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One hundred years ago ‘Johannes Vermeer’ visited Copenhagen

(updated October 2022)

The world only has few paintings by “Un celebre Peijntre nommé Verme[e]r”, the Delft artist Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675).[1] Pending on scholarly judgements, just 35 or 36 paintings are preserved, and they are all on display in public museums. Based on his professional career that spanned only twenty-two years, a qualified estimate of Vermeer’s complete oeuvre reaches no more than forty works. He left no drawings or preliminary paintings behind.[2]

Archival research and provenance studies are still ongoing to understand more about the life and work of Johannes Vermeer. Naturally, an attribution’s authenticity is significantly strengthened if direct links over time to the artist himself can be established. Equally so if an ownership during the artist’s lifetime or soon after his death can be proven.

In the past it was imagined that Vermeer after his untimely death in 1675 was soon forgotten and appeared relatively unknown during the 18th and early 19th centuries until rediscovered by Thoré-Bürger (1807-1869) in 1866 in his article “Van der Meer de Delft” as the ‘sphinx of Delft’.[3] However, research has established that both in his own days and ever since there was a marked for the eloquent painter of first history pieces and later more quiet interior scenes with mundane activities. Private collectors in Delft, The Hague, and Amsterdam possessed his works.[4]

Sometimes Vermeer’s works drew attention under wrong attributions, and in 1742 the Elector of Saxony acquired the Girl Reading at an Open Window as a Rembrandt.[5] The Music Lesson, now in the Queens collection in London, was acquired as a Frans van Mieris (1635-1681) in 1762. Art dealers in Paris praised Vermeer’s works early in the 19th century and he was traded as a pupil or follower of Gabriël Metsu (1629-1667) as well as of Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684). In the late 19th and early 20th century collectors and museums acquired Vermeer’s works as they became discovered and correctly attributed to the Delft painter, who signed less than half of his works and only dated one.

The art historian, artist, and museum director Karl Madsen. Photo: H. Damgaard.

No Danish museum has a painting attributed to or by Vermeer in their collections, however, this could have been different. In 1919 the director of Statens Museum for Kunst, Karl Madsen (1855-1938) had engaged with a Swedish art collector to display his paintings within the museum. It appeared that several of the works were for sale, which caused a row in the news press. It offended several museum directors and the public opinion. In the journal Social-Demokraten one could read: “…and now the story goes that a Dutch art dealer, who stayed in Copenhagen recently, has given voice of a deal with the [SMK] Director who has offered him space in the Museum, where he intends to open his Shop in the Hammershøi-Gallery!”.[6]

The director proceeded with his plans and in January-February 1920 a collection of old master paintings from the Jewish Dutch art dealer Jacques Goudstikker (1897-1940) from Amsterdam was on display at SMK, the National Gallery in Copenhagen.[7] Among the paintings were works by Frans Hals and Rembrandt, however the highlight was Vermeer’s Young Girl with a Flute, a small panel measuring only 20 × 17,8 cm.[8]

What is noteworthy is that Vermeer’s painting was not mentioned, nor illustrated in the catalogue listing 65 works on show.[9] Was the Young Girl with a Flute added as an extra painting ex-catalogue? Was it important for its provenance having it listed as exhibited at the Danish National Gallery? Today this exhibition is not listed in the literature on the painting.

Studio of Johannes Vermeer, Young Girl with a Flute, c. 1669-1675. Public domain

Madsen did not hide the fact that the Goudstikker collection was for sale, and he even openly declared his hope that a patron would offer the museum to acquire not only the work by Vermeer, but also works by Anthony Van Dyck, Jan Steen, and Frans Hals – unfortunately, his aspirations were in vain.[10] Maybe the price of 325.000 guilders was simply too much [today app. € 2 million]. Otherwise, SMK would now have had the Girl with a Flute on permanent display – and not merely on a brief visit.

Reviewing the provenance history of the painting, it has been speculated that it was one of the tronies that were part of the Pieter van Ruijven collection in Delft. Later in 1696 it was on sale in Amsterdam, then in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and from 1876-1911 it went to Brussels. Briefly it was in Paris in 1911 before Augustus Janssen in Amsterdam possessed the painting 1919-1921. Apparently commissioned to Goudstikker, the Girl with a Flute already in 1919 was part of the exhibition La Collection Goudstikker d’Amsterdam in the Pulchri Studio in The Hague, as cat.no. 131 with an illustration.[11] It was the year after that the prolific art dealer Goudstikker had it on show at SMK in Copenhagen in the Januar-February 1920 exhibition.[12]

The SMK exhibition catalogue Jan-Feb 1920 / Newspaper review, 22 February 1920.

During the exhibition at SMK, a newspaper printed a picture of the Young Girl with a Flute with the text that the most precious painting in the exhibition is the one by Vermeer. The review concludes that “It would indeed be a national achievement if one of our art-loving tycoons would secure our Gallery with such an artwork”.[13]

During the exhibition at SMK the following assessment of the painting was published: “The costliest portrait in the exhibition is no doubt Johannes Vermeer van Delft’s young ‘Girl with the Flute’. Although the painting has not gone unharmed through life, it is characteristic of the master. It has, to its fullest extent, this extraordinary, opulent atmosphere which characterizes his art. And its colours show his characteristic, saturated harmony. The basic tone is achieved by the young girl’s blue-grey coat, and it is emphasized by her Chinese-like hat, in which various coloured stripes – brown, yellowish, and white tones – are the most prominent. However, the best in shape and colour is the young girl’s left arm and hand. In the rendering of both soft and prominent contours, in the perception of the softness of the carnation, Vermeer unfolds all his peculiarities. Unfortunately, the perception is harmed in different ways. The colours of the scarf and the white fur coat are heavily yellowed, and a less fortunate restoration of the left upper lip and nose tip seems quite disturbing”.[14]

Later the same year, the Young Girl with a Flute was on show in Stockholm and in Kristiania (Oslo) where the Goudstikker exhibition, equally to the Copenhagen venue, was comprising 65 paintings announced in the Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet.[15] A Danish newspaper wrote that the very small painting, the size of only three columns in their newspaper, in Norway was for sale for the very high amount of DKK 600.000. It was argued that the painting had a wonderful sense of completion, but also highlighted the fact, as the article continued, that “…only very few paintings by Vermeer are known… and out of these the ‘Lady with the Flute’ is regarded as one of the most famous”.[16]

It appears peculiar that Vermeer’s painting was not included in the catalogues at all the venues of the Goudstikker exhibitions, however, in the Rotterdam presentation in May 1920 it was indeed.[17] In the following year, it was again exhibited in a public museum like the SMK, this time on loan to the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.[18]

However, yet another exhibition of ‘Old and more Recent Dutch Paintings’ in Copenhagen included the Young Girl with a Flute. It was organised by Karl Madsen, this time in collaboration with the painter and Danish academy member N.V. Dorph (1862-1931) and the businessman and art collector Wilhelm Hansen (1868-1936). The exhibition took place during a major Dutch promotional event in between July and August 1922. The exhibition this time included the Young Girl with a Flute as no. 133, and this time with a full-page illustration.

From the exhibition catalogue 1922

This presentation was probably the final promotion of the painting and shortly after it was acquired by M. Knoedler & Co. of New York, who in 1923 sold the painting to Joseph Early Widener (1871-1943). In his private ownership, the Young Girl with a Flute hung at Lynnewood Hall, a Neoclassical Revival mansion in Pennsylvania. Widener was a wealthy American art collector and, as a founding benefactor of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, he bequeathed the painting in 1942.[19]

It is noteworthy that museum director Karl Madsen’s Dutch counterpart, art historian and former director of the Mauritshuis, Abraham Bredius (1855-1946), who privately had acquired Vermeer’s Allegory of Faith, in 1928 sold it to an American collector for $ 300.000 [today app. € 2.4 million].[20] The painting had been on loan to the Mauritshuis for almost 25 years, and to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, for another five. Bredius had acquired the painting in 1899 for less than 700 guilders.[21] Although Bredius allegedly never liked his purchase, which he in 1907 called “a large unpleasant Vermeer”, one cannot help speculating if having the painting exhibited in the Mauritshuis and in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen would have boosted its value? Could Goudstikker’s multiple presentations of the Young Girl with a Flute to a Danish public in first 1920 and later again in 1922 have had such an intention? But why then, wasn’t it the painting illustrated in the 1920 catalogue? Did Goudstikker anticipate that Karl Madsen indeed would have been able to convince a benefactor to include the Young Girl with a Flute in the Danish national collection? After exhibiting the small panel in Stockholm, Oslo, and shortly after in Rotterdam, it in 1922 again was briefly back in Copenhagen as part of a huge Dutch promotional event – again it left and is today part of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.


