Wednesday, June 29, 2022

569. Ricketts's Review of the Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900

From 4 January to 9 March 1929, the 'Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900' was on view at Burlington House, home to the Royal Academy of Arts. Only recently I found out that Ricketts published a review of the exhibition  the article is missing in my 2015 list A Bibliography of Charles Ricketts. It was an extensive exhibition. The catalogue lists 921 numbered objects (the last of which consists of 43 separate items).

Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900 (1929: second edition)

The review appeared in The Observer of 13 January 1929, less than ten days after the opening. I found it through a remarkable re-print in La Gazette de Hollande, 1 February 1929. This Dutch newspaper, since its foundation by O. van Beresteyn in 1911, published news about the Netherlands. The paper was published for an international audience in French, but, after 1913, also contained an 'English Section'. Here follows the text as it was printed in The Observer. (The illustrations are added by me.)

The Dutch Pictures at Burlington House. An Artist's Impressions.

The Editor has asked me to give my impressions of an artist before the miracles of his craft to be seen at the Exhibition of Dutch art at the Academy. In so doing the editor is a sentimentalist, since, a little more than a year ago, when in America, I was assured by one of our dealer Maecenases that "you painters never know anything about old pictures." I will not discuss the sources of Dutch painting, and will accept the common view that is arrives and dies within the seventeenth century. In the space of some seventy-six years the artists of Holland created one of the most homogeneous averages known to painting, gave an image of their time which no other school has equalled, and achieved a technical excellence which, of its kind, has never been surpassed. In achieving this they observe great limitations in aim and in effort. They are painters of one race, almost of one family, and, with the exception of Rembrandt, they have remained unconcerned with anything more than the rendering of things seen. There are Dutch pictures where the illusion is of reality itself, focussed and harmonised as if in the surface of a mirror; this is the case with Ter Borch and Vermeer. Outside the paintings of Rembrandt Dutch art is untouched by passion, imagination, and religious thought. This tranquil and accomplished school blossomed after a tragic struggle for religious and racial freedom, and one wonders if that struggle had not exhausted those deeper passions which find expression in the art and literature of a nation. Of these there is no trace till we come to the gigantic effort of Rembrandt, who is unique in his time and country, and, for that matter, in the world of Art itself.


If I have stressed  the temperate and placid outlook of most of these artists, allowing for a little more in the finer landscapes of Ruysdael and perhaps Van Goyen, the technical science of these men remains amazing in its directness and precision. The pigment in Ter Borch's pictures has the fused texture and luminosity of a pearl; he dips his brushes, not in varnish or paint, but in some living substance, nacre, or the air itself. With Vermeer the very light has become an integral part of his pigment, and for directness and economy of means Frans Hals is foremost in the history of painting. A few earth colours, the direct handling of a scene-painter, and, behold, a vivid masterpiece of characterisation: a living face rises before us, stamped with its age, temper, cast and habit in life. My one complaint against the management of this well-hung exhibition is that his many canvases have not been grouped into a single room to show his development from a literal and explicit rendering of fact, which characterises his early manner, to such masterpieces of expression and representation as No. 356.[1]
To the average lover of pictures Frans Hals remains the painter of the "Laughing Cavalier" and of the nobler portrait groups at Haarlem, with a dim impression that in his old age the artists attempted something different. It is when Hals refrains from swaggering that he becomes a great master; it is when the cold clarity of his colour turns to grey and his perfect draughtsmanship takes on a more emotional aspect that he touches us most. No. 356 fulfils these conditions﹣we have here more than mere forceful representation; this has become tempered by gravity in mood and a more sensitive vision of life.
Rembrandt fills the big room No. 3. Let us look carefully, and a little wistfully. Most of these masterpieces are here for the last time. They will never be seen together again, save, perhaps, in America, which already holds more than one-third of the master's noblest canvases. What elements in his temper and practice link Rembrandt to the art of his country? Hardly anything, save in his earliest works, where he is influenced by Hercules Seghers and Honthorst in his slightly theatrical rendering of things half imagined, half seen. It is in the rapidly increasing torrent of his practice and, later still, under the stress of sorrow and debt, or yet later, when oppressed by the sordid difficulties of a tragic life, that his art stretched out into the realms of spiritual adventure, that he gains an inward and expressive force which has never been surpassed.
The "Oriental" (No. 169), the "Toilet" (No. 130), the "Man with a Hawk" (No. 98), and the "Lady with a Fan" (No. 99) show the brilliant climax of his early manner.[2] 

Rembrandt van Rijn and (mainly) workshop,
'Portrait of a Woman with a Fan', 1643

In these pictures he has already accomplished enough to secure him the premier place among the painters of his nation: romance, the gift of fascination are here present, but the fused golds and ambers of his pigments will melt later into some rarer substance, the craftsmanship become touched with magic and mystery, the sense of form become simpler and nobler, and we have seen such works as No. 124, No. 128, No. 111, and, better still, such masterpieces of narrative painting as the "Adoration of the Magi" (No. 91).[3] It is as a subject painter that Rembrandt remains unapproachable, and in his etchings and countless drawings his gift for narrative finds a directness and variety which more than rivals his painting.

Lent by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon

What Ricketts did not disclose was that two of Rembrandt's drawings in the exhibition came from the collection of Ricketts and Shannon. They were displayed in the Large South Room. A drawing in pen, brown ink and brown wash, 'The Agony in the Garden', was acquired by the artists during the sale of the Lord Leighton collection (listed as no. 586). The second loan was 'Christ at Emmaus', also a drawing in pen, brown ink and wash (No. 589). [In 1929 the brown ink was labelled 'bistre'.]

Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900 (1929: second edition),
p. 228, No. 589: 'Christ as Emmaus'

These two drawings, and one other from their collection, were bequeathed by Ricketts and Shannon to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

No. 356: Frans Hals, 'Portrait of a Lady'. Lent by M. van Gelder. C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. London, 1910, Volume III, p. 113, No. 394.
Rembrandt van Rijn, No. 169:  'An Oriental with a White Turban'. Lent by the Duke of Devonshire. Now called: 'A Man in Oriental Costume', see online at Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth; No. 130, 'The Toilet'. Lent by Sir Edmund Davis. Stolen from Chilham Castle in 1938, and subsequently destroyed; No. 98: 'The Man with a Hawk'. Lent by the Duke of Westminster. Now in the private collection of the Duke of Westminster; No. 99: 'The Lady with a Fan'. Lent by the Duke of Westminster. Now in the private collection of the Duke of Westminster.
Rembrandt van Rijn, No. 124 'Presumed Portrait of Aert de Gelder'. Lent by Otto Gutekunst. Now in the collection of Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis (Missouri) [see website RKD]; No. 128, 'Portrait of Catharina Hooghsaet (1607-after 1657). Lent by Lord Penrhyn. Now in a private collection, see Wikipedia for an image]; No. 91: 'The Adoration of the Magi'. Lent by H.M. the King. From Buckingham Palace. Now dismissed as a work by Rembrandt [see Royal Collection Trust]