JACOB OCHTERVELTThe Oyster Meal
- Manner of Jacob Ochtervelt
- The Oyster Meal
- oil on canvas
- 53.5 x 44.5 cm.; 21 x 17 1/2 in.
Anonymous sale (‘d'une très-belle collection’), Paris, Drouot, 27–28 April 1874, lot 73, for 6,000 Francs;
Henry Louis Bischoffsheim, Bute House, South Audley Street, London, probably by 1903;
His deceased sale, London, Christie’s, 7 May 1926, lot 75, for £1,417. 10s to Wallis;
Alphons Preyer, Paris and The Hague;
His sale, Amsterdam, Frederik Muller, 8 November 1927, lot 23, for 310,000 Florins to Galerie van Diemen;
J. Teixeira de Mattos, Amsterdam;
With Firma D. Katz, Dieren, 1935–36, by whom probably sold to
Dr Joan Hendrik Smidt van Gelder, Arnhem;
From whose safe in the Amsterdam Bank, Arnhem, looted by Helmut Temmler, Head of the Gaukommando Düsseldorf, in 1945 and taken to Düsseldorf;
With Galerie Peiffer, Düsseldorf, 1950s;
With Galerie Kurt Meissner, Zurich, 1965;
From whom acquired by Ambassador J. William Middendorf II, Washington, by 1967 until 1969 or later, by whom sold to Edward Speelman;
With Edward Speelman Ltd., London, by whom sold to Harold Samuel, London, 1971;
Bequeathed to the City of London Corporation, 1987;
By whom restituted to the heirs of Dr J.H. Smidt van Gelder on 6 November 2017.
Dieren, Firma D. Katz, Oud-Hollandsche en Vlaamsche Meesters, 16 November – 15 December 1935, no. 49;
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1967–69, on loan (loan inv. no. 67.45);
London, Barbican Art Gallery, The Harold Samuel Collection, 4 August – 2 October 1988, no. 47;
Jackson, Mississippi, Mississippi Museum of Art; Richmond, Virginia, Virginia Museum of Art; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Frick Art Museum; Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts; Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Dutch & Flemish Seventeenth-century paintings. The Harold Samuel Collection, 1992–93, no. 46;
London, Guildhall, 1993–2017;
Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting, 17 June – 17 September 2017, no. 9.4.
E. Plietzsch, Holländische und Flämische Maler des XVII Jahrhunderts, Leipzig 1960, p. 67;
S. Donahue Kuretsky, The Paintings of Jacob Ochtervelt (1634–1682), Oxford 1979, pp. 17, 62–63, no. 23, reproduced fig. 33 (as circa 1664);
O. Naumann, Frans van Mieris (1635–1681) The Elder, Doornspijk 1981, vol. 1, p. 62, note 64;
A. Woodhouse, ‘A New Home for Old Masters’, in Country Life, 10 March 1988, p. 127, reproduced on the cover;
A. Speelman, 'The Harold Samuel Collection’, in Galleries, vol. 6, no. 3, August 1988, p. 15;
I. Gaskell, Seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish Painting. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, London 1990, p. 258, note 10, reproduced;
O. Ydema, Carpets in Netherlandish Paintings, Leiden and Zutphen 1991, p. 185, no. 803;
P.C. Sutton, Dutch & Flemish Seventeenth-century paintings. The Harold Samuel Collection, Cambridge 1992, pp. 134–36, no. 46, reproduced (as circa 1664–65);
M. Hall, The Harold Samuel Collection: A Guide to the Dutch and Flemish Pictures at Mansion House, London 2012, pp. 112–13, no. 44, reproduced;
Q. Buvelot, in A.E. Waiboer, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting, exhibition catalogue, New Haven and London 2017, pp. 169, 249, cat. no. 9.4, reproduced p. 168 (as circa 1664–65).
In the 1650s and 1660s nearly all the greatest genre painters of the Dutch Golden Age were active in cities grouped close together in the Western Netherlands. In Delft lived Vermeer and De Hooch; in Leiden Gerrit Dou, Frans van Mieris, Gabriel Metsu and Jan Steen; in Dordrecht Nicolaes Maes and Samuel van Hoogstraeten; in The Hague Gottfried Schalcken and Caspar Netscher; and in Rotterdam Eglon Hendrik van der Neer and Jacob Ochtervelt. Later on, several of these artists, including De Hooch and Ochtervelt, moved to Amsterdam, and others such as Steen were also active in Haarlem. All of these cities are near each other, and most were easily reachable within the span of a day – only Gerard Ter Borch lived in more remote Deventer.1 These artists define Dutch seventeenth-century genre painting, and their influence and their popularity has endured to the present day. While Vermeer’s paintings have acquired the worldwide celebrity of a Leonardo da Vinci or a Rembrandt, the intimate and highly refined genre interiors of Dou, Van Mieris, Metsu and Ochtervelt, as well as the more comic treatments of Jan Steen, are part of the visual language of art that remains as widely appreciated and rapidly recognised by an educated public of today, as in the artists’ own day, and in intervening centuries. This was a coherent and cohesive movement in art, and perhaps the first to exist in multiple artistic centres simultaneously.