* This article is dedicated to the memory of my late colleague Ben Broos (1944-2019), head curator at the Mauritshuis 1986-2001.

[1] B. Broos, Un celebre Peijntre nommé Verme[e]r, in Johannes Vermeer, exh.cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C./Royal cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis, The Hague (1995-1996), pp. 47-65.

[2] http://www.essentialvermeer.com/how_many_vermeers.html

[3] W. Bürger (Etienne Joseph Theophile Thore), ‘’Van der Meer de Delft’, in Gazette des Beaux-Arts 21: 297-330, 458-470, 542-575.

[4] Just to mention the most important, Pieter van Ruijven and his wife Maria Knuijt left 500 guilders, a considerable amount, to Vermeer in their last will and testament. This kind of a bequest is very unusual and testifies a close relationship between Vermeer and Van Ruijven that went beyond the usual of patron-painter. It would seem that in his lifetime, the rich Delft burger had bought a sizable share of Vermeer’s artistic output, most likely, more than half.

[5] https://gemaeldegalerie.skd.museum/en/research/vermeer/the-acquisition-of-the-painting/

[6] V. Villadsen, Statens Museum for Kunst 1827-1952. Copenhagen 1998, p. 216: ”Og nu hører man, at en Hollandsk kunsthandler, som for nogen tid siden opholdt sig her, har ladet sig forlyde med, at Kunstmuseets Direktør ogsaa har tilsagt ham Lokaler i Museet, hvor han altsaa agter at aabne sin Butik i Hammershøisalen”, Soc-Dem, 11-09-1919.

[7] This took place only shortly after another show in The Hague the previous year: La Collection Goudstikker d’Amsterdam, Pulchri Studio, no. 131 and ill.

[8] Catalogue de la collection Goudstikker d’Amsterdam exposée dans le Statens Museum for Kunst. Janvier-fevbrier 1920, Harlem/Utrecht. See also V. Villadsen, o.c., ref.s 77, 78, 79. Today the paintings is no longer believed to be by Johannes Vermeer, but by an unidentified studio collaborator. See Marjorie E. Wieseman, Alexandra Libby, E. Melanie Gifford, Dina Anchin, ‘Vermeer’s Studio and the Girl with a Flute: New Findings from the National Gallery of Art‘, in Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art (Volume 14 (2), 2022.

[9] Berlingske Tidende, 19 January 1920, p. 5.

[10] V. Villadsen, o.c., p. 216.

[11] Catalogue de la collection Goudstikker d’Amsterdam : exposée dans les localités du Schilderkundig Genootschap “Pulchri Studio”, Lange Voorhout 15, La Haye, November 1919.

[12] A newspaper article mentions that Goudstikker recently acquired the Janssens-collection, including the “…enchanting portrait of a lady by Vermeer…”. Berlingske Tidende, 19 January 1920, p. 9.

[13] Berlingske Tidende, 22 January 1920, p. 5.

[14]Udstillingens kostbareste Portræt er dog utvivlsomt Johannes Vermeers van Delfts af den unge Pige med Fløjten. Skønt det ikke er gået uskadt gennem Tilværelsen, er det dog særdeles karakteristisk for Mesteren. Det har i fuldt Maal dette underlige, livsfrodige, som særtegner hans Kunst. Og dets Farver danner den for ham egne, mættede Harmoni. Grundtonen anslås her af den unge Piges blågraa Kaabe, og den understreges af hendes kineseragtige Hat, i hvis forskellige farvede Striber brune, gullige og hvide Toner er de mest fremtrædende. Bedst i Form og Farve er dog den unge Piges venstre Arm og Haand. I Gengivelsen af dens baade vege og faste Linier, i Opfattelsen af Karnationens delikate Blødhed udfolder Vermeer sig i hele sin Ejendommelighed. Desværre skæmmes Helheden paa forskellig Vis. Halstørklædet og Pelsværkets hvide Farver er stærkt eftergulnet, og en mindre heldig Restauration af venstre Overlæbe og Næsetip virker ret forstyrrende”, Berlingske Tidende, 5 February 1920, p. 3.

[15] Morgenbladet, 3 April 1920, p. 5.

[16] Social-Demokraten, 21 April 1920, p. 4.

[17] May 1920: Catalogue de la collection Goudstikker d’Amsterdam exposée dans les localités de la Rotterdamsche Kunstkring, cat.no. 19. with illustration.

[18] B. Broos, o.c., p. 207 and ref. 30: Algemeen Handelsblad, 20 April 1921, Evening Edition, 3rd section, p. 9: “Het ‘Meisje met de fluit’ van Vermeer uit de verzameling Goudstikker, dat eenigen tijd als bruikleen in de Oude Pinacotheek te München is geweest, werd, naar men ons mededeelt, naar Amerika verkocht.”

[19] Girl with a Flute,c. 1669–1675. Oil on panel, 20 x 17.8 cm. (7 7/8 x 7 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. acc. no. 1942.9.98. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. ascribes it as “attributed to Johannes Vermeer” in exhibition cat. Johannes Vermeer (1995-1996), pp. 204-208. Recent extensive studies have concluded that the painting is not by Johannes Vermeer. See Marjorie E. Wieseman, Alexandra Libby, E. Melanie Gifford, Dina Anchin, “Vermeer’s Studio and the Girl with a Flute: New Findings from the National Gallery of Art,” Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 14:2 (Summer 2022) DOI: 10.5092/jhna.2022.14.2.3

[20] Johannes Vermeer, Allegory if the Catholic Faith, c. 1670-72. Oil on canvas, 114,3 x 88,9 cm. The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931. The Metropolitan Museum, New York.

[21] B. Broos, o.c., p. 194-195.

REDUCED PANEL AND DISAPPEARED FIGURES?

NEWS #1 from the Nivaagaard Collection, March 2022

The painting of a winding, sandy road and several farmhouses in a dune landscape by Jan Van Goyen is familiar to everyone who has visited the old masters at the Nivaagaard Collection. Our current research project suggests that this painting did not always look like it does now. Clues for this conclusion include other paintings by the artist, the format of the panel support and an old black and white photograph in the archive of Nivaagaard.

JAN VAN GOYEN’S DUNE LANDSCAPE WITH A SANDY PATH AND FARMHOUSES. OIL ON PANEL, 24,6 X 28 CM.

Jan Van Goyen was a painter of the Dutch landscape. His subjects were the surroundings of the cities where he lived: Leiden, Haarlem and The Hague. He produced numerous images with countryside’s with pastures and farms, such as in Dune landscape with a sandy path and farmhouses. Van Goyen has depicted this particular farmhouse, with the typical camel-roof and the window providing access to the top room in case of floods, more often. At Nivaagaard the farmhouse and haystack at left are awkwardly cut off. A first clue: could the painting have once been larger?

The now almost square format of the painting is alien to Van Goyen’s time. He painted almost always rectangular, horizontal views. An indication that the panel was in a poor condition can be found in its restoration history: someone has reinforced the structure of the panel by mounting a cradle* on the back and by adding strips of oak along all four sides. It suggests the original panel was reduced in size and format because of its fragile condition.

An old black and white photograph of the painting in Nivaagaard’s archive from c. 1903 to our surprise shows two figures in the right foreground: a peasant with a walking cane and a seated man with a hat in conversation. Today the figures are not there anymore! To us the photograph indicate that the figures were not painted by Jan van Goyen, but they do look like the types that usually star in his paintings. Who added them, and what has happened to them since? Could the restorer who reduced and reinforced the panel have added them to compensate for what was visible on the lost part of the composition at the left side? Note that also the sky with the bird that we see today is not visible on the black and white photograph. Was the sky added after the photograph, or did the photographer cut the photo to make the work appear rectangular like the other paintings by Van Goyen?

We hope soon to solve these mysteries and be able to explain what happened to this enchanting and brilliantly painted dune-landscape from 1632.

*cradling is a historical process used in the restoration and preservation of paintings on wooden panels. It consisted in mounting a grid of wooden battens to the back of a thinned panel to create a reinforcement and preserve the flat surface.

