Thence by inheritance until sold by order of the Comtesse Greffulhe and the Duc and Duchesse de Gramont, London, Sotheby's, 22 July 1937, lot 73, for £1,000 to Rosenberg (London), for F. Sabin?;
Anonymous sale ('The Property of a Gentleman'), London, Christie's, 6 July 1990, lot 114;
With Klaus Edel, Cologne, by whom exhibited at TEFAF, Maastricht, in 1991;
With Noortman Master Paintings, Maastricht, 2000;
From whom acquired by an American private collector in 2005;
By whom sold, New York, Sotheby's, 24 January 2008, lot 17, for $2.05 million;
With Noortman Master Paintings, by whom sold to the present collector before 2010.
Die Weltkunst, June 1990, p. 1759, reproduced in colour;
W. Schulz, Aert van der Neer, Doornspijk 2002, p. 189, no. 225, reproduced in colour plate 3, and ill. 30.
Aert van der Neer made two specific genres his own: winter landscapes and moonlit landscapes; and apart from his early career, painted no other type of subject. Both are usually based on rivers or canals occupying the central part of the composition, receding towards the horizon. Both must have been equally sought-after in his own day, because he painted many of each, but his winter landscapes are now by far his most prized paintings, and the best ones are highly sought-after. Van der Neer’s nine most expensive paintings sold at auction are winter scenes (this picture is the fifth).
In Aert van der Neer the winter landscape, pioneered by Hendrick Avercamp, and essayed by most of the leading landscape painters of the Dutch Golden Age, reached its apogee, so that when we think of a Dutch village in winter, Van der Neer’s paintings of them are the most likely to spring first to mind. This is not a whim of latter-day collecting taste, a generation of Dutch romantic landscape painters in the first half of the nineteenth century modelled their own highly successful evocations of winter on his paintings. Because he was so influential, Van der Neer’s own winter landscapes do not now seem particularly revolutionary, but in their own day they were strikingly original and broke fresh ground. He may have been able to achieve this because he was probably self-taught. His early works are closer in style to those of his friends the brothers Rafael and Joachim Camphuysen, with whom he sometimes collaborated, but from his early maturity onwards, his winter landscapes owe remarkably little stylistic debt to those of his peers.
Few of Van der Neer’s paintings are dated, but this work, dated circa 1650 or to the early 1650s by Wolfgang Schulz, is a superb example of his early maturity.1 Particularly remarkable is the quality of light. Van der Neer has used predominantly cool tones, including those of the blue sky visible between patches of grey cloud, to evoke the transient mood of this late afternoon scene. The creamy yellow tone of the invisible waning sun is deliberately remote, passing out of the picture plane behind trees and buildings, and out of the scene depicted. We are left in no doubt that when it has set, the intense cold will take rapid hold as the light fades: it is already nearly time to go home and get warm; in less than an hour this scene will be largely empty of human presence, even though the sky will hold on tenaciously to the last recollections of daylight.
Van der Neer was usually economic in his use of paint, laying it on thickly only when the desired effect demanded it. Here he has in parts deliberately left the ochre ground layer exposed, or merely washed over it with thin glazes, so that it contributes to the structure of the painting. The areas around the branches of trees and the timbers of the wooden houses and barns show the bare ground of the picture, and he has likewise left it almost untouched by the brush on the foreground.
NOTE ON PROVENANCE
The Greffulhe collection was one of great quality and renown, and its sale at Sotheby's in London in 1937 caused a sensation. Upon the announcement of the sale, A.C.R. Carter trumpeted in the London Times that 'France is to lose one of her most famous private collections of art treasures', noting with glee that 'those well-known members of the French noblesse, the Comtesse de Greffulhe and the Duc and Duchesse de Gramont have decided to send to London their joint possessions – wonderful pictures, tapestries and objets d'art – for dispersal in the open market'. In fact, the Comtesse was a great Anglophile, and a friend of Edward VII, and their collection, housed in their château at Bois-Boudran and in the Rue d'Astorg, Paris, was formed under the guidance of the Comte d'Armaillé, who also helped their relative, Sir Richard Wallace, to form the Wallace collection during the same years. The greatest treasures in the collection were French eighteenth-century paintings and drawings, including a sheet of studies by Watteau that fetched the astonishing price of £5,800. There was also a small but choice assembly of Dutch seventeenth-century pictures, of which the most expensive was a Jan Steen which fetched £1,250, followed by the present Van der Neer and a Paulus Potter at £1,000 each. The sale, which realized £41,000, was a resounding success, and was in other ways a foretaste of times to come – for example, the family sat in a private room, the sale relayed to them by a microphone placed in front of the auctioneer. At the close of the sale they 'manifested much elation', as The Times put it.
1 Schulz 2002, p. 189, no. 225, as 'authentic and important'.
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