It has only relatively recently been recognised how much these artists knew and understood each other’s work and kept in contact with the latest developments in each other’s art, much as the painters of the High Renaissance did in Florence and Rome.2 Because so many of their paintings are dated, and because there are accurate dated inventories of many of the most prominent collectors, it is possible to work out when artists visited each other's ateliers, and when they saw paintings by fellow – and rival – genre painters in particular collections. Ochtervelt was almost certainly in Leiden on more than one occasion, and as well as visiting the studios of Metsu and Van Mieris there, also certainly saw the collections of Johan de Bye, where he saw paintings by van Mieris and Dou, and Pieter Cornelisz. van Ruijven, where he saw works by Vermeer.
Although its whereabouts at the time are now not known to us, in conceiving the Smidt van Gelder painting, Ochtervelt must have been aware of Frans van Mieris’ celebrated painting of The Oyster Meal of 1661, now in the Mauritshuis, in which the seated woman also wears a red jacket trimmed with white fur (see fig. 1). Ochtervelt’s work is not overtly influenced by Van Mieris’s composition, and is certainly not painted en homage to it, but the subject, and the ideas within it, do suggest a causal link. Ochtervelt’s picture is characteristically more dramatic, and its composition and exploration of space bolder. The pale blue dress trimmed in gold worn by the young woman is practically a trademark for the artist.
The subject of the Oyster Meal was treated in comparable ways by other leading Dutch genre painters in the 1660s, including Gabriel Metsu and, in a number of pictures, Jan Steen, whose treatments of the subject are both more varied and, characteristically, more consistently comic than those of his fellows. Quentin Buvelot discussed the theme in his essay in the catalogue of the exhibition this year entitled Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting, in which the present painting was included.3
Much has been written about the subject of this and similar pictures. Then as now oysters were seen as emblems of sexual pleasure and as a stimulus to the libido – the belief that they are aphrodisiacs goes back to Antiquity – and we are not intended to think that the young man proffering a silver plate with six Zeeuwse platte oysters to the young woman is only concerned that she be properly fed.4 The young man is bent on love, and the lavish attire of the young woman suggests that this is unlikely to be an inexpensive pursuit. That she in turn appears to proffer a wineglass to the clearly interested dog adds an element of comedy to the scene – and hints that by dulling his senses with wine, the hapless hound will be less vigilant in protecting his mistress. We may assume – as we might be reluctant to do but as many others have already done for us – that the young woman is a courtesan.5 The disordered bedclothes – indeed the bed itself – and the birdcage hanging above it from which the occupant has flown, are further indications that we are in a room intended as much for love as for sleep.6
In a painting of a similar subject (and title) of 1663–35 Ochtervelt includes a musician, reminding us that music as well as oysters is to be construed as the food of love (see fig. 2),7 while in another Oyster Meal dated 1667, the artist essays a more daring composition in which the young woman has her back to us, in a more constrained space (see fig. 3).8 The Smidt van Gelder painting sits between these two works in Ochtervelt’s development of the subject, and Susan Donahue Kuretsky’s dating of the Smidt van Gelder painting as circa 1664–65 has been generally accepted.
Ochtervelt has lit this painting theatrically, and has used light to unify the composition. Deliberately leaving the thinly-painted background in deep shadow, he lights the young woman strongly from the upper left, outside the picture plane. The lighting enhances the brilliant red of her jacket and the blue sheen of her silk dress, and her face and right forearm are equally strongly lit, and so is the back and head of her dog. The man's face however is mostly in shadow, hiding his character from us, but light catches the extraordinarily elaborate silver embroidery of his sleeve. Points of light catch her wineglass, the droplets falling from it, numerous parts of the polished pewter jug and the back, frame and legs of the chair. Barely detectable in reproduction, but evident when seen in the original, the side of the pewter jug and the moulding of its spout catch reflections of the scarlet of her jacket.