BY ANGELA JAGER AND JØRGEN WADUM, 8 MARTS 2022
The text is an expression of the discoveries made at the time of publication. We reserve the right to make changes as new information from the still ongoing research project may occur.
The Nivaagaard Collection and the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History collaborate in 2022-23 on the research project Dutch and Flemish paintings at The Nivaagaard Collection. Attributions, the acquisition history, and their artistic significance in an international context. The latest expertise in art history and technical research will be used in the study of the Dutch and Flemish paintings in The Nivaagaard Collection. The research project is made possible thanks to the Research Fund of the Danish Ministry of Culture to The Nivaagaard Collection.

In search of Rembrandt’s underdrawing

“Since the initiation of the Rembrandt Research Project in the late 1960s, technical study of Rembrandt’s paintings has gained increasing importance in the understanding of his working methods. Examining the artist’s works with dendrochronology, X-radiography and macro photography became the norm complemented by cross-sections of ground and paint layers as well as scientific analysis of binding media and pigments.

Rembrandt, Andromeda, c.1630, oil on panel, 34 × 24.5 cm, Mauritshuis, The Hague, inv. no. 707; (b) infrared
reflectogram of (a); (c) detail of (b). Photos (b) and (c): Jørgen Wadum

“Significant advances were made in understanding the materials and properties of the master’s use of and experimentation with supports and mediums. However, although some infrared photographs were taken, examination of early Rembrandt paintings using infrared reflectography (IRR) was not employed until the astonishing 1998 discovery of an extensive underdrawing below the paint layers of the painting once considered to be a cornerstone of Rembrandt’s early works: the Young Self-Portrait with a Gorget from c.1629 in the Mauritshuis (The Hague).

“This discovery prompted the author to undertake a limited survey into a selection of early paintings by Rembrandt and his close circle that revealed a wealth of hitherto unrecorded information acquired from beneath the visible paint layers of the paintings. This paper demonstrates the relevance of the IRR technique in the discovery not only of underdrawings but also how underpaintings and sketches can be visualised. Instigating a comprehensive search for Rembrandt’s underdrawing – in the widest sense of the word – in his early works may add significant new information to the corpus of the artist and his contemporaries…”

To read the full story you may download the entire volume of Rembrandt Now free of charge via the link below the front page:

https://archetype.co.uk/our-titles/rembrandt-now/?id=384

See Brazil without crossing the ocean!

The very recent Dutch publication Brazilië zien zonder de oceaan over te steken. De wandtapijten van Johan Maurits [See Brazil without crossing the ocean. The tapestries of Johan Maurits; bibliographic info below] is a very intriguing and detailed research publication. And especially interesting to a Danish audience as some of the main ‘characters’ constitute the National Museum of Denmark’s impressive collection of life-size representations of the Brazilian population as well as twelve fascinating still lifes with flora from the Dutch colony in Brazil. These works are by Albert Eckhout (1610-1665), one of several painters that Johan Maurits (1604-1679), prince of Nassau-Siegen, brought with him to Brazil 1637-1644.

Albert Eckhout, Images of Brazilians. Oil on canvas, each ca. 275 x 165 cm. The National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen.

In 1654 Johan Maurits donated these paintings to the Danish king Frederik III (1609-1670). In the donation letter, he explains that the gift consists of a total of 26 paintings of various kinds, some in full format of people and fruit. Speculation as to whether the many paintings were actually made in Brazil, and if so whether they had constituted a prominent decoration program in Maurits’ palace Vrijburg in Recife, have been numerous. A breakthrough in this discussion came in connection with technical investigations of the National Museum’s works and a re-examination of Johan Maurits’ gift letter to Frederik III. Here the Dutch donor writes that if the king so wishes, he can have the paintings copied “to other media.” It was the then director of Rosenborg Castle, Mogens Bencard, who in 2002 first interpreted this cryptic sentence as a hint to the king that the paintings were intended as templates for tapestries. The technical studies of the paintings further questioned their origin and suggested that the paintings may not, as previously assumed, have been executed in Brazil, but rather after returning to the Netherlands – in the busy studio of Jacob van Campen (1596-1657) in Amersfoort.

From left to right: Albert Haelwegh, Portrait of Frederik III, 1654-58. Engraving, Statens Museum for Kunst; Jan de Baen, Portrait of Johan Maurits., 1668-70. Oil on canvas, Mauritshuis; Jacob Vennekool or Abraham Lutma, Portrait of Jacob van Campen, 1665. Engraving, Stadsarchief Amsterdam.

In his book, the author and art historian Michiel Roscam Abbing succeeds in a detective-like manner to describe the immensely complicated spin of celebre studio-visits, unfortunate ambitions, as well as several major contemporary decorative works in the Netherlands and their interrelations. Based on extensive archival studies convincing arguments are presented in support of the suggestion that the paintings were conceived as cartoons for an intended decoration of count Maurits’ Dutch domicile in The Hague, the Mauritshuis. This city palace, conceived by Jacob van Campen, was in 1652 put into detailed drawings by Pieter Post (1608-1669).

Johan Maurits wanted to make a massive impression in the republic, as if he were a powerful monarch. When he returned from Brazil in 1644, he commissioned Van Campen to design a complete program for the interior design of Mauritshuis based on the unique visual material he had brought with him. The same artists, who had travelled with him to Brazil and who produced hundreds of drawings and annotations, were now employed for this purpose.

The idea that there must have been a grand plan for the interior design of the Mauritshuis with Brazil as its theme is eloquently brought forward by Roscam Abbing. The book decodes the supposed decoration program step by step using new sources, especially hitherto overlooked notes from Ernst Brinck (1582-1649), a collector of curiosities and mayor of Harderwijk, a town in central Holland. Brinck visited van Campen’s workshop in 1647, where he noted that he saw at least 25 paintings being painted at Johan Maurit’s expense. Brinck’s notes unusually large painting with all kind of Brazilian animals. These must have been intended as cartoons for a series of tapestries for the large upper floor of the Mauritshuis.

Michiel Roscam Abbing, Brazilië zien zonder de oceaan over te steken. De wandtapijten van Johan Maurits. Hardcover, 192 pages. Publisher Lias, Amsterdam, 2021.

The project failed, however, as Johan Maurits was appointed governor of Cleve in 1647 and his priorities changed. He sold the large tapestry cartoons for the large upper floor of the Mauritshuis to Friedrich Wilhelm I (1620-1688), Elector of Brandenburg, in 1652. In 1654, twentysix paintings were donated to Frederik III, and landscapes by Frans Post (1612 -1680) remained kept in boxes in the attic of the Mauritshuis until Johan Maurits gave them to King Louis XIV (1638-1715) of France in 1679.

However, a new opportunity to resume the decoration program in the Mauritshuis arose in 1667 after Johan Maurits was appointment field marshal of the Dutch Republic. He had his interior design plans revised and decided to decorate the large upper hall with tapestries. The large templates sold in 1652 were brought back and in 1667 Johan Maurits commissioned the tapestry weaver Maximiliaan van der Gucht (1603-1689) from Delft to make two series, one for the Elector of Brandenburg and the other for the Mauritshuis. Thus, by doing this he finally implemented a significant element of the interior design program, albeit twenty years later than planned. In 1668 and 1669 the tapestries were greatly admired by the Tuscan prince Cosimo III de ’Medici (1642-1723), but Johan Maurits was not able to complete the entire program; after all, he had given a large part of the tapestry cartoons to the Danish king.

Roscam Abbing has reconstructed the original plan using architectural drawings of the Mauritshuis from 1652. In addition to the large upper floor, the intention must also have been to display tapestries in the main landing and the landing halfway. Seventeenth-century visitors to the Mauritshuis would have been amazed by the proposed decoration program – had it been fully implemented. In addition to the tapestries, there were Brazilian birds painted in the hall itself, and there were exotic objects on display, such as stuffed animals brought from Brazil. If you visited this hall, you no longer had to cross the ocean to experience Brazil.

