The “Merry Company” paintings by Willem Buytewech

My Daily Art Display yesterday featured the Dutch Italianate landscape painter Herman van Swanevelt and in the early part of his life I mentioned that is was thought that he learnt some of his art techniques from another Dutch painter, Willem Buytewech, so today I thought I would showcase this man and look at his style of painting, which was completely different to that of his pupil van Swanevelt.

Merry Company by Willem Buytewech c 1622-1624

Willem Pieterszoon Buytewech was born in Rotterdam around 1591.  His father Pieter was a cobbler and candlemaker.  He started his artistic studies in the Dutch town of Haarlem where at the age of twenty one, he eventually became a member of the local artist’s guild Haarlem Guild of St Lukes , along with two other young local artists Hercules Segers and Essias van de Velde,Here at this prestigious workshop he worked alongside many great Dutch painters including the master himself, Frans Hals, who proved a great influence on Buytewech’s works.  The Guild was named after their patron saint: St Luke. Craftsmen had to be members of the guild to practice their trade. They were expected to adhere to certain requirements relating to quality and price, but the guilds also had funds to protect their members against hardship, economic or social. An extensive system of apprenticeship was maintained by the guilds. Only a fully-trained master could become a member of a guild. House painters and fine-art painters alike belonged to the St Luke’s guild. In the 17th century, however, the artists became increasingly hostile towards the craftsmen, or ‘coarse painters’.

Merry Company by Willem Buytewech (c.1617-20)

Willem Buytewech, who was known as the inventor of Dutch genre paintings, was nicknamed by his contemporaries “Geestige Willem” meaning “Spirited or Jolly” Willem for his penchant of irony and that he was one of the first Dutch painters to use a group of people carousing as a subject for a painting.   In 1613 Willem married Aeltje van Amerongen who came from a well-to-do family and they returned to Rotterdam.

Unfortunately there are only a small number of Buytewech’s paintings in existence but he will be remembered as one of the most interesting artists during the first years of the great period of Dutch painting.  His pictures of dandies, fashionable ladies, drinkers and lusty wenches are amongst the most spirited of the Dutch genre scene and instituted the category known as “Merry Company” which is the title Buytewech gave to his three paintings in today’s My Daily Art Display.

Willem Buytewech died prematurely in Rotterdam in September 1624 at the young age of thirty three and never saw his son, Willem the Younger who was born the following year and who was to follow his father’s footsteps and become a painter.

Merry Company by Willem Buytewech circa 1620-1622

Another interesting note concerning the bottom and middle painting is the framed map on the wall behind the revellers.   Buytewech was the first artist to use wall maps as a major motif in interior scenes. He was a leading pioneer of genre interiors.    Of the ten paintings by Buytewech, four include wall maps. The two paintings I have featured today, one painted around 1617-1620  and the other around 1620-1622, both  feature wall maps with the legible title HOLANDIA. These cartographic backgrounds serve to associate both scenes specifically with the province where the pictures were painted.
One of the strange things about these early Dutch maps is that one may not recognize the geographical contents of Buytewech’s two maps of Holland, for both are oriented with south at the top.   At this time, the designing of maps with north at the top was not yet a standardized practice; a map could be arranged with north at the left, right, or bottom, according to the preference of the cartographer.