His posthumous sale, London, Christie's, 4 June 1864, lot 7, £141.15s. to Holloway;
Alfred Morrison (1821–1897), Fonthill House, Wiltshire;
By inheritance to his son Hugh Morrison (1868–1931);
By inheritance to his son John Granville Morrison (1906–1996), later 1st Lord Margadale of Islay;
By family descent until 1998 when acquired by private treaty from the above by the present owner.
K. Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere, Cologne 1979, p. 602, under no. 267 (as the missing pendant to no. 267 in the Oppenheim sale);
K. Ertz and C. Nitze-Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Altere (1568–1625). Kritischer Katalog der Gemälde, Lingen 2008, vol. I, p. 366, under no. 179 (as the ex-Oppenheim pendant, whereabouts unknown).
Jan Brueghel developed the subject of the village street at the very beginning of the seventeenth century. The street usually runs on a diagonal receding to the left, although occasionally he reversed the scheme so that it recedes to the right. In a handful of pictures from 1601–05, he places a windmill on a bluff to the right – a motif later adopted by his son Jan Brueghel the Younger, and taken up by subsequent painters such as Bredael. From around 1607 he also starts to place a distant quay at the end of the street, or a waterway occupying the centre of a broadened street. Often the building to the left of the composition nearest the viewer is an inn. In this picture, figures are gathered outside a large three-storeyed brick house, some sitting under the shady trees, and this seems to be a point where carts laden with merchandise halt.
Brueghel repeated this composition in a painting on a similar-sized copper support dated 1613, which was sold at Sotheby's in New York on 28 January 2000, lot 49 (see fig. 1).1 In repeating his composition Brueghel included almost all the same elements, omitting only the recumbent hound in the right foreground. There must have existed one of Brueghel's highly finished pen and ink drawings which would have acted as a detailed record of his prime original, to enable him to paint such a repetition. The retention of such a drawing in the Brueghel family workshop would have enabled further repetitions. For example, the right-hand side of the composition, including the women and children standing behind a covered wagon, the two talking men alongside and the cattle beyond, was repeated by the artist's son Jan Brueghel the Younger in a copper bearing the date 1609 (but clearly executed much later, probably around 1630) of even smaller dimensions, today in the Gemäldegalerie in Kassel.2 The motif of the man riding a horse bareback into a pond on the left of the picture became a favourite in the Brueghel studio; Jan Brueghel the Elder used it again the following year in a small copper depicting another Village street today in a French private collection,3 and in the related preparatory drawing. Jan Brueghel the Younger used it in a signed but undated panel, formerly with Galerie Gans in The Hague and now also in a French private collection.4
At the time of the Oppenheim sale in 1864, Alfred Morrison bought another 'exquisitely finished' copper by Jan Brueghel depicting A cattle fair in a Dutch village (fig. 2) for the lower price of £115.10s. The composition, which shows a teeming village cattle market in the centre of a small village, is very similar, for it too is composed around a long diagonal street running from left to the right foreground. This picture remained in the Morrison family collection at Fonthill until sold by Lord Margadale at Christie's, London, 18 April 1985, lot 5. Although described by Ertz and others as a pendant to the present copper, this was signed and dated 1615, and of slightly different dimensions (25.7 x 36.9 cm.).5
The earliest known owner of this painting, Johann Moritz Oppenheim (1801–1864), was born in Hamburg in 1801. He settled in London around 1823, where he set up his business specialising in the Alaskan fur trade and amassed a considerable fortune (fig. 3). He never married and lived close to his business in Cannon Street. He was a passionate collector of art and in his will left several paintings to the National Gallery, including Jacob van Ruisdael's Landscape with a waterfall.6 The present work exemplifies his predilection for cabinet pictures, especially of the Dutch and Flemish schools. These included, for example, Jan Steen's celebrated Card players sold in these Rooms, 7 December 2011, lot 17, and now in the Rose Marie and Eijk van Otterloo collection. Oppenheim's collection was not very large (no doubt because blindness stopped his collecting in his later years), but of very high quality, with the highest prices at the sale fetched by works by Teniers, Ostade, van Huysum and Wouwermans.
Alfred Morrison (1821–1897; fig. 4), who bought this painting and its companion at Oppenheim's sale in 1864, was the second son of James Morrison (1790–1857), one of nineteenth-century England's wealthiest entrepreneurs, and himself a collector of very great distinction. His painting collection included works by Jan Steen, Turner, Cuyp, Poussin and Claude. James Morrison had acquired Fonthill – effectively the remains of William Beckford's larger mansion 'Fonthill Splendens' – in 1829, but later moved his collection in 1842 to his new country seat, Basildon Park in Essex.7 Fonthill Park was inherited by Alfred, who engaged Owen Jones to oversee its expansion to house his growing collection of paintings, sculpture, china, medals and manuscripts (fig. 5). From about 1865 Morrison also displayed parts of his collection at his London home in Carlton House Terrace. From then until his death he additionally assembled what the Historical Manuscripts Commission has described as 'the most remarkable gathering of historical autographs ever formed by a single private collector in Great Britain'. Perhaps the most celebrated part of the collection were the Chinese imperial ceramics, mostly bought from Lord Loch of Drylaw on the latter's return to Britain following the 1860 sack of the Chinese imperial summer palace, which were later dispersed in a series of sales.
1 Ertz and Nitze-Ertz 2008, vol. I, pp. 362–63, no. 177, reproduced (in reverse). An engraving of the composition by Jacques-Philippe Le Bas (1707–1783) is there recorded by Ertz in connection with this version. The dedication indicates that the original picture was in the collection of the Count de la Rodde in France. The only holder of that title at that date, however, Hector de la Rodde, Comte de la Rodde (1780–1857) lived too late for a work in his collection to have been engraved by Le Bas, so the reference may be to his father Etienne de la Rodde (1745–1804). The long-standing French provenance of the other version makes it the more likely candidate for the source of the engraving.
2 Copper, 16 x 22 cm. K. Ertz, Jan Brueghel the Younger, Freren 1984, p. 252, cat. no. 72, reproduced (as Jan Brueghel the Younger, painted probably in the 1630s, based on 'originals by the father like the Village Street in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich'). The date 1609 which appears on the painting may reflect a drawing dated 1609.
3 Ertz and Nietze-Ertz 2008, vol. I, p. 364, no. 178, reproduced.
4 Ertz 1984, p. 254, cat. no. 75, reproduced.
5 Ertz and Nietze-Ertz 2008, vol. I, p. 366, no. 179, reproduced.
6 N. Maclaren, National Gallery Catalogues. The Dutch School 1600–1900, Yale 1994, vol. I, p. 381, no. 737, vol. II, plate 307.
7 The collection was visited there by Gustav Waagen in 1850, and is described in his Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain, London 1857, pp. 300–12.
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