Bibliographic note (while we may hope for an English edition):

Michiel Roscam Abbing, Brazilië zien zonder de oceaan over te steken. De wandtapijten van Johan Maurits. Hardcover, illustrated, 192 pages, English summary. Publisher Lias, Amsterdam, 2021. ISBN 978 90 8803 1120 www.uitgeverijlias.nl

Albert Eckhout, Still life with melons and other fruit, ca. 1640. Oil on canvas, 91 x 91 cm. One of the twelve still lifes at the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen

Collecting Fruits in Madrid

During a trip to Madrid to examine paintings by Rubens and Van Dyck with a colleague at the Prado, interesting discoveries on their panels were made. Some of these findings concern an Antwerp panel maker from around 1600 – about whom more will be published in the forthcoming proceedings from the very successful ‘Symposium XXI for the Study of Underdrawing and Technology in Painting’,The Bruegel Success Story: Creative Process, Imitation, Emulation, Workshop Organization and Business Strategies (Brussels, September 12-14, 2018).[1]

After hours we needed a bite and went strolling down the narrow streets in Barrio de las Letras where a small, rather dimly lit café caught our attention. The music, rather loud and of American inspiration, was asynchronously accompanied by a large blinking and flashy slot machine on display. But this was not what caught our attention. Nor was it the cosy illumination by two lamps with each three lights placed in vertical bronze tubes designed as small organ pipes (two bulbs missing on the right). It was not the brown silent, closed upright piano with a small planting with palm leaves offering a sense of nature within the dark room that charmed us. No, it was a painting hanging centrally positioned between the organ-pipe wall lamps, almost as a devotional altar, that caught our eyes. The image looked quite unusual for the Cortes neighbourhood in Madrid.

The painting is depicting a young girl carrying a basket of fruits. On her head a large straw hat with a light blue (faded?) ribbon falling to her shoulders. Although hard to see next to the flickering lights from the slot-machine, the glaring lamps on either side and the reflections in the glass-protection, the girl appeared familiar.

Upon a closer look, the painting in the café in Madrid turns out to be a reproduction of the original in the national gallery of Denmark, SMK, in Copenhagen. Although until recently seen as a juvenile work of one of the Danish golden age painters, Jørgen Roed (1808 – 1888), ‘A Girl with Fruits in a Basket’ is today on display as a work by his contemporary colleague Constantin Hansen (1804 – 1880).[2]

Constantin Hansen, A Girl with Fruits in a Basket, c. 1827.  SMK, Copenhagen.

The painting is thought to be painted by Hansen around 1827 shortly before he in 1829 became a pupil of the acclaimed professor at the Danish Art Academy, C.F. Eckersberg (1783-1853) and 6 years before he travelled to Italy to acquire further inspiration. Constantin Hansen painted several portraits under the impression of his father Hans Hansen (1769-1828) and his great inspiration Jens Juel (1745-1802). Often he used his sisters as a motif and he already in 1825-27 developed an independent idea of the interaction of form and colour. The painting of ‘A Girl with Fruits in a Basket’ (unfortunately marred by numerous discoloured retouches from the past, notably from her right eye and down her cheek), offers fine qualities in handling a rather horizontal light. Her serious attitude with large dark eyes looking directly at us shows a delicate and noble painting which in 1916 entered to SMK by will of Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916).

Considering the abundance of virgin variations of Flora-motifs created by Spanish artists from the 17th century onwards, it was a surprise to find Hansen’s ‘Girl with Fruits in a Basket’ in a dark café in the Cortes area. I would rather have expected a reproduction of for instance a ‘Girl Selling Fruit’, 1650-1660, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), now at the Pushkin Museum, Moscow.[3]

Bartolome Esteban Murillo, ‘Girl Selling Fruit’, 1650-1660. © Pushkin Museum, Moscow.

We shall probably never know if there is any logic behind the rationale of displaying a juvenile work by a Danish 19th century artist primarily known for his architectural or mythological paintings in the Cortes-café. The average visitor to the tavern, its slot-machine and the drinks offered, may in fact not even notice the painting overshadowed as she is by loud music and the twinkling and flashing lights amongst which she is displayed.

It was, however, a nice distraction to unexpectedly meet up with a ‘Girl’ from SMK, while engaged in research on the fabulous collection of Rubens and Van Dyck paintings at the Prado in Madrid.



[1] https://bruegelnow.com/2018/07/04/the-bruegel-success-story-symposium-september-12-14-2018-brussels/

[2] https://collection.smk.dk/#/en/detail/KMS3336

[3] https://pushkinmuseum.art/data/fonds/europe_and_america/j/1001_2000/zh_2670/index.php?lang=en

Dendro4Art: dendrochronology and art history

The RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History (The Hague) – and CATS – Centre for Art Technological Studies and Conservation (SMK, Copenhagen) – end of last year launched a new wood research platform, Dendro4Art.

artdaily.com December 29, 2019

This new research tool provides unique dendrochronological research data on panel paintings and wooden sculptures around the world.  This platform will therefore become a global hub for dendrochronologists and art historians, giving them access to extensive research data that includes raw data as well as information about dendrochronology. The platform explicitly invites users to share data themselves, helping to further strengthen the research community.

e-data&research, Jaargang 14, no. 3, juni 2020.

Dendrochronology is the study of wooden objects, such as panel paintings, which focuses on the width of the annual growth rings in the wood. Climate conditions determines the width of each annual growth ring throughout the lifetime of a tree, resulting in unique variations in the widths of the growth rings specific to each time period and types of wood. Dendrochronologists compare these tree ring patterns, or measurement series, with growth ring chronologies from thousands of trees. In doing so, they are able to establish the precise geographical origins of wooden objects, as well as to date them.

Dr Aoife Daly, dendrochronologist at UCPH, documents the annual rings of a 17th century panel painting at SMK, Copenhagen.

In April 2019, the RKD presented dendrochronological reports and work drawings drafted by Em. Prof. Dr. Peter Klein (University of Hamburg) online.  At that time, the research community expressed a strong desire to also consult the raw data from the dendrochronological research – data that can also be used for further research by other scholars. Now, vast amounts of raw data, also known as measurement series, provided by Professor Klein and colleagues will be publicly available thanks to the collaboration between the RKD and CATS.

All this dendrochronological data can be freely downloaded via the Dendro4Art portal. It provides a platform for scholars to share information about dendrochronology and remain up to date on the subject, and also enables interested parties to learn more about dendrochronology. The hub is linked to the RKD’s (Netherlands Institute for Art History) databases. The RKD technical database contains vast volumes of dendrochronological research data, while RKDimages provides a wealth of art historical information on paintings studied. All these databases also provide links to information about the artists, archival information, and further research documentation.

Dendro4Art will link to Marks on Art within RKD Technical

This wealth of data at the heart of the RKD ensures that the dendrochronological data is safeguarded within a durable infrastructure. RKD and CATS therefore explicitly invite researchers to share their data via the Dendro4Art platform with the aim of providing a dynamic and ever-growing dendro-network. This data can again be correlated to data on artists and their whereabouts, marks on their panels issued by a panel maker, X-radiographs and many other analytical techniques.

The Dendro4Art project was made possible thanks to generous funds provided by the Danish Carlsberg Foundation.

This Girl is up for a dialogue

In 1994, after an interview on the progress of restoring Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, a Dutch newspaper proclaimed that ‘Jørgen Wadum is in love with her’. Although never so candidly declared from my side, it should be noted that our relationship started much earlier. It may appear predestined, but in the 1960s during my teen-age years in Vejle (Jutland, Denmark), I had an A1-size poster of the Girl prominently displayed on the wall in my room. So, the Girl and I are in fact beyond a ‘golden wedding anniversary’. Like in any good relationship, the Girl continues to enchant, inspire, and fascinate.

Thanks to the recent Girl in the Spotlight project, all the notes, letters, drawings and thoughts encountered during my first face-to-face meeting with the Girl in the 1990s were again brought to light. It was a bit like rediscovering a box in the attic with relics from the past.

Having a new team of internationally acclaimed experts review the documentation from the 1994 Vermeer Illuminated project – deliberations, photographs, and the research results compiled by the team of experts from the collaborating disciplines within conservation, conservation science, and art – could appear nerve-wracking. It was, however, a delight to learn that the painting is still in good condition. The removal of a brown ‘gallery tone’ of deliberately tinted varnish (applied after the 1960 restoration) and the delicate inpainting by Nicola Costaras in 1994 has survived the test of time.

Therefore, it has been a thrill to witness how the fresh approach by the Girl in the Spotlight project team and their highly sophisticated equipment evaluated the material composition of Vermeer’s painting anew. Advancing our understanding of the artist creative process will teach us to better understand his intention with the painting.

Creating a painting means making material choices. A variety of different brushes would move the paint from the artist’s palette to the canvas. The pigments bound in oils would be layered to indicate or mimic the textures of textiles, skin, and the moisture on her lips and in her eyes. Standing in front of the painting in the Mauritshuis offers the beholder a unique experience of privacy – the Girl and you captured by her enigmatic gaze – and one becomes engaged in a very secret and emotional conversation.

