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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Online zoomable image of Girl with a Pearl Earring: http://www.micro-pano.com/pearl/.Images made using the Hirox 3D digital microscope at 35x magnification (4.4 µm/pixel), and details at 140x magnification (1.1 µm/pixel)
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 Treesin Blossom, also known as Souvenier de Mauve. 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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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’.
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?
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.”
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. 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.
Vincent writes, “I’ve made the acquaintance of a Danish artist… What he does is dry but very conscientious, and he’s still young”. 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.” 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.
 Oil on canvas, 73 × 60 cm. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, inv. KM 108.317.
 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/
 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.
 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).
 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.
 In letter 591 to Theo van Gogh. Arles, on or about Sunday, 1 April 1888.
 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
Peach Trees in Blossom. Arles, 1888. Oil on canvas, 55,2 × 45 cm. The Hirschsprung Collection, inv. nr. 407.
 In letter 584 to Theo van Gogh. Arles, Saturday, 10 March 1888.
 H. Larsson, Flames from the south. The introduction of Vincent van Gogh in Sweden before 1900. Thesis. Lund 1993, pp. 14, 26.