The other day I came across a beautiful landscape painting by an artist that was unknown to me. His name was Herman van Swanevelt and the painting was entitled Italian Landscape with bridge which he painted circa 1645-50 and which hangs in the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.
The artist was born in Woerden which was one of the smaller towns of the province of Holland in the newly independent Dutch Republic. His early history is somewhat sketchy other than knowing he came from a family of craftspeople and some way back in his lineage was the celebrated artist Lucas van Leyden. As there were no well known artists identified as having lived in Woerden at that time it is just conjecture as to how van Swanevelt learnt his artistic trade. Some art historians believed he spent time in Rotterdam under the tutelage of Willem Buytewech the Dutch painter, draughtsman and etcher, who was considered to be the “inventor” of Dutch genre painting.
Herman van Swanevelt was recorded as having been in Paris in 1623 and later lived in Rome between 1629 and 1641. It was during his time in Italy that Herman concentrated his works of art on the first generation of the Dutch Italianates and the whole Italianate landscape genre with his paintings focusing on beautiful landscapes sparkling in sunny conditions and a classic example of this is in My Art Display’s painting. His paintings of sumptuous Italian landscapes and the views of Roman ruins soon gained favour with the wealthy art collectors of Rome and the Vatican. One of his large scale paintings was commissioned by King Philip IV which he installed in Buen Retiro, his country palace near Madrid.
In 1642 van Swanevelt returned to Paris, where he became a member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1651 His landscape works now began to take on a more Northern appearance and to his pleasure found that French art collectors were equally impressed with his works of art and were only too keen to purchase all that he could produce. For his artistic work he received the prestigious appointment of “peintre ordinaire du roi”. In the later years of his life van Swanevelt returned occasionally to his home town of Woerden as can be seen by the name of the town being added to his signature on some of his paintings he completed in the 1640’s.
His popularity as a Dutch painter continued unabated and as a genre, Dutch Italianate landscape paintings were highly prized in the northern Netherlands during the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 17th century they fetched higher prices than native Dutch landscapes paintings. Then, at the end of the nineteenth century Dutch Italianate landscape paintings in general suddenly fell out of favour. The reason for this fall from grace of van Swanevelt’s paintings was that many prominent art critics of the time believed that he and other Dutch 17th century Italianate landscape painters had been unpatriotic in the way they had chosen Italian landscapes as the subject for their paintings. The art critics of the time also believed that the settings seen in their landscapes lacked a sense of realism and as such their landscape paintings were of a hybrid style that was neither Dutch nor Italian. Such harsh criticism from the art critics caused art galleries, which had once scrambled to be the first to hang their paintings, now took them down from their walls and caste them to their basement storerooms.
Have a look at today’s painting and decide whether you like the sunny pituresque nature of the subject or would you prefer a touch more realism.