Vermeer used different pigments and paint mixtures to paint the Girl’s face.
Left: Visible light photograph [René Gerritsen Art & Research Photography]
Middle: Earth pigments containing iron (Fe) were detected using macro-X-ray fluorescence scanning (MA-XRF).
[Annelies van Loon: Mauritshuis/Rijksmuseum]
Right: Reflectance imaging spectroscopy (RIS) mapped the pigment mixtures: red is mainly vermilion, green is
yellow ochre mixed with vermilion, and blue is mainly yellow ochre.
[John Delaney and Kate Dooley: National Gallery of Art, Washington.]

Unravelling the meaning of making of a painting teaches not only researchers and caretakers of these delicate art works how to best understand and care for them for the enjoyment of future generations. We come to understand past interactions between a variety of traders of materials and pigments. From Afghanistan to Latin America they came and became mixed with locally produced white pigments and yellow colourants. They all landed in the paint box of Vermeer. In Delft. The world was at his fingertips.

The Girl with the Pearl Earring was created by stuff from around the globe, and the current top-notch international science project has nuanced and elucidated this further. The Girl herself is always up for a dialogue with everyone in the world.

The press was ready to capture the first moment that the Girl with a Pearl Earring being examined using macro-
X-ray fluorescence scanning (MA-XRF) within an enclosure in the Golden Room of the Mauritshuis. February
[Ivo Hoekstra: Mauritshuis]

Learn more about the project here:

Revisiting “Souvenier de Mauve”

Vincent van Gogh’s recent birthday on March 30 (1853-1890) made me recall one of my first hands-on encounters with a van Gogh painting after arriving in The Netherlands in 1990. It was his wonderful spring-painting with Pink Peach Trees in Blossom, also known as Souvenier de Mauve.[1] Painted in Arles at the end of March 1888, the delicate pink flowers of the tree that emerged almost directly after the snow had melted, signalised almost a rebirth of life itself.

Vincent van Gogh, Pink Peach Trees in Blossom (Souvenir de Mauve), 1888. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo.

However, the joy soon became overshadowed by a letter he received from his sister telling him that his cousin Anton Mauve (1838-1888), a prominent painter of the Hague School, had died. Mauve had taught Vincent to paint and he therefore decided to dedicate the Pink Peach Trees to Mauve.[2]

The painting was made in the open air, as Vincent wrote to Theo, ‘… in an orchard — ploughed lilac field, a reed fence — two pink peach trees against a glorious blue and white sky. Probably the best landscape I’ve done. Just as I brought it home I received from our sister a piece in Dutch dedicated to Mauve’s memory, with his portrait (really good, the portrait), the text poor and saying nothing — pretty etching. But something or other grabbed hold of me and made my throat tight with emotion, and I wrote on my painting

and if you think it’s good as it stands we’ll send it to Mrs Mauve in both our names.’

Letter from Vincent to his brother Theo, 1888.

In preparation for the 1990 centennial van Gogh exhibition, organised in tandem by the Van Gogh Museum and the Kröller-Müller Museum, the painting with the Pink Peach Trees needed conservation/restoration. Although in a physically stable condition, the image was marred by thick layers, even lumps, of yellowed beeswax from an earlier lining. Also fragments of the brown paper used for the facing and remains of starch-glue were stuck between the ridges of the pastose paint that Vincent had energetically applied. The aesthetics of the painting did not offer a just representation of van Gogh’s spring impression a little more than a hundred years earlier.

The removal of excessive wax, starch and paper remains on the surface of the paint was quite laborious and lasted a considerable number of weeks. Therefore, based as I was at the Mauritshuis in The Hague, I during the early months of 1990 on Monday mornings travelled to Otterlo and stayed at the local Hotel Jagersrust for three days each week. Apart from getting more than acquainted with the menu – whatever plate, the chef would always spice it with Muscat – it was a great pleasure to travel through the national park De Hoge Veluwe each morning to the gorgeously positioned Kröller-Müller Museum. Here I bent over the microscope in order to carefully clean every single cavity and ridge of paint over the entire surface of van Gogh’s painting.

In connection with preparations for upcoming exhibitions, many of van Gogh’s paintings in other museums were examined for their material composition. It became evident that several of the pigments used by the painter were not light-stable and in some cases the colours had faded to a degree that nowadays we get a distorted impression of the painter’s elaborate palette. Still sophisticated scientific studies continue to improve our understanding of the materiality of van Gogh’s paintings, helping to understand their current state and to determine appropriate strategies for preservation and display.[3]

After the cleaning of van Gogh’s Pink Peach Trees at the Kröller-Müller Museum, the contrast between the pink blossoms and the blue sky was largely recovered – although some fading of the colours had occurred. In several cases, through the microscope, in tiny craquelures of the faintly pink blossoms, one could observe a much stronger pink colour within the core of the paint. An autograph repetition of the Peach Trees, now in the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, unfortunately displays flowers that are now virtually white, although these peach blossoms too were originally vivid pink.[4]

Thanks to Vincent’s letters we know much about the pigments, or rather the tube colours, he ordered from his brother Theo in Paris. It may be valuable to recall that the notion ‘tube paint’ was quite new at the time. Invented in 1841 by the portrait painter John Goffe Rand (1801–1873), who lived and worked in Boston, London, and New York, the tube paint only became commercially available during the second half of the 19th century. Van Gogh mentions tube paint for the first time in a letter in 1882. Strong competition on the market of paint supplies could lead to experiments in paint production whereby extenders were added, and the quality of binding media was compromised in order to boost the retailer’s profit.

As mentioned, at the end of February or early March 1888, following the announcement of the death of Anton Mauve Vincent had contemplated sending the widow, Jet Mauve-Carbentus, a painting in memory of her late husband. The plans advanced slowly, but at the end of March he took action and reportedly chose his best painting, the Pink Peach Trees, and fitted it with the inscription: Souvenier de Mauve, Vincent & Theo. He wrote to his brother Theo that, when the painting was dry enough to transport, he would send it to The Hague via Paris. This happened in early May.

You may have noticed that on the painting we see the dedication and Vincent’s own name painted in a dark carmine. But contrary to what Vincent wrote to Theo, as quoted above, we do not see the continuation of the inscription, which should read ‘& Theo’.

Top: the inscription as it appears today. Below left: a macro image (the large yellow rectangle) where Theo’s name once was. Note the small remains of red.
Below right: at a larger magnification (the small yellow rectangle) diagonal rubbing marks on the surface can be seen.

We should realize that Theo was not only strongly connected to his older brother in a personal sense, but also continuously promoted Vincent’s paintings, trying in every way to  gain recognition for his work  among art circles in Paris and in The Hague . We may understand that the idea of ​​sending Souvenier de Mauve to Mauve’s widow was born  not only out of compassion for  her situation , but also in the hope that the influential Hague art dealer Hermanus Tersteeg (1845-1927) would eventually see the painting.

The explanation for Theo’s name missing on the painting seemed ambiguous at first. Did Vincent write in his letters about an intention that was never carried out? Or would Vincent himself later remove Theo’s name – maybe inspired by his brother? Neither  of these hypotheses were unanimously embraced during discussions in the nineteen-nineties, and none of my predecessors, who had treated the painting in the past, had detected any evidence of  tampering with  the inscription that could support the latter  scenario. Vincent, it was thought, must therefore have been mistaken – or never have executed the entire inscription – as intended in his letter – or – could it be that it was not Vincent who removed Theo’s name before the paint had dried?[5]

Well, having studied the paint layer meticulously under the stereomicroscope, an argument arose. Under high magnification, one could detect miniscule traces of carmine within the paint structure in the area right after Vincent’s name where the inscription ‘& Theo’ was allegedly painted. Further one could  observe some minute wear of the surface that was smoothened to a degree that no pastocity in the paint was left – as if a very finely woven cloth had been rubbed over the surface leaving traces of microscopic grooves in the surface. On a microscopic scale it almost looked comparable to car-tyres skidding over an almost dry clay ground.

Would this indeed indicate that the last part of the signature could have been removed after a little more than a month when the painting was shipped to Theo in Paris? The possibility that the removal could have been done by Theo, as a gesture to Vincent and in order to promote him, rather than Vincent himself playing any part in this matter, may be further substantiated. We must recall a letter to Theo where Vincent complains, that “…This zinc white that I’m using now doesn’t dry. If everything was dry I’d send a consignment at once.”[6]

I therefore put forward  the following  explanation of the missing name: After the news of Mauve’s death, Vincent takes his newly painted image of the Pink Peach Trees and signs it in full in dark carmine paint ‘Souvenier de Mauve, Vincent & Theo’. In May when the painting arrived by Theo he, thanks to the slow drying zinc white paint below the carmine paint of the inscription, could carefully wipe his own name away – almost without a trace.[7] A token of dedication that fully underscores Theo’s fullhearted support to his older brother in his struggle to be recognised by The Hague cultural elite.

