LONDON - One of the most noticeable aspects of our forthcoming Old Master Paintings Evening sale this July is the number of small private collections represented within it, and the distinct taste that they each bespeak. Perhaps the most coherent is the group of four ‘Dutch and Flemish paintings from an Important European Collection’ grouped in the catalogue as lots 6 to 9. The four works, each beautifully preserved, were all painted within the space of a decade. Three are on copper, and all are minutely observed in their detail.
A detail of Christoffel van den Berghe’s Tulips, Roses, Narcissi, Daffodils, Crocuses, an Iris, a Poppy and Other Flowers in a Gilt Mounted Porcelain Vase on a Ledge, with a Queen of Spain Fritillary, a White Ermine and a Magpie Butterfly.
The northern Dutch port city of Middelburg is, perhaps more than any other place, responsible for the birth and subsequent popularity of the genre of still life painting. It is, and must have been more so in 1600, a very isolated place, stuck out as it is into the North Sea on the end of a chain of islands separated by muddy channels between the estuaries of the Schelde and the branches of the Rhine. It is all the more remarkable therefore not just for its cradling the genre of still life painting through its infancy, but in the fact of the genre’s wider and speedy dissemination through the Netherlands and Europe in the early years of the 17th century.
Christoffel van den Berghe’s Tulips, Roses, Narcissi, Daffodils, Crocuses, an Iris, a Poppy and Other Flowers in a Gilt Mounted Porcelain Vase on a Ledge, with a Queen of Spain Fritillary, a White Ermine and a Magpie Butterfly.
The Tulips, roses, narcissi, daffodils, crocuses and other flowers in a porcelain vase by Christoffel van den Berghe is a work of the utmost rarity that conjures much of what early Middelburg flower painting is all about. It is rooted in the style of, and proof of Van den Berghe’s training under, Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder. The wonderful red and yellow parrot tulip is in fact borrowed form a Bosschaert of about five years earlier.
Bartholomeus Grondonck’s Kermesse of Oudenarde, 1617.
At the same moment Van den Berghe was painting his remarkable and vibrant still life, or at the outside within a year of it, the Antwerp painter Bartholomeus Grondonck was executing his only signed (and 1617-dated) work, the Kermesse of Oudernarde. Where Van den Berghe’s still life is distinctly Dutch, Grondonck’s Kermesse is wholly Flemish. It follows the Brueghelian narrative tradition, juxtaposing the innocence of childhood and its self-made fun with the excess and debauchery of those children’s parents, as any self-respecting Flemish kermesse ought to. A young man relieves himself by the doorpost to the inn populated by raucous peasants, while a group of children pile themselves on top of each other, upside-down, sideways and any-which-way, as the warm afternoon descends into a haze of merriment. Also at this same moment the Antwerp-born Anton Mirou painted his characteristic wooded landscape populated by elegant figures (lot 6), in the province of Frankenthal where he and his family had fled, like many protestants, to escape religious persecution.
Anton Mirou’s A River Landscape with Elegant Figures on a Path, a Village on the Far Bank.
Joos de Momper’s atmospheric winter landscape follows the Grondonck in its distinctly Flemish character though where the Grondonck is minutely detailed, the De Momper is freely executed, belying the utter confidence of this most prolific painter. De Momper was a master in capturing atmosphere. It is clearly a freezing day, the figures wrapped up warm and the horseman’s mantle covering all but his eyes and nose. There is little wind however, and a watery sun filters through a thin layer of cloud to cast dull shadows across the thick layers of well-trodden snow. A tree to the right is encrusted in frost and the village roofs are piled high with snow. Shallow ruts have been carved along the tree-lined tracks by the passing carts, one of which, in the central foreground, has begun to slip on the hard-packed snow, much to the annoyance of its owner who berates its steed with a whip.
Joos de Momper’s Winter Landscape with Travellers Passing Through an Avenue of Trees.
It is always a testament to a collector’s discerning eye, and also to his restraint, when the collection that he has so lovingly put together proffers such cohesion and compliment. This small group of Netherlandish paintings, put together over nearly 30 years, is an example of the connoisseur collection that is today more of a rarity than it once was, and should be.