter activities on a frozen expanse of water. Images that depict kolf games, like this painting, may be particularly poignant for a Canadian audience familiar with winters spent playing hockey on frozen ponds. Kolf is a game that has been played in the Netherlands for centuries and it was not initially restricted to the winter season. In Aert van der Neer’s time, which falls within the period commonly called the Little Ice Age, canals in the Netherlands would freeze completely, unlike winters today. The wide open spaces offered by frozen canals in the winter months afforded an appropriately large environment for a game that involved a good deal of running and using clubs to knock balls across a court. This type of winter landscape was highly popular in Van der Neer’s time.[i]

Many figure groups found in this painting are characteristic of Van der Neer, who also painted snowstorms, sunrises, sunsets, and moonlit rivers. Recurring Van der Neer stock motifs can be found in several of the kolf-playing figures.[ii] The inclusion of the artist’s monogram also supports the attribution to Van der Neer. The monogram is hidden in the brown grass in the left foreground of the painting, and is composed of the four letters of the artist’s name: “AV” and “DN.”[iii] The painting can probably be dated to the 1640s.

One of the interesting features of this painting is its appearance under ultraviolet illumination, revealing relatively recent retouchings applied by a restorer (Fig. X). Curiously, many of these small inpaintings are horizontally oriented, following the direction of the wood grain of the supporting panel. One likely explanation for the cause of the small damages that triggered the restoration treatment is the action of lead soaps. Research has shown that in paintings with an imprimatura layer (a second ground layer) that contains lead white, metal soaps can form along the wood grain as particles of the lead white degenerate with exposure to moisture. This chemical change results in an increased transparency as the aggregates of lead particles form. When a darker layer is present below paint that contains lead soap, a greater transparency allows the darker paint to show through. The formation of lead soaps has also been associated with areas where the chalk ground is thickest.[iv] The pattern of streaks resulting from the now-exposed darker paint would produce a distracting effect for the viewer, thus encouraging retouching efforts to disguise such an effect. More invasive analysis would be required to confirm lead soap formation.


[i] This is demonstrated by paintings like Hendrick Avercamp’s Amusement on the Ice at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and Christoffel van den Berghe’s A Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters and an Imaginary Castle at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

[ii] For example, the man who is stooped over, with his kolf club held still, as he watches another man who bends over his outstretched kolf club, are also present in Van der Neer’s depiction of a frozen canal, housed in a private collection. See Wolfgang Schulz, Aert van der Neer (Doornspijk, the Netherlands: Davaco Publishers, 2002), cat. no. 84, ill. 45, 148.

[iii] This method of signing his work is consistent with Van der Neer’s practice from 1641. In his monograph on Van der Neer, Wolfgang Schulz states that until 1641 the artist used either his full name or the initials of his full name to mark his works. After this time, the two-part monogram comes into use. Schulz’s monograph does include the McMaster painting (cat. no. 213, ill. 53) and lists it as an authentic work, present whereabouts unknown. He dates the painting to the early 1660s, among other works that demonstrate Van der Neer’s use of reduced staffage and preoccupation with depicting the cold of the season. Schulz, Aert van der Neer, 87; 122.

[iv] Petria Noble, Annelies van Loon, and Jaap J. Boon, “Selective Darkening of Ground and Paint Layers Associated with the Wood Structure in Seventeenth-century Panel Paintings,” in Preparation for Paintings: The Artist’s Choice and Its Consequences, ed. Joyce H. Townsend, Tiarna Doherty, Gunna Heydenreich, Jacqueline Ridge (London: Archetype Books, 2008), 68–9.

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890)

Ihor Holubizky and Brandi Lee MacDonald

en français

Figure 6: Untitled, Still Life: Ginger Pot and Onions

Untitled, Still Life: Ginger Pot and Onions

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch 1853-1890)

Untitled, Still Life: Ginger Pot and Onions, 1885

oil on canvas

34.5 x 49.5 cm

Gift of Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E., 1984

 

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Provenance

Lucretia Buijsman (later Mrs. G. W. van Dyk-Buysman) of Nuenen, the Netherlands

Private collection, Paris (according to Faille 1970, p.79)

Private collection, Great Britain (according to Hulsker 1977/80, p.204)

Purchased from Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London, England, May, 1959

Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E.

