In my second blog on the seventeenth century Dutch artist, Adriaen van de Velde I want to look at his landscape and beachscape paintings.
Probably his best-known beachscape work is his 1658 painting entitled The Beach at Scheveningen which can be found in the Staatliche Museen, in Kassel, Germany and is looked upon as one of the outstanding works of the Dutch Golden Age. Scheveningen is a district of The Hague. It was a fishing village at the time of the painting and it was not until the early nineteenth century that it became a seaside bathing resort.
Of the painting and Adriaen van de Velde, the eminent Dutch art historian Horst Gerson wrote in a 1953 article in the Burlington Magazine, quoting from the eighteenth century German art historian Gustav Waagen’s 1860 book, Handbook of painting. The German, Flemish and Dutch Schools:
…At the age of nineteen he was already in this department one of the greatest masters that ever lived; the picture dated 1658, in the Kassel Gallery, displaying a tender feeling for nature, a mastery of drawing and a delicacy of chiaroscuro and harmony which are truly astonishing…”
The setting is a bright but windy summers day on a wide sandy beach which is populated by several visitors who have come to take in the bracing sea air. In the centre foreground, we see a well-dressed young couple, who are probably on a day trip to the seaside. To their right we see a group of children playing in a large puddle of water, the remnants of the previous high water. To the left perched on a hill is a church with its tall steeple, beneath which we see a rider on a horse galloping parallel to the line of dunes. A covered wagon slowly trundles along the tide line. Towards the right foreground, we see a group of fishermen, with their trouser legs rolled up, preparing to go into the water with their nets but the most unusual character is the one in the extreme right of the work. Take a look at him. His trouser legs are also rolled up. Is he yet another fisherman or somebody who just wants to paddle and feel the sea caressing his feet. His hands are clasped casually behind his back. He is lost in thought as he looks out to sea. Maybe he was once a seafarer and is now remembering those times.
Depictions of the Scheveningen beach were often seen in paintings by other Dutch artists such as one of Adriaen van de Velde’s tutors, Simon de Vlieger’s 1633 in his work The Beach at Scheveningen.
Another work entitled View of Scheveningen Sands painted by Hendrick van Anthonissen in 1641, featuring the same beach, has a very interesting story attached to it. The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge has owned the work since it was bequeathed to them by amateur artist and clergyman Edward Kerrich in 1873. By chance, the painting came to the Hamilton Kerr Institute, a division of the museum, renowned for paintings research and conservation, because the Dutch Golden Age gallery of the museum was being renovated.
The varnish coating on the painting had yellowed and become unsightly. Initially, what appeared strange to the museum experts about the depiction was why were the people clustered at the sea edge and on the dunes above, on a cold wintry day staring at the tide line. What were they looking at? There then followed a long discussion among the experts of the museum about the potential risk of damaging the painting if and when they removed the varnish and some of the over-painting. However, it was agreed to let the conservator, Shan Kuang, proceed to remove the overpainting, using a scalpel and solvents, working on tiny areas at a time, under a microscope. She then discovered that there appeared to be a man standing in mid-air, next to what looked like a sail from a boat. After more of the over-painting was removed they realised the man was not standing in mid-air but on the back of an enormous whale which had beached in the shallows and what at first was thought to be a sail was in fact the whale’s large dorsal fin.