As far as Van Gogh’s painting of the Pink peach trees is concerned, it is amusing to recall that the Danish painter Christian Vilhelm Mourier-Petersen (1858-1945), who art Van Gogh did not hold in very high esteem, painted  almost exactly the same motif. Mourier-Petersen went to Arles from around 10 October 1887 to 22 May 1888 – apart from a brief stay in Martigues at the end of March 1888. It was in mid-March 1888 that Mourier-Petersen and his colleague Dodge MacKnight (1860-1950) met Vincent in Arles. From correspondence we know that Mourier-Petersen and Van Gogh met each other frequently and we may assume that Mourier-Petersen’s painting of the luminous light peach trees is painted while standing side by side with Van Gogh.[8]

Christian Vilhelm Mourier-Petersen, Peach Trees in Blossom, 1888. The Hirschsprung Collection, Copenhagen.

Vincent writes, “I’ve made the acquaintance of a Danish artist… What he does is dry but very conscientious, and he’s still young”.[9] From his side Mourier-Petersen wrote about Vincent , a few days after their first meeting,: “Initially I considered him to be mad, but by and by I note that there is method in it.”[10] In spite of their differences,   they enjoyed each other’s company and in his letters to Theo, Vincent mentions the Danish artist several times with affection.

Mourier-Petersen left Arles and set off for Paris and Vincent persuaded Theo to allow his Danish friend to stay with him in the Rue Lepic, where Mourier-Petersen arrived on 6 June 1888. Before he left, he must have seen Vincent’s full dedication on the Pink Peach Trees – including Theo’s name.

One hundred years later, in 1990, another Dane after hours of peering through a stereomicroscope unravelled evidence of where the full inscription in carmine was once situated – and the ever so faint traces of how it was rubbed away from the almost dry paint some time after its application.


[1] Oil on canvas, 73 × 60 cm. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, inv. KM 108.317.

[2] Anton Mauve died on 5 February. Around 30 March, in response to his death, Van Gogh painted Pink Peach Trees (‘Souvenir de Mauve’) and decided to give it to Mauve’s widow, Jet Mauve-Carbentus. See letter 590. All references to letters are from: Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten, Nienke Bakker (eds.) (2009), Vincent van Gogh – The Letters: http://vangoghletters.org/vg/

[3] For recent studies see: Ella Hendriks & Marije Vellekoop (eds.), “Van Gogh’s Sunflowers Illuminated: Art Meets Science”, in Van Gogh Museum Studies, (Amsterdam University Press/Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2019). For van Gogh’s palette see: M. Geldof, A.N. Proaño Gaibor, F. Ligterink et al. “Reconstructing Van Gogh’s palette to determine the optical characteristics of his paints”, in Herit Sci 6,17 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40494-018-0181-6. On the consequences of colour change for conservation of Van Gogh’s works, see:  Ella Hendriks, “’Paintings fade like flowers’: consequences of colour change in paintings by Vincent van Gogh”, in Proceedings of the ICON paintings group conference, Appearances and Reality: Examining Colour Change in Paintings, Tate Britain, 9 October 2015 (Archetype, London, 2016), pp. 39-51. I am grateful to Ella Hendriks for references and a critical review of my text.

[4] See part II “Van Gogh’s Triptych of Orchards in Blossom”, in Cornelia Peres, Michael Hoyle and Louis van Tilborgh (eds.), “Technical and Art-Historical Studies on Works by Van Gogh and Gaguin”, A Closer Look, Cahier Vincent 3 (Waanders, Zwolle,1991).

[5] See cat. Otterlo 2003, The paintings of Vincent van Gogh in the collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum, by Jos ten Berge et al., pp. 212-213.

[6] In letter 591 to Theo van Gogh. Arles, on or about Sunday, 1 April 1888.

[7] Vincent suggest this possibility in relation to another dedication on a painting meant for Tersteeg, where he wrote to Theo, that “…you can scrape off the dedication“. Letter 608, Arles, Thursday, 10 May 1888

[8] Peach Trees in Blossom. Arles, 1888. Oil on canvas, 55,2 × 45 cm. The Hirschsprung Collection, inv. nr. 407.

[9] In letter 584 to Theo van Gogh. Arles, Saturday, 10 March 1888.

[10] H. Larsson, Flames from the south. The introduction of Vincent van Gogh in Sweden before 1900. Thesis. Lund 1993, pp. 14, 26.

Who’s hiding 17th century Antwerp Brands?

Without considerable speculation, it is difficult to understand why someone would deliberately want to scratch away evidence of an Antwerp brand on the reverse of a 17th century panel. This is nevertheless what has happened to an oak panel intended for painting but which at some point became used for a marouflage (a technique for affixing a canvas painting to a rigid support) for a Portrait of a Man, possibly painted by Giulio Campi (1500 – 1572).[1]


Giulio Campi (?), Portrait of a Man. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, inv. NM 200. Photo: Cecilia Heisser, NM.
Detail of the centre of the panel with, to the right, the cloverleaf signature of Michiel Claessens.

A detail of the centre-part of the reverse of the panel reveals later criss-cross scratches labouring to remove completely an Antwerp coat of arms that was branded into the wood. Only small remains of the carbonised timer from the hot iron can be observed. The brand (possibly iron no 3, in use 1618-1626) was a sign of approval of the good quality of the panel made by a member of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke.[2]

To the right of the scratching one observes a small cloverleaf (turned 90° to the left) stamped into the timber. This small leaf is the acknowledged house-mark used by the Antwerp panel maker Michiel Claessens (active 1590-1637).

Due to the marks we can now safely establish that the oak panel used for the marouflage was produced in Antwerp, more than a thousand kilometres North of the Italian Po Plain where the portrait may have been conceived and painted on a canvas sometime during second half of the 16th century. However, when was the painting marouflaged and did this take place in Italy or in the Netherlands? Why scratch away the Antwerp brand but leave the clover leaf of the panel maker intact?

At the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm further examination of the painting will in due course reveal more about its provenance, materiality and history.[3]


The above painting is, however, not unique in having a removed or obscured Antwerp Brand on the back. Two paintings at the SMK display the same fate – and again without a plausible explanation.

Jan Lievens’ (1607-1674) Self-portrait in Profile is one such.[4] It is signed ‘IL’ in ligature. The painting was copied a number of times by assistants or followers.[5] At least one of these copies seems to have occurred simultaneously with the master’s work painted shortly after his arrival in Antwerp in the mid 1630’s.

Jan Lievens, Self-Portrait in Profile. Statens Museum for Kunst, inv. KMSsp413. Photo: J. Skou-Hansen, SMK.

During examination, it appeared that Lievens’ autograph version on the back had a white patch of paint applied only at the centre of the panel. The paint seemed to cover-up a now hardly distinguishable monogram by an Antwerp panel maker.

Details of the back before and after cleaning of the white paint.

After removal of the overpaint, we could not only validate the monogram as that of Guilliam Gabron (1586-1674), but moreover that he used his second punch (datable 1626-1658) to ‘sign’ this panel. Secondly, also the completely obscured Antwerp Brand (no. 4) emerged under the white paint. This particular brand was in use 1619–1638.[6]

The answer as to why the maker’s mark and the Antwerp Brand were overpainted is hard to imagine. Did this happen in order to avoid confusing any 18th century collector about the attribution to Lievens? Would the presence of the Antwerp brand on the back of the Dutch master’s self-portrait cause confusion?

As mentioned, Lievens’ Self-portrait at the SMK was copied multiple times.[7] One of these, identically signed ‘IL’, appears to have both Gabron’s monogram and the exact identical Antwerp brand on the reverse.[8] In this case, the mark and brand were not painted over. The two panels therefore seem to have been produced by not only the same panel maker but also they were both part of the same batch that were approved and branded in the same session by the assay master of the Guild.[9] Subsequently Lievens executed his Self-portrait – which then was copied by another hand on the twin panel.