Ochtervelt has approached the foreground of his composition with an astonishing degree of naturalism. For example – and again only clear when seen in the original – the back of the chair is tatty and becoming unstitched, and a knob is missing from one of its uprights. It is unclear however if these are intended to have symbolic significance.9
Note on Provenance
We have no record of the painting until the second half of the nineteenth century. Probably before the end of the century it was acquired by the prominent Dutch financier Henri Louis Bischoffsheim (1829–1908), whose house – Bute House – at 75 South Audley Street in Mayfair which he acquired in 1872 (now the Egyptian Embassy) housed a magnificent collection of paintings. A Tiepolo fresco of Time revealing Truth that he had installed in a ceiling was only recognised in 1969 when it was sold to the National Gallery. His daughter lived at Bute House until its sale in 1925 to the Egyptian government, which occasioned the posthumous sale of his pictures in 1926. Not surprisingly the sale sheds further light on Bischoffsheim’s collecting tastes: Dutch and some Flemish seventeenth-century pictures, French and some Venetian eighteenth-century paintings and English eighteenth-century portraits; although one of his most imposing paintings, and the second most expensive work in his sale, was the now lost portrait of Elisabeth de Valois by Anthonis Mor. He was also a patron of contemporary British art, and Millais’s celebrated portrait of his wife Clarissa now hangs in Tate Britain.
For J.H. Smidt van Gelder, his collecting, and his loss of this picture and its restitution to his heirs, please see the introductory essay. We may assume that he acquired this Ochtervelt from the dealer D. Katz in Dieren, who owned it in 1935–36. According to his daughter Charlotte Bischoff van Heemskerck, who was by then in her teens, the family often visited the Katz brothers at weekends, where the brothers sought his advice on pictures.10 Daniël Katz had set up the firm in the 1890s, but by the 1930s it was run by his sons Nathan (1893–1949) and Benjamin Katz (1891–1962).
Harold Samuel, later Lord Samuel of Wych Cross, was a property developer who played a key role in the reconstruction and growth of central London as the world financial centre after the Second World War. Starting in the early 1950s, he assembled a peerless and comprehensive collection of Dutch and Flemish cabinet pictures under the watchful eye of Edward Speelman, who acquired for Samuel, or sold to him, virtually all his major pictures. The collection is as much a testament to Speelman’s connoisseurship and acuity as it is to Samuel’s determination to acquire only the best that was available. Lord Samuel, who died in 1987, bequeathed nearly all his collection to the City of London, where it is on display in the Mansion House, residence of the Lord Mayor. On learning of the claim, the Lord Mayor and Corporation of the City of London and the daughters of the late Lord Samuel swiftly recognized that the Ochtervelt should be returned to Smidt van Gelder's family, and acted without delay to expedite its return, the Lord Mayor expressing the hope that this "will represent a happy, albeit, long overdue, resolution.”11
Fortunately the Samuel collection possesses another fine work by Ochtervelt, so the balance of the collection is maintained.12
1 The roads were awful, but there was a sophisticated, comfortable and reliable system of horse-drawn passenger ferries between these cities, often with hourly and on-the-hour departures. Between Rotterdam and Delft for example the summer Trekschuyt schedule ran every hour between 5 am and 8.30 pm. The average speed was 5.5 km per hour and the two cities 16 km apart, so the journey would only have taken slightly longer than the Eurostar between London and Paris. In theory it would have been possible for Ochtervelt to arrive in Delft for a late breakfast, spend the morning with Vermeer, visit a collector in the afternoon and another in early evening, and be home before midnight.
2 This was the theme of the recent and outstanding exhibition in Paris, Dublin and Washington that was the brainchild of Adriaan Waiboer (Waiboer 2017), with significant contributions from Arthur Wheelock and Blaise Ducos. The present picture, exhibited only in Dublin where the exhibition reached its peak of coherence, was included in the section, chapter 9 in the catalogue, that surveyed the subject of The Oyster Meal, discussing the relationships between the treatments by Jan Steen, Frans van Mieris, Gerard ter Borch as well as Ochtervelt.
3 See Waiboer 2017, pp. 164–69. The present painting was exhibited in Dublin, but not in Paris or Washington.
4 The word aphrodisiac derives from Aphrodite, who was conceived in an oyster shell.
5 As noted by Ivan Gaskell, 1990, p. 258, ‘The crucifix alludes to the popular idea that prostitutes were often Roman Catholic, because it was supposedly easy for them to obtain absolution’.
6 Noted by Donahue Kuretsky, p. 63.
7 Madrid, Thyssen-Bornemisza collection; see Donahue Kuretsky, pp. 61-2, no. 21, reproduced fig. 29. The Food of Love was the title of the section of the Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting exhibition devoted to paintings in which young men proffer plates of oysters to young women, and of the concomitant chapter in the exhibition catalogue.
8 Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen; see Donahue Kuretsky, pp. 67–68, no. 36, reproduced fig. 40.
