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RARE: Paris Exhibition of (mostly) Dutch masterworks

April 22, 2012

posting earlier this month noted the recent acquisition by the Paris-based Fondation Custodia of a pair of portraits by Jan de Bray. The paintings are being shown through May 27 in the exhibition Un Univers intime, which is drawn from the Frits Lugt collection.  The exhibition centers on Lugt’s exceptionally strong group of 17th century Dutch painting, but there are equally impressive earlier and later works.  From the exhibition press release:

View of the interior of hôtel Turgot, Paris © Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt Collection, Paris

The paintings of the Frits Lugt Collection – Fondation Custodia leave their home for the Institut Néerlandais, displaying for the first time the full scope of the collection!

The exhibition Un Univers intime offers a rare opportunity to view this outstanding art collection (Berchem, Saenredam, Maes, Teniers, Guardi, Largillière, Isabey, Bonington…), expanded in the past two years with another hundred works.

The intimate interiors of the Hôtel Turgot, home to the Frits Lugt Collection, do indeed keep many treasures of painting that have remained a secret to the French public.

The exhibition presents this collection that was created gradually, with great passion and discernment, over nearly a century, in a selection of 110 paintings, including several essential masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age, together with Flemish, Italian, French and Danish paintings in the collection.

Works from the exhibition can be seen online accompanied by terse and informative write-ups.

The breadth of the collection is impressive and here are some works of interest (including the Herri met de Bles, above):

Cologne, c. 1440-1450, Christ bearing His Cross, Panel, 20 x 12.5 cm, Acquired in 1950; inv. 6382 © Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt Collection, Paris

Frits Lugt placed this little panel in the circle of Juan de Flandes, a Flemish painter who worked in Spain at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The style of the figures, though, particularly that of John with his round head of curly hair, is firmly rooted in Cologne painting of the century before. Very recently Stephan Kemperdick was able to relate the panel to a St Jerome in Munich, which features a similar landscape and architecture. A panel in the Louvre, The Miracle of the Musician, with exactly the same dimensions as the painting in the Frits Lugt Collection, is probably by the same artist. The maker of the three paintings may well have worked in the workshop of the great Stephan Lochner, who died in 1451.

Cornelis van Poelenburch, (Utrecht 1594/95-1667 Utrecht), Two men talking in a landscape, Copper, 19.8 x 25.6 cm, Acquired in 1974; inv. 1974-s.1 © Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt Collection, Paris

Cornelis van Poelenburch spent ten years in Rome, where he was one of the founders of the Bentveughels – the Dutch artists’ association. This tiny painting probably dates from this period. The golden radiance that would make the painter famous after his return in 1627 is still absent here, but the work does show the almost ethereal effect of his manner, reinforced by the use of a copper plate as the support. The slim figures with their twisted poses are typical of Van Poelenburch’s early work, which often features two people, one showing the other the way. The cliff with its strange doughy texture may have been based on drawings of rock formations made on the spot, some of which have survived.

Jacob Vrel, (active c. 1654-1670?), Woman at a window, waving at a girl, Panel, 45.7 x 39.2 cm, Acquired in 1918; inv. 174 © Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt Collection, Paris

We have little information about the painter Jacob Vrel and only forty or so paintings by his hand are known to us today. Some belonged to major collections in the seventeenth century. His compositions are often, as here, very sober and somewhat mysterious. The woman, whose back is turned to the viewer, tips her chair over dangerously to wave to a child, a ghostly figure glimpsed through a dark interior window. A nail in the wall projecting its shadow and a piece of paper (with traces of a signature) on the floor, a recurrent motif in Vrel’s work, enliven the almost symmetrical architecture of the room.

Hendrick Avercamp, (Amsterdam 1585-1634 Kampen), Riverscape at Kampen, Panel, 24 x 39.2 cm, Acquired in 1926; inv. 2689 © Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt Collection, Paris

Like many of the paintings acquired by Frits Lugt, this panel of c. 1620-25 has a pictorial subject that is unusual in the work of the painter. Known mostly for his winter landscapes with skaters, Avercamp here depicts summer activities by the waterside: a duck hunter, fishermen, an elegant couple with their child and its nanny. The visible frivolity of these occupations contrasts with the gallows with reoffenders hanging from it, a motif often used by the painter. On the horizon lies Kampen, the town where Avercamp lived and worked.

Pieter Saenredam, (Assendelft 1597-1665 Haarlem), Choir of the church of St Bavo in Haarlem, seen from the Kerstkapel, Panel, 49 x 36.6 cm; signed and dated 1636, Acquired in 1919; inv. 396 © Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt Collection, Paris

The Haarlem painter, who specialised in church paintings, depicted the church of St Bavo in his home town in no fewer than twelve paintings and twenty-seven drawings. The interior is very sober: the decoration in this medieval Catholic church was removed or whitewashed after the Reformation. In the painter’s compositions the figures are secondary to the architecture, which he depicts with masterly illusionism. While he drew the building from life and took precise measurements of it, he would rework the composition in the studio to make it more visually powerful.

Hendrick van Cleve III, (Antwerp c. 1525-1590/95 Antwerp), View of the Vatican gardens and St Peter’s basilica, Panel, 71.5 x 101 cm, Acquired in 1938; inv. 1307 © Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt Collection, Paris

Hendrick and his brother Marten were members of a large family of artists that originally came from Cleves in Germany, but they are the only two by whom works have been identified. In 1551 they were both enrolled as masters in the Antwerp Guild of St Luke. Van Mander (1604) writes that in Italy and elsewhere Hendrick drew a great deal from life that he was able to use in his work, although he did not actually visit all the places he depicted. This view may have been made with other known versions at about the same time in the 1580s. These works are among the earliest painted cityscapes without prominent figures.

Caspar van Wittel, (Amersfoort 1652/56-1736 Rome), View of the Temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli, Canvas, 34.8 x 45 cm, Acquired in 1948; inv. 6035 © Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt Collection, Paris

It was probably in 1674 that the Dutch artist Caspar van Wittel settled in Rome, where he was active for most of his life and where he Italianized his name to Gasparo Vanvitelli. He became one of the first and most important painters of the topographical views known as vedute. He made his first cityscapes around 1680. His works are realistic depictions of architecture and the landscape. This painting shows the round Roman Temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli near Rome, a spot that was very popular with artists (cf. no. 59). Unfortunately separated from its pendant, this painting can be dated around 1720.

Frits Lugt and Jacoba Lugt-Klever in hôtel Turgot, Paris © Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt Collection, Paris

The eighteenth century Hôtel Turgot which houses the Frits Lugt Collection contains many paintings that are hardly known to the public. The Dutch masters of the Golden Age form the largest and most important group. Selected with a discerning eye by the great Frits Lugt (1884-1970), they are representative of their period and their authors, and many have featured individually in loan exhibitions.

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