The dating of this self-portrait has been debated and it has been suggested that Lievens stayed in Antwerp as soon as 1625-26.[10] As Gabron’s second punch, stamped into the reverse, seems introduced in 1626, Lievens could have brought the two panels with him to Leiden. However, a dendrochronological examination suggests that the panel was available only after 1633.[11] As Lievens between 1632 and 1634 temporarily resided in London, the open question would be if the London art marked would have Antwerp panels ready for painting – just as was the case in Paris?[12]

Another possibility may be that this self-portrait by Lievens – and its copy – may be the earliest evidence we have of Lievens admitting an assistant in his Antwerp studio shortly after his arrival from London. We may even speculate that the assistant could have been the fifteen year old Hans van den Wyngaerde. On the 1st of March 1636, the notary Ghijsberti drafted a contract between Lievens and the young apprentice who was to receive training for the coming six years.[13]

If this suggestion is convincing, we may then assume that Lievens’ Self-portrait and its copy were both painted between March 1636 and sometime in 1638, the year in which the use of the Antwerp brand no. 4 seems to run out of use for branding panels. However, the riddle about why someone in the past tried to erase or obscure the presence of panel makers’ stamps and Antwerp brands on an unpainted panel-backing for an Italian portrait of the 16th century and on a Dutch master’s self-portrait of the 17th century still remains to find a plausible explanation…


[1] NM, inv. No. NM 200. Oil on canvas on panel, 72 × 54 cm. The painting is currently under examination by Sarah Ferrari and Martin Olin et al. within the ongoing research project on Italian Paintings at the Nationalmuseum, which aims to continue the catalogue raisonné. The first volume was published in 2015. See the online catalogue here: http://collection.nationalmuseum.se/eMP/eMuseumPlus?service=ExternalInterface&module=exhibition&objectId=3692&viewType=detailView

[2] J. van Damme, ‘De Antwerpse tafereelmakers en hun merken. Identificatie en betekenis’, in Jaarboek Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerpen 1990, p. 193-236.

[3] Italienskt Måleri I Nationalmuseum: Marknad, Musealisering, Materialitet / Italian Paintings At The Nationalmuseum: Market, Musealization, And Materiality. Further information on the project will soon be made available on the Nationalmuseum website.

[4] The painting is mentioned in the Danish Royal Collection, Kunetkammeret, already in 1737. SMK, inv. KMSsp413.

[5] The portrait is strikingly close to J.G. van Vliet’s etching/engraving after Rembrandt, Bust of a man in a gorget and cap with feather. Signed in the plate RHL. v Rijn. jn. 1631. JG v. vliet fecit. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. nr. PK-P-OB-33.369. An almost identical painting in reverse show a Profile of a man with feathered cap and long wavy hair. Monogrammed lower left RHL. Oil on panel, 23.8 x 18 cm. Germany, private collection. See more here: http://www.garyschwartzarthistorian.nl/323-the-r-k-czy-identity/.

[6] Jørgen Wadum, ‘The Antwerp Brand on Paintings on Panels’, in Looking Through Paintings, ed. E. Hermens, 11, pp. 179-198. Archetype Publications Ltd., 1998, p. 186, fig. 8, as brand no. 4.

[7] A cradled copy on panel, 51,2 × 37.8 cm, is in Weimar (Thüringen), Schlossmuseum Weimar, inv./cat. no. G 59.

[8] Sale Christie’s Amsterdam, 9 May 2000, lot 87, as from a private collection in Stuttgart. The painting is known to the author and currently in a private collection.

[9] See the Blog: https://jorgenwadum.com/2019/10/27/apostles-and-panels-in-the-dozens-thats-the-rule/

[10] B. Schnackenburg in cat. The Mystery of the Young Rembrandt, by E. van de Wetering & B. Schnackenburg et al., Staatlische Museen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister & Museum Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam, 2001-02, p. 111. See also L. Bøgh Rønberg in cat. Rembrandt? The Master and his Workshop, by L. Bøgh Rønberg et al., SMK, 2006, pp, 212-213.

[11] Dendrochronological examination by P. Klein suggest most plausible availability after 1633. See https://rkd.nl/explore/technical/5006546.

[12] A. Koopstra, ‘De Antwerpse ‘witter ende paneelmaker’ Melchior de Bout (werkzaam 1625/26-1658): leverancier van ‘ready-made’ panelen voor de Parijse markt’, in Oud Holland, Vol. 123, nr. 2 (2010), pp. 108-124. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/003067212X13397495480826

[13] For Hans van den Wyngaerde, see: K. de Clippel, ‘Adriaen Brouwer, portrait painter: new identifications and an iconographic novelty’, Simiolus, vol.  30 (2003), pp. 199-200. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3780916?seq=1. I am grateful to Piet Bakker for this reference.

A Star of a panel maker

Was it a star that lead the shepherds to discover a newborn in a stable more than 2000 years ago, then another star is tantalising us on the reverse of Antwerp panel paintings from the 17th century. My first encounter with this particular star, finely crafted with its six points, goes back to 1984 when I examined the unique Winter Room at Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen.[1]


The six-pointed star was found stamped into the reverse of a Winter landscape with skaters and sledges on the ice, tentatively attributed to Salomon van Ruysdael (c. 1600-1670). Next to the small star is the Antwerp brand of a design that appear to have been introduced c. 1638.[2]

We know of several dozens of panels ornated with the six-pointed star, the large part painted by Antwerp artists like Hendrik van Balen, Frans Francken II, David Teniers II, P.P. Rubens etc. The earliest dated painting with the star on the reverse is a Music Making Party in an Inn attributed to Anthonie Palamedesz. (1602-1673), signed D. […] 1619. Other paintings with the star on the back are dated from 1621 and well into the 1650’s.

When we look at the Leiden-born artist Jan Lievens we know of his Antwerp sojourn (1635-1644) where he painted a Landscape with Tobias and the Angel, dated 1640-1644.[3] Naturally he would acquire his panel by a local panel maker so no surprise to find the six-pointed star on the back of this work.

What becomes striking when looking at the entire group of artists who purchased panels by the Star-maker is that – like Salomon van Ruysdael – they are not all Antwerp residents. Although born in Mechelen, Balthasar Huys (c. 1590-1652) settled in Rotterdam possibly as early as 1628 and that is where he in 1650 signed and dated a Still Life with Flowers and Fish.[4] From approximately the same year we find the star on the reverse of A Guardsroom with an Officer, allegedly painted by Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684) in Delft.

Further, the Danish Court painter Karel van Mander III (1609-1670) a created a series of images representing the five senses. An old man wearing glasses (sight) is signed ‘K.V.Mander 1639’ and the pendent (hearing) is depicting and old woman with a flute – and she on the back has the six-pointed star struck into the wood of the panel that was painted in Copenhagen.[5]

A preliminary conclusion on the activities of the panel maker using the fine six-pointed star as his trademark is that he was active in Antwerp 1619 through 1650’s or beyond. Like his colleague Melchior de Bout, who delivered ready-made panels for the Paris art marked,[6] also the panels marked by the six-pointed star appear partly produced for the export marked. His panels were allegedly available for artists in both the Dutch Republic and as far away as in Denmark.

Like the star from two thousand years ago, the one on the back of panel paintings produced in Antwerp in the 17th century has had an influence on the art marked still to be fully understood.


[1] https://rkd.nl/explore/images/242177

[2] J. Wadum, ‘The Antwerp Brand on Paintings on Panels’, in E. Hermens (red.), Looking Through Paintings. The Study of Painting Techniques and Materials in Support of Art Historical Research. Leids Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 11 (1998), pp. 179-198, fig. 18.

[3] National Gallery, London, inv. NG72

[4] Formerly (1996) with Jack Kilgore, New York.

[5] Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, inv. KMSsp799 & KMSsp800.

[6] A. Koopstra, ’De Antwerpse ’witter ende paneelmaker’ Melchior de Bout (werkzaam 1625/26-1658): leverancier van ’ready-made’ panelen voor de Parijse markt’, in Oud Holland (123) nr. 3 (2010), pp. 108-124.


4/M/M – a North Netherlandish panel maker

Information on the activities of North Netherlandish panel makers is scant. Some evidence on one of these anonymous panel makers is presented below. It will become obvious that a focused research into the organisation and activities of panel makers in the Seven Provinces is urgent. The forthcoming Marks on Art database at the RKD will rely on this. [1]
A mark found several times on the reverse of North Netherlandish panels may be interpreted as composed of the cipher ‘4’ with below the two letters ‘M’ on top of each other: 4/M/M.


Artists using panels with this mark stamped or branded into the reverse are Herman Saftleven II (Christ Preaching from a Boat, dated 1642). Also the Rotterdam artist Jacob Lois (c. 1620-1676) painted on a panel marked with an identical monogram when he in 1647 signed his Baptism of Christ. Ten years earlier his city companion Jan Daemen Cool (1589-1660) painted a Portrait of a 36-year-old lady in 1632 on a 4/M/M-panel, so far the the panel maker’s earliest.