 

Exhibition History

XIX and XX Century European Masters, Marlborough, London, Summer 1958, illus. p. 98, no. 73

The Herman H. Levy Collection, McMaster Museum of Art, Togo Salmon Gallery, 11 June 1994 – 9 November 2006

Great Masters Series: Vincent van Gogh, Art Gallery of Hamilton, 28 May – 23 September 2006

Synesthesia: Art and the Mind, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 18 September – 20 December 2008

Oil Cloth Lunch, and other reasons to be cheerful, McMaster Museum of Art, 12 March – 14 August 2010

The World is An Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne, Art Gallery of Hamilton, 1 November 2014 – 8 February 2015

The ongoing scholarly interest and persistent mythologizing in popular culture, homage, and appropriations in modern and contemporary art (and the resulting commercialism and competition for commerce), invites high attention to any Vincent van Gogh painting of his brief mature, and highly scrutinized, period: from early 1884—when he lived and worked in Neunen, and then in Paris, Arles,[i] and Auvers-sur-Oise (27 kilometres from Paris) respectively—to his purported suicide-death on July 27 or 28, 1890, at age 37.[ii] As Van Gogh scholar Tsukasa Kōdera noted, “Van Gogh has been cast in numerous roles—misunderstood genius, peintre maudit, paradigm of the modern artist, saint, martyr, personification of fraternal love, man of flames, man of flesh and blood…but in fact it is impossible for any study or discussion of an artist to be completely free of myth. There is no meta-discourse.”[iii]

The McMaster work was painted in Neunen, a small town in the Netherlands (10 kilometres east of the city of Eindhoven) where Van Gogh’s parents were then living. He relocated there in December 1883,[iv] and it is generally agreed that this move led to Van Gogh’s first sustained period of work, as he was able to devote himself entirely to painting. These works are characterized by a somber palette, although Van Gogh was very concerned with colour theories.[v] They are also distinguished by his “immersion” in the rural and humble subject matter, the landscape and environs of Neunen, portraits of peasants and scenes of them working in the field, and numerous still-life compositions.[vi]

Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters, regarded as his first major work, was painted in April and May 1885. During the summer of 1885 his primary subjects were peasants. In September and October of that year, Van Gogh painted still lifes exclusively: twenty-three works including the McMaster painting, which has been dated to September 1885. A companion work to the McMaster painting is Untitled, Still Life with Ginger Jar and Fruit.[vii]

Analysis of the McMaster still life for this exhibition revealed one previously unexamined aspect of the painting: was there a painting underneath? Imaging data led to a strong possibility of this (Figs. X and X), although not clear enough to determine “the what” underneath. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam initiated an extensive research and analysis project in 2005 that confirmed that the artist recycled canvases for financial reasons and the drive to make new work, a practice that began with his time in Neunen.[viii] Ten still-life paintings from the September to October 1885 period were examined—the dating of the McMaster painting “sits” within that group—revealing nine identifiable compositions underneath; the tenth is described as “unknown subject (scraped remains).”[ix]

The significance of Van Gogh’s time in Neunen is underscored by the inclusion of The Potato Eaters and five other Neunen works in the first major Van Gogh retrospective held in Amsterdam in late 1892 and early 1893.[x] In exploring Van Gogh’s legacy, scholars Walther and Metzger stated that “Van Gogh’s peculiar contribution…was to free…‘perceptible manifestations’ from concrete representation [in other words, an adherence to the ‘enchantment of the eye’ and the ‘beautiful’ composition]. Of course he painted peasants, weavers, and the wide variety of everyday scenes—but what is more important is the staggering simplicity of his paintings.”[xi]

[i] From early May to October 1889, Van Gogh was at the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, thirty-two kilometres from Arles, and then again in February 1890.

[ii] An examination of this mythologizing topic is examined in Griselda Pollock, “History Versus Mythology, Reading Van Gogh for Dutchness” in Vincent Everywhere, ed. Margaret Schavemaker and Rachel Esner (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010), 49–60.

[iii] Tsukasa Kōdera, introduction to The Mythology of Vincent van Gogh (Philadelphia: John Benjamin Publishing Company, 1993), 15–16. One aspect of “knowing” Van Gogh, as if to “diagnose creativity,” have been speculations on his “illnesses,” which are presented in a tabular format—from psychiatric diagnoses (such as schizophrenia, manic depression, and character and behvioural aberrations) to neurological disorders and somatic conditions (such as venereal disease, alcohol poisoning, and eye disease)—on pp. 341–42.

