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Painting missing for more than 300 years is acquired by the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem

June 2, 2018

Gerrit Berckheyde (1638-1698), View on the Bakenessergracht with the De Passer en de Valk brewery, 1662
Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem
Click on image to enlarge.

A Dutch masterwork missing for more than 300 years has been acquired by the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, the Netherlands. Gerrit Berckheyde’s earliest known cityscape of his hometown of Haarlem – Gezicht op de Bakenessergracht met de brouwerij De Passer en de Valk (‘View on the Bakenessergracht with the De Passer en de Valk brewery’) of 1662 – has been acquired from a Swiss private collection. In this painting the focus is on one of Haarlem’s most important economic pillars of the 17th century: the beer brewery. Until now, it was believed that the artist’s views of Haarlem were first painted in 1665.

Berckheyde, who became famous for his cityscapes of Amsterdam, the Hague, and especially his hometown of Haarlem, was baptized on June 6, 1638, and died almost sixty years to the day on June 10, 1698, when he drowned in Haarlem’s Brouwersvaart canal.

Madrid’s Thyssen museum’s biography:

He trained with his elder brother, the architectural painter Job Berckheyde. Together they made a lengthy trip around Germany along the Rhine, visiting Cologne, Bonn, Mannheim and Heidelberg, the city where they worked for the Elector Palatine, Charles Louis. The Berckheyde brothers shared a house and probably a studio. Both worked on the genre of architectural paintings and influenced each other throughout their careers.

Gerrit Berckheyde specialised in the depiction of urban views whose accuracy recalls the work of Saenredam. He painted monuments and large buildings located in ample squares in compositions that convey a sense of spaciousness and clarity. He thus differs from the other leading Dutch painter of urban views, Jan van der Heyden, who preferred narrow, angular views seen from canals. Berckheyde’s paintings are marked by their topographical character, apart from those of the city of Cologne in which real buildings, depicted on the basis of sketches made at first-hand, are combined in an imaginary manner. Among his most frequently depicted themes is that of views of Haarlem, which provide a documentary record of the city at that period, and of the Amsterdam Town Hall. Like his brother, Berckheyde painted views of church interiors.

From 1661 to 1681 the artist was a member of the society of rhetoricians in Haarlem known as De Wijngaardranken, while between 1691 and 1695 he was an official in the guild of Saint Luke. Despite not having an organized workshop or pupils Berckheyde’s work was extremely influential for other painters of urban views such as Timotheus de Graaf, Jan ten Compe and Isaac Ouwater.

The Rijksmuseum’s biography for the artist says Berckheyde also studied under Frans Hals, which makes the eponymous museum’s acquisition all the more poignant.

Gerrit Adriaensz. Berckheyde (Haarlem 1638-1698)
A view of Haarlem from the northwest corner with the Kruispoort and St. Bavo’s Cathedral beyond
signed ‘g Berckhyde’ (lower centre)
oil on panel: 16 5/8 x 23¾ in. (42.2 x 60.4 cm.)
Estimate: £500,000-700,000
This lot sold for: £2,617,250
Click on image to enlarge.

The cost of this acquisition is unknown, though prices for Berckheyde’s work at auction vary widely. Following the 2008-09 exhibition Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age (at the Maurithuis, the Hague, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC), A view of Haarlem from the northwest corner with the Kruispoort and St. Bavo’s Cathedral beyond (above), listed in the exhibition catalogue as “present whereabouts unknown” resurfaced at Christie’s in London at the December 7, 2010 sale of Old Masters. It blew through its £500,000-700,000 estimate to sell for £2,617,250.

Gerrit Berckheyde (Haarlem 1638-1698)
The Grote Markt, Haarlem, looking west, with the town hall and figures conversing in the market square
oil on canvas: 53.3 x 62.5 cm.
Estimate: £15,000-25,000
This lot sold for: £18,750
Click on image to enlarge.

By contrast, a scene of Haarlem’s Grote Markt (above) came up at Christie’s in London during the December 8, 2017 Old Masters sale. The work, according to a condition report: “On very close inspection, it appears that, while every element of the drawing and narrative detail remains intact, the overall clarity is compromised by the presence of widespread retouching.” The report goes on to say: “the cumulative effect of this retouching is a loss of definition and clarity, particularly in the sky and cobbled pavement.” The painting carried a £15,000-25,000 estimate and sold for a hammer price of £15,000 (£18,750 with the buyer’s premium).   The painting resurfaced five months later at Dorotheum in Vienna at the April 24, 2018 Old Master Paintings auction with an estimate of €30,000-40,000. It failed to sell.

The painting’s history for the past 300 years has been largely a mystery. The museum’s press release states:

After an entry in the beer brewery’s inventory in 1713, the painting Gezicht op de Bakenessergracht met de brouwerij De Passer en de Valk could not be traced, until recently, when it reappeared in a Swiss private collection. It is therefore unique that the Frans Hals Museum has been able to acquire this artwork and publicly display it for the first time. The coat of arms of De Passer en de Valk brewery, located on Bakenessergracht (‘the Bakenesser canal’), is depicted centrally, while the brewer is shown in the shade on the quay of the canal, together with his wife and employees.

With this beautifully balanced view of the Bakenessergracht, the young Berckheyde demonstrates his exceptional skills. Using his sense of light, form and rhythm, the painter creates great contrasts in his composition. While, on the sunny side of the canal, an ordinary maid silently dips her mop in the water, the shaded side is alive with activity. Beer barrels from the brewery are being loaded onto a boat, while the brewer gives the last instructions for transport. Haarlem was known for its many breweries, and that makes this seemingly casual glimpse of the city’s early modern industry extra appealing. What is remarkable is Berckheyde’s choice to place the brewer and his brewery in the shade and to have the light hit the ordinary servant girl on the right side.

Portrait of Samuel Ampzing, 1630
Frans Hals (Antwerp 1582/83 – 1666 Haarlem)
oil on copper: 16.4 x 12.4 cm
inscribed and dated, center right: “AETAT 40/ ANo 163..”
The Leiden Collection.

Numerous sources note that Berckheyde’s impression of Haarlem was influenced by Samuel Ampzing’s laudatory, topographical account of the city, Beschivinge ende Lof der Stad Haerlem (“Description and Praise of the City of Haarlem”), published in 1628, which “extolled Haarlem’s magnificent buildings, soaring towers and well-kept buildings, as well as her virtue and glory.”

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