Also Simon Jacobsz de Vlieger (1600/1601-1653), Wybrand de Geest (1592-1661), Hendrick van Anthonissen (1605-1656), and Barend Avercamp (1612-1679) painted on boards provided by the same panel maker.

Finally, Bartholomeus van der Helst, born in Haarlem 1613 but moved to Amsterdam in 1636 where he practiced his art until his death in 1670. Here he portrayed Samuel van Lansbergen and his wife Maria Pietersdr. de Leest. Both paintings are signed and dated ‘1646’, and the panel used for the man is showing the panel maker’s monogram struck four times into the back, on the panel of his wife it’s only found once. [2] Another Portrait of an elderly lady with a ruff, aged 62 was painted by van der Helst in 1648, and the panel equally marked 4/M/M.

From the above it becomes apparent that all the artists are practising their art i the Northern Netherlands. Their panels are all machine sawn (contrary to the large majority of the Flemish panels that remained hand sawn), and were painted within a limited range of years from 1632 through 1648. However, the panels were not painted by artists working in the same city or region but as far apart as Leeuwarden in the north via Kampen, Zutphen, Amsterdam, and Utrecht down to Rotterdam in the south.

Was the panel maker with the enigmatic 4/M/M-monogram a Fleming that had fled to the North?

One such was the Antwerp frame maker Reynier Roovaert who in 1638 got permission to open a shop in Amsterdam where he would sell ‘all sorts of frames and panels, both of oak and other sorts of wood, including standard-sizes, to painters and other customers’. [3] We do not know if Roovaert issued a house-mark on his frames or panels, but we do know of several makers’ monograms on North Netherlandish panels that so far have no name associated to them. [4]

Further research into the frame and panel makers’ of the Seven Provinces would clarify their activities and practices and in this way add significant information about the complexity of the huge art market of the Netherlands in the seventeenth century.


[1] New MARKS ON ART database under construction. For more see here.

[2] Both oil on panel, 68 × 58 cm. Rijksmuseum, inv. SK-A-143, SK-A-144. The panel of the woman is dendrochronologically dated to after 1639 (P. Klein). Thanks to G. Tauber and M. van den Bichelaer, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, for drawing my attention to the marks; Oct.-Dec. 2019.

[3] ’alderley soorten van lysten ende panelen te mogen maken, zoo van Eycken als ander hout ende alsoo dosijnwerck aen de schilders ende anderen te vercopen’, J.G. van Dillen, Bronnen tot de geschiedenis van het bedrijfsleven en het gildewezen van Amsterdam, 3 dln., Den Haag 1929, 1933 en 1974, pp. 176-177, nr. 340. See also P.J.J. van Thiel & C.J. de Bruyn Kops, Prijst de Lijst, De Holælandse schilderijenlijst in de seventiende eeuw, Rijksmuseum 1984.

[4] You may download my poster Documenting North Netherlandish 17th Century Panel Makers’ House Marks (ICOM-CC 2014) here.

Hans van Haecht, panel maker and art dealer

Detail from the reverse of Jacob de Backer (Antwerp circa 1555–1585/90) The Baptism of Christ. Dorotheum, 22.10.2019

At the recent October Old Master auction at Dorotheum in Vienna, a Baptism of Christ, oil on panel, 75.5 x 107.5 cm, by Jacob de Backer (Antwerp c. 1555-1585/90) was presented as lot no. 18. The painting is dated to the 1580’s. [1]  

On the back is a stamp with what looks like an encircled St. Andrew’s cross with an additional horizontal crossbar. This mark, measuring about 20 mm across, is rarely found on panels and we only know of a few examples. One is on a painting depicting Our Lady in the Carmelite Convent in Sens (Yonne), and the other on a panel (reused more than a century after its fabrication) now kept in the National Museum in Gdańsk.[2] 

At current, we have no firm evidence of who of the many Antwerp panel makers was using this particular design for his stamp. However, on the list from 1617 the house-mark next to the name of Hans Van Haecht is drawn as a triple cross.[3] Hans Van Haecht came out of a large dynasty of painters, panel makers, carpenters and art dealers.[4] Although he is mostly known as an art dealer bills concerning deliverance of panels are known as well. He was active as a panel maker in Antwerp 1589-1621.

Further, we know of several seemingly identical marks to the one on De Backer’s panel, but they are all only half the size and appear on apparently later panels (?). Additionally we in at least two cases have observed the triple-cross written in red chalk on the back of panels.

More on all this on a forthcoming occasion …


    [1] Luuk Pijl and Nils Büttner has individually confirmed the attribution, provenance and dating of the present painting.

    [2] M. Schuster-Gawłowska, ‘Guild Marks on the Backs of Flemish Panel Paintings. An Attempt at Systematization and Documentation’, in Studia i Materiały wydziału konserwacji dzieł sztuki Akademii sztuk pięknych w Krakowie, Tom II, 1992, pp. 64-65.

    [3] Jan Van Damme, ‘De Antwerpse tafereelmak­ers en hun merken. Identificatie en betekenis’, in Jaarboek voor het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerpen 1990, p. 195.

    [4] J. Van Roey, ‘Het Antwerpse geslacht Van Haecht (Verha­echt). Tafereelmakers, Schilders, Kunsthandelaers’, in Miscellanea Josef Duverger, vol. I, Gent 1968, p. 216-230.

Apostles and panels in the dozens, that’s the rule

Details of two panels with identical monograms of the panel maker (G+G) and of the Antwerp brand issued by the Guild of St. Luke, ca. 1618.

The combination of a panel maker’s mark and the Antwerp brand made it possible to deduct that eight out of the eleven panels of the Apostle-series from Van Dyck’s workshop must have been produced as one single batch; all are branded by the assay master from the Guild of St. Luke with the same branding iron.

The Antwerp brand is the same on all eight panels and so is the monogram of the panel maker, Guilliam Gabron (active 1609 to ±1660). From Gabron’s workshop we know of two distinct punches with his monogram, one is in use from 1614-1626 and indeed used for the Apostle-series.[1] The Antwerp brand itself is delicately crafted by the so-called ‘stempelsnijder’, the smith making punches and branding irons. The castle shows an abundance of details like windows, battlements, gates and towers. Above the castle we see the two hands with clearly defined fingers and thumbs pointing inwards. Both towers and hands were crafted in one single iron and after heating it in blazing coal it was pressed against the wood as a red-hot branding iron, leaving a clear black impression of the Antwerp coat of arms. The particular iron branding the eight panels has been found to be in use ±1618-1626.[2]

To read more about this fascinating example of the Antwerp mass-production of panels for Van Dyck’s commission for the Apostles-series in Munich, we refer to our essay (pp. 336-339) in the ‘VAN DYCK – Gemälde von Anthonis van Dyck’ exhibition catalogue (in German) at the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, until 02.02.2020. Hirmer Verlag (ISBN: 978-3-7774-3336-3)

https://www.pinakothek.de/en/vandyck #PinaVanDyck

[1] Guilliam Gabron’s second punch is reappearing from 1626 through 1658. See Wadum, J., ‘The Antwerp Brand on Paintings on Panels’, in E. Hermens et al. (eds.) Looking Through Paintings. The Study of Painting Techniques and Materials in Support of Art Historical Research. Leids Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek XI (1998), pp. 179-198, De Prom/Archetype.

[2] Op.cit., fig. 7.

Guilliam Aertssen’s red chalk monogram

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Left: detail in ambient light. Centre: same detail under UV-light Right: tracing of a comparable red-chalk monogram

While examining panel paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries all sorts of inscriptions and marks may be encountered on the reverse side. Some of these inscriptions may be very hard to spot or even identify.

On the back of a broad single plank of oak, 54 cm across, painted and dated 1609 we discovered the faint traces of such an inscription. Due to conservation work in the past (20th century?) where small buttons were glued across a crack in the panel part of the original wood had been shaved slightly down.

However, the faint traces of a mark written in red chalk can be made more visible under UV-light.[1] Indeed it now became possible to identify the inscription as that made by the Antwerp panel maker Guilliam Aertssen, active from the 1590′ through 1638.

More information on Aertssen and his activities will be published in 2020.

1:  J. Wadum, ’17th c. Flemish Panel Makers’ Red Chalk Master Marks’, in Grimstad, Kirsten (ed.) ICOM-CC Preprints, 9th Triennial Meeting Dresden, vol. II, Los Angeles 1990, p. 663-666. ISBN: 0-89236-185-9.

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