[iv] Van Gogh moved six times from January 1879 prior to his arrival in Neunen in 1883.

[v] Jan Hulsker, The Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1980): 121–22.

[vi] Ingo F. Walther and Rainer Metzger, “An Artist Pure and Simple, The First Year” in Vincent Van Gogh: The Complete Paintings, vol. 1 (Cologne: Taschen, 1993), 106–09.

[vii] Still Life with Ginger Jar and Fruit, September 1885. See Hulsker, The Complete Van Gogh, 923, 204; illustrated 205. Titled Still Life with Ginger Jar and Apples in Walther and Metzger, “An Artist Pure and Simple,” 126. Sold at Sotheby’s [New York?] 26 April 1972; present whereabouts unknown. Walther and Metzger, 126.

[viii] Ella Hendriks, Luc Megens, and Muriel Geldof, “Van Gogh’s Recycled Works” in Van Gogh’s Studio Practice (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013), 306–29.

[ix] Ibid., 327.

[x] Rachel Esner, “Beyond Dutch: Van Gogh’s Early Critical Reception 1890–1915” in Vincent Everywhere, ed. Rachel Esner and Margaret Schavemaker (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010), 139.

[xi] Walther and Metzger, “A Revolution in Art: Modernism,” in Vincent Van Gogh: The Complete Paintings, vol. 2, 696.

Alexej von Jawlensky (Russian, 1864–1941)

Ihor Holubizky and Brandi Lee MacDonald

en français

vonjawlenskylayerednew-visible

Murnauer Landschaft mit drei Heuhafen / Murnau Landscape with Three Haystacks

Alexej von Jawlensky (Russian 1864-1941)

Murnauer Landschaft mit drei Heuhafen / Murnau Landscape with Three Haystacks, 1908-1909

oil on cardboard

33 x 42.6 cm

Levy Bequest Purchase, 1995

 

To view an interactive image comparison of this artwork:

Click here

 

Provenance

Private collection, Switzerland (likely Mrs. Zumsteg of Birsfelden, near Basel)

Museum purchase Galerie Thomas, Munich, 1995

 

Exhibition History

Galerie Max Knöll, Basel, Switzerland, October 1927

Ideals and Illusion, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 9 April- 11 June 1995

Chroma, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 27 August – 22 October 1995

The Levy Legacy, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 1 September – 3 November 1996

Inner Nature, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 14 June – 16 August 1998

Geist, McMaster Museum of Art, Sherman Gallery, 6 September – 25 October 1998

The Vaults Revealed: Modern European Masters, McMaster Museum of Art, Sherman Gallery, 3 November – 1 December2002

Permanent collection galleries of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, 14 November 2007-30 November 2009

125 & 45: An Interrogative Spirit, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 20 January – 4 August 2012

Alexej von Jawlensky was initially trained in St. Petersburg, Russia. After moving to Germany in 1896, he continued his studies at the private school of the Slovene painter Anton Ažbe in Munich, where he first met the Russian expatriate artist Wassily Kandinsky. Jawlensky is considered to be an important figure in the formative period of German Expressionism before the Second World War, whosenfluences included Vincent van Gogh and Henri Matisse;[i] Jawlensky visited Matisse in 1905, and returned to work in his atelier in 1907.[ii] The McMaster painting was done during a period of his early association with Kandinsky and the German artist Gabriele Münter. The three spent time in the Murnau region of Bavaria, seventy kilometres south of Munich, where Kandinsky and Münter purchased a country home in 1909. Working in close proximity and sharing ideas and affinities, many comparisons can be made in their respective works including a simplification of form and the use of bold colours, which Münter said was also inspired by the historical stained-glass work of the Murnau region.[iii] In a 1958 interview with Münter, the poet and author Eduardo Roti observed, “I…was immediately struck by the colours of the [Murnau] landscape: the unmodified bright green of the pastures, the equally flat blue tones of the distant mountains, all justified the technique of those early landscapes of Kandinsky, Jawlensky and Franz Marc…suggesting receding planes rather than perspectives.”[iv] Their work would lead to the formation of two artists’ associations to promote new attitudes towards modern art: the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists Association of Munich), founded by Kandinsky and Jawlensky in early 1909; and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), created by Kandinsky and Franz Marc in 1911.[v]