There is another Scheveningen beach painting by Adriaen van de Velde in the Louvre entitled Carriage on the Beach at Scheveningen. This was completed in 1660 and is yet another of his works featuring the popular Dutch seaside resort. In the painting we can see an imposing carriage making its way along the beach at Scheveningen. The carriage is being directed by a man in a blue uniform, who sits astride the lead white horse, whilst the driver, who sits atop the carriage, is seen cracking his whip. There is a bit of humour added to this work as we see one of the valets, who is also bedecked in blue livery, running after two hunting dogs, which are happily playing on the sand. It is thought that the carriage was that of William, the young sovereign Prince of Orange, who would later become William III of England (William of Orange). The tide is out, and we see local villagers walking along the beach. Children are playing and, in the right foreground, we see a man carrying a large net, coming back from fishing. The composition, which is mainly made up of horizontals, is split by the vertical of the boat mast and the church steeple. Sunlight comes diagonally from the left of the depiction, illuminating the white horses and casting long shadows of the people and carriage on the sand . This soft golden light is probably due to the influence of the Dutch Italianate painters of the time such as Jan Both, Karel Dujardin and Nicolaes Berchem who had all stayed in Italy. They had travelled extensively around the country and had adopted the style of landscape painting that they found there, and then incorporated Italian models and motifs into their own works. Every detail in the painting has been meticulously drawn by the artist and it was his ability to draw characters that made him popular with other artists of the time who needed figures added to their landscapes or beachscapes – staffage!
However, Adriaen van de Velde is probably best known for his landscape paintings. His painting, Panoramic Summer Landscape with a Horseman and a Post Wagon, which he completed in 1661 was described by Wolfgang Stechow, the German American art critic, pianist, and violinist, as being:
“…a landscape of such serene beauty and golden softness that its comparison with a Mozart melody will not, the writer hopes, be dismissed as farfetched…”
The setting is a late summer afternoon. In the work, we see a man astride a horse being given directions. Man and horse are bathed in sunlight as is the field with its four sheaves of wheat. Cast in shadow, we also see a woman with child on her back and one by her side and a shepherd who is looking after his small flock of sheep. In the right middle ground, also in shadow, is a small village on the edge of an expanse of water, with its church and tall steeple.
This type of composition we see before us with a tall tree on one side was dubbed by Wolfgang Stechow as being of a “one-wing composition” pattern which had been favoured by Salomon van Ruysdael. It is a type of composition in which the large tree in some way acts as an introduction to the viewer to gaze at the panoramic view in the rest of the depiction. Ruysdael’s landscapes would often have a single tall tree or a group of them to one side of his landscape paintings. In this painting, van de Velde has counter-balanced the mass of leaves atop the tree on the left with the dense clouds on the right.
A painting by Adriaen van de Velde which has elements of a landscape painting but is populated by many figures is entitled Departure for the Hunt, which he completed in 1662. In all. there are sixteen human figures, eight horses and twenty-three dogs. However, most are hidden in shadow and only the couple on the left, the man astride the horse blowing the hunting horn and the groom tending the rider-less white horse are illuminated by sunlight. The painting was last publicly exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1952. One of the reviewers of the exhibition was Horst Gerson wrote about it in the Burlington Magazine. He remarked:
“…The well-to-do English collector of the eighteenth century loved to possess a good Adriaen van de Velde with his Wouwermans and Aert van der Neer. The brilliant colours and the refined technique of these artists appealed to the cultivated taste of the upper-class…”
It is a highly colourful depiction and we are prompted to look at the detail of the work with its many figures. We see beggars in the bottom left of the work trying to cajole the well-dressed couple into helping them financially. This combination of the two beggars and the wealthy beautifully adorned couple makes us aware of the “haves and the have nots”. To the right in the foreground we see the amusing scene of one of the dog handlers struggling manfully to control his charges. It seems he is losing the battle.
There are so many more paintings I could have included but I though this is just a “taster” to whet your appetite and persuade you to research more of his works. If you live in London the Dulwich Picture Gallery is exhibiting a collection of his works until January 15th 2017 and I hope to visit there before it closes. A book which accompanies the exhibition, Adriaen van de Velde, Dutch Master of Landscape was my main source for this blog.
Tomorrow I am off on a three day trip to The Hague to visit the Gemeentemuseum and the Alice Neel Exhibition and see the works of the American artist whom I extensively covered in six blogs a month or so ago and whilst in the Dutch city I hope to visit some other art galleries and feast my eyes on some beautiful Dutch and Flemish seventeenth century art.