9 It is almost certain that someone will find them so.
10 In discussion, 1 May 2018.
11 Commission for Looted Art in Europe, press release, 6th November 2017.
12 See Sutton, 1992, pp. 137–39, no. 47, reproduced.
Property Restituted to the Heirs of Dr. J. H. Smidt van Gelder
Jacob Ochtervelt, The oyster meal
Born in Amsterdam, Dr. Joan Hendrik Smidt van Gelder (6 April 1887 - 3 June 1969) was the son of the paper manufacturer Pieter Smidt van Gelder (1851-1934), whose father had founded the paper manufacturer Koninklijke Papierfabrieken Van Gelder Zonen (Van Gelder Sons Royal Paper Mills Company) on the banks of the North Sea Canal in Velsen, northern Holland, in the late 18th century. Breaking with tradition by choosing to go to university rather than joining the family company, J.H. Smidt van Gelder studied medicine at the University of Leiden from 1905 to 1918, specialising as a paediatrician. In 1913 he married Margaretha Eva Uyt den Bogaard. They had six children and lived in a detached house with a large garden at Velperweg 18 in Arnhem. In 1919 the newly-qualified Dr. Smidt van Gelder began to work at the Kinderziekenhuis (Children’s Hospital) in Arnhem, founded in 1883 and situated on the Catharijnestraat in the underprivileged neighbourhood of Klarendal. The only children’s hospital in the province, it served all the sick children of Arnhem and beyond. Dr. Smidt van Gelder became the hospital’s director and chief doctor in 1932. He also received sick children from 1pm-2pm every day at his family home at Velperweg 18, where the Ochtervelt had pride of place in the waiting room.
Dr. Smidt van Gelder came from a distinguished family with a love of art, music and the sciences. Even as a student, he visited galleries and art dealers and collected paintings, buying works with his student allowance, sometimes going without food, so great was his passion. By the outbreak of the Second World War, he had assembled a collection of more than twenty-five important Old Master paintings, including works by Willem Kalf, Jacob de Wit, Salomon van Ruysdael, Jan van Huysum and Casper Netscher. He was close to the Katz brothers, the well-respected art dealers in Dieren, and at least fourteen of his paintings were purchased from them, including The Oyster Meal which was shown by D. Katz of Dieren in a selling exhibition in Rotterdam in November and December 1935.
In the wake of the German invasion of Holland in 1940, Dr. Smidt van Gelder’s collection was quickly identified as of key interest to the Nazis by Dr. Eduard Plietzsch, a German art historian and specialist on Dutch art working for the Dienststelle Mühlmann, the agency for Nazi art looting in the Netherlands. Increasingly concerned about the need to safeguard his collection, Dr. Smidt van Gelder placed twelve of his paintings in a vault in the Amsterdam Bank in Arnhem for safekeeping on the 26th August 1942, adding a further two paintings on the 5th November 1943.
Dr Smidt van Gelder had himself come to the attention of the Germans when he joined the medical resistance to the Nazis. A remark he made to the wife of the Ortskommandant (Local Commander) about the likely defeat of the Germans on the Eastern Front put him at even greater risk. On the 6th April 1943, the Nazis rounded up scores of physicians. The German Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service) came to Dr Smidt van Gelder’s home to arrest him. Fortunately absent, he was warned of the danger and went into hiding. He was to remain a fugitive until the end of the war. His home at Velperweg 18 in Arnhem was confiscated, and his family forced to move to a smaller house on the Mauvestraat.
In September 1944 the Allies launched ‘Operation Market Garden’ whose aim was to advance into the heart of Germany through the Rhine, a major moment in the Second World War dramatized in the epic 1977 war film A Bridge Too Far. After the Allies failed to secure the bridge over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem, the resurgent German army ordered the residents of Arnhem to evacuate the city on the 23rd September. They then plundered the city, looting and raiding private and commercial premises. Between 17th January and 8th February 1945, the vaults of the Amsterdam Bank were broken open by Helmut Temmler, leader of the Gaukommando Düsseldorf (District Command Düsseldorf) which controlled the section of the now empty city where the Amsterdam Bank was located. Temmler and his men stole over 60 paintings, including the fourteen paintings that Dr. Smidt van Gelder had stored in the bank for safekeeping.
Amongst the plundered paintings was The Oyster Meal. Despite major efforts by the Dutch government to find it after the war, Dr. Smidt van Gelder never saw the painting again. He retired in 1953 and died in 1969 in his home at Velperweg 18 where he had started his married life. The Ochtervelt’s whereabouts remained unknown until just three years ago, when the painting, then hanging as part of the celebrated Harold Samuel collection in the Mansion House in London, was identified as the Smidt van Gelder painting by the London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe, whom the family had asked to represent them, and to find and recover their still-missing paintings.