Jawlensky was not formally associated with Der Blaue Reiter, which was an informal group, although his work was included in their 1913 exhibition at the Sturm Gallery, Berlin.[vi] Nonetheless, his importance to the group is evident in Kandinsky’s description of Der Blaue Reiter’s starting point as “the idea that the artist not only receives new impressions from the world outside, from nature, but that he also gathers experiences from the inner world” (hence, “expressionism”).[vii] Jawlensky himself asserted that “nature serves [the artist] only as a key to the organ in his soul, metaphorically speaking.”[viii]

The group functionally ended with the beginning of the Second World War—two of the members, Marc and August Macke, were killed in action—and both Jawlensky and Kandinsky were expelled from Germany in 1914. Jawlensky moved to Switzerland, which most likely explains the Swiss provenance of the McMaster painting. Although short-lived, as was the case with many radical artist groups during that time in Europe and Russia, Der Blaue Reiter nonetheless established a presence that extended beyond the German milieu, and in turn led to the creation of Die Blaue Vier (The Blue Four)—Jawlensky, Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Lionel Feininger—by the German art dealer Emmy “Galka” Scheyer in 1924.[ix] Der Blaue Reiter continues to have a modern mythic presence because it embraced a broader spirit of cultural inquiry that pointed to a “renaissance in thought.”[x]

Jawlensky returned to Germany in 1921, but suffered the fate of many advanced artists during the National Socialist period. His work was declared ideologically incorrect and seventy-two of his works were removed from German museums (approximately sixteen thousand works by other artists met the same fate[xi]); he was forbidden to exhibit and six of his works were included in the 1937 Entartete Kunst (meaning “degenerate art”) exhibition held in Munich, a de facto public trial and humiliation of modern art.[xii] Jawlensky’s health began to deteriorate, and because of increasing arthritis pain and financial hardships, he stopped working in 1938.[xiii]

Murnau Landscape with Three Haystacks is one of only two paintings by Jawlensky in a Canadian public collection; the other, The Blue Mantilla (1913), is a portrait in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario.


[i] According to Donald E. Gordon, Jawlensky purchased a Van Gogh landscape in 1904. See Gordon, Expressionism: Art and Idea (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987), 84.

[ii] Stephanie Barron, “Degenerate Art”: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1991), 260. See also Dietmar Elger, Expressionism. A Revolution in German Art (Cologne, Germany: Benedikt Taschen Verlag, 1989), 106.

[iii] Eduardo Roti, Dialogues on Art (London: Secker & Warburg, 1960), 142. Examples of Murnau region works are in the Lenbachhaus Collection, Munich: http://www.lenbachhaus.de/collection/the-blue-rider/murnau/?L=1 (n.d.). The Collection also holds Münter’s portrait of Jawlensky, titled Listening, 1909.

[iv] Roti, Dialogues on Art, 134.

[v] Jawlensky, along with Kandinsky, Münter, and Marc, also exhibited with the Neue Secession/NKVM in Berlin from November 1911 to January 1912. See Gordon, Expressionism: Art and Idea, 93.

[vi] Jawlensky had a solo exhibition at Sturm Gallery in February 1914. Ibid., 101.

[vii] Elger, Expressionism, 168.

[viii] Cited in Hans K. Roethel, The Blue Rider (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), 47.

[ix] Emmy “Galka” Scheyer (1889–1945) promoted Die Blaue Vier (The Blue Four) in the United States with numerous exhibitions mounted from the mid-1920s to the early 1930s, including the Oakland Art Museum in 1926. See Peg Weiss, The Blue Four (New York: Leonard Hutton Galleries, 1984), 7–12. Earlier, Scheyer organized a large solo exhibition of Jawlensky’s work in Weisbaden. See Barron, “Degenerate Art,” 260.

[x] Paul Vogt, Expressionism: German painting, 1905–1920 (Cologne, Germany: DuMont Buchverlag, 1979), 90. See also Roethel, The Blue Rider, 11–16.

[xi] Anita Kühnel, “Entartete Kunst,” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, Accessed March 22, 2015, from http://www.moma.org/collection/details.php?theme_id=10077.

[xii] Barron, “Degenerate Art,” 260–61. See also Ian Dunlop, The Shock of the New (New York: American Heritage Press, 1972), 224–59.

[xiii] Barron, “Degenerate Art,” 260–61.

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