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Details & Cataloguing

Old Masters Evening Sale

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London

Emanuel de Witte
ALKMAAR CIRCA 1617 - 1691/2 AMSTERDAM
INTERIOR OF A GOTHIC PROTESTANT CHURCH
signed and dated centre right: E . DE . WITTE 1692
oil on oak panel, with a red wax collector's seal on the reverse, probably that of the Barons von Brünnow of Prussia
46.2 x 35 cm.; 18 1/4  x 13 3/4  in.
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Provenance

Probably in the collection of the Barons von Brünnow of Prussia (their red wax seal on the reverse);

Possibly Dr P.H.J.J. Ras, Arnhem, 1911 (by whom loaned to the Gemeentemuseum, Arnhem);

W. Ellens, De Steeg, 1966–1976;

Anonymous sale, Amsterdam, Christie’s, 2–3 December 1981, lot 69 (as E. de Witte, oil on panel, 46 x 35 cm., not illustrated);

Private collection, Washington, D.C;

Whence sold, New York, Sotheby's, 17 January 1985, lot 93, for $50,000, where acquired by Baron van Dedem.

Exhibited

Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1982 – October 1984, on loan;

Atlanta, High Museum of Art, Masterpieces of the Golden Age, 24 September – 10 November 1985, no. 60a.

Literature

I. Manke, Emanuel de Witte 1617–1692, Amsterdam 1963, p. 106, cat. no. 116b (as a free copy);

P.C. Sutton, Dutch & Flemish Paintings, The Collection of Willem Baron van Dedem, London 2002, pp. 276–79, cat. no. 60, reproduced p. 277;

B.G. Maillet, Intérieurs des églises, Les peintures architecturales des écoles du Nord 1580–1620, Wijnegem 2012, p. 488, cat. no. M-1866, reproduced.

Catalogue Note

Signed and dated 1692, this serene scene of a church interior bathed in silvery light, is one of De Witte’s final works, for he died that same year. Depicted here is the interior of a tall, Gothic style Protestant church, with an organ and memorials upon white washed walls and tall columns. Two cloaked and be-hatted gentlemen stand conversing in the foreground at the left, other figures are scattered among the pews and a mother leads a small child by the hand in the far shadows. The real focus of the scene however, is the depiction and articulation of the interior space and its is multiple light sources. The columns of the nave are lit by a soft low light from the left that warms the scene and causes the bronze chandeliers to assume a golden shine. A cooler blue-white light floods in from the back to the church, through the tall gothic windows, interrupted only by a band of stained class that is a mosaic of soft colours.

De Witte is rightly acknowledged as one of the greatest architectural painters of the seventeenth century in Holland. His church interiors are famed for being imaginative recreations of reality; where the majesty and silence of these familiar hallowed spaces are distilled into painted canvas or panels. De Witte was not a slave to accurate representation of the architectural specifics of the interiors that he painted, many of his paintings are in fact constructed of a combination of real and entirely imaginary architectural motifs. His focus was on perspective, the expressive use of space, and the rich interplay of light and shade. In these interests, detectable already in his earliest works, De Witte paved the way for the celebrated genre painters Pieter de Hooch and Jan Vermeer; together these painters pioneered the defining qualities of the Delft School.

De Witte left Delft for Amsterdam in the mid-1650s and spent the rest of his life in that city. He was known to have been a highly cultivated but querulous man, and despite the success he experienced within his own life time, was often in debt. Arnold Houbraken, the painter and biographer of Dutch Golden Age painters, reported that De Witte drowned in a canal at age 72, having failed to hang himself from one of the bridges; the canals were mostly frozen and his body was only recovered eleven weeks later. The open grave in the foreground of this little panel assumes a particular poignancy in the year of the artist’s own death.

Old Masters Evening Sale

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London