Restituted to the family of the previous owners;
By whom sold, London, Sotheby's, Old Master & British Drawings, 3 July 2013, lot 2,
where acquired by Baron van Dedem.
Intimate by virtue of their size, Bol’s scenes are delicate, refined and imaginative. They are tiny windows through which one can navigate to believable yet enchanting worlds that encapsulate Summer and Winter. Throughout his career, Hans Bol produced numerous sets of linked compositions, representing the seasons or months of the year. The tradition for cycles of this type originates in the art of manuscript illumination, but it was Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525/30–1569), more than any of his predecessors, who elevated the subject to new levels.
Born in Mechelen in 1534, Bol spent much of his younger life in his native city, before fleeing to Antwerp following the Spanish occupation of Mechelen in 1572. He remained in Antwerp until 1583, then fled again when that city was in turn subdued by the ‘Spanish fury’. Bol relocated first to Bergen-op-Zoom, and later to Dordrecht and Delft, before settling in Amsterdam for the last few years of his life. A prolific artist, Bol was very active as a draughtsman, printmaker and painter (in gouache and tempera rather than oil); he was highly regarded across all three artistic disciplines. In terms of his gouache paintings, Stefaan Hautekeete writes in his important, recent article on Bol as a draughtsman that 102 compositions by the artist in this medium are currently known.1
During his early career in Mechelen, the artists who had the most profound influence on Bol were Peeter Baltens (c. 1527–1584?), Hans Vredeman de Vries (1526–1609) and particularly Pieter Bruegel the Elder. In 1565–68, Bruegel made a celebrated set of four designs for prints representing the seasons, which were engraved by Pieter van der Heyden and published in 1570 by Hieronymous Cock.2 Throughout his career, Bol too produced a number of series depicting the months of the year and the seasons, most notably the series of circular drawings representing the months, formerly in the Koenigs Collection and now in the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam, which display a clear stylistic debt to Bruegel.3
The present gouaches, both signed and dated 1591, were executed during Bol’s final years in Amsterdam. The representation of Winter shows a castle surrounded by a frozen lake with skaters, while other figures, wrapped up warmly against the weather, gather on the banks to enjoy the scene. The bare branches and cool crisp tonalities of the reflections in the lake serve to heighten the wintry mood, leaving no doubt as to which season is represented. In his depiction of Summer, Bol’s chosen palette is warmer and the trees bear rich green foliage. Figures meander through a hilly landscape, accompanying a covered wagon along a track. In both these miniature landscapes Bol overcomes any limitations of scale and very successfully creates a remarkable feeling of depth and recession. Furthermore, the delicate application of touches of gold heightening in both compositions not only adds light and definition, but also imparts a jewel-like richness to each scene.
Hautekeete, in his pioneering article in Master Drawings, discusses Bol’s varying methods when building his adventurous compositions, remarking that the artist clearly had at his disposal a repertoire of sketches from life (‘naar het leven’) stored in albums, amassed from his daily observations and travels, which he would use as the basis for his drawings and gouache paintings. He would also, though, make use of his own visual memory bank and artistic imagination to enhance his landscapes, a process described by Karel van Mander in his Schilder-boeck as working ‘uyt den gheest’ (‘from the mind/ imagination’). Peter Schatborn has characterised the products of this working method as ‘partially memorised visual impressions, which have been moulded finally by the mind according to artistic standards, rules and ideals, including a kind of selectivity’.4 This highly practical approach meant that Bol could produce interesting and innovative works, in some numbers, which were in a way ‘variations on a theme’, cleverly adapting stock characters and motifs to create unique and individual works of art.
At the time of the Sotheby’s sale in 2013 Stefan Hautekeete kindly informed us that the motif of the building standing on columns with two smaller structures to the right, seen in the present representation of Summer, is also found in some four other works by Bol, notably one (signed and dated 1580) in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, which also includes the covered wagon seen from the back, followed by a horseman.5
These representations of Summer and Winter perfectly encapsulate the achievements and innovations of late 16th-century Dutch and Flemish landscape painting, and also reveal Hans Bol as a master of storytelling on a small scale.
1 S. Hautekeete, ‘New Insights into the Working Methods of Hans Bol’, in Master Drawings, vol. L, no. 3, 2012, p. 329.
2 N.M. Orenstein, The New Hollstein Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts 1450–1700, Pieter Bruegel The Elder, Ouderkerk aan den Ijssel 2006, p. 62, nos. 29–30.
3 Sale, New York, Sotheby's, Old Master and Modern Drawings and Prints from The Franz Koenigs Collection, 23 January 2001, lot 11.
4 Hautekeete 2012, p. 336.
5 J. Turner and C. White, Dutch and Flemish Drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London 2014, vol II, p. 371, no. 446, reproduced p. 371 (Inv. No. Dyce 501).
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale