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Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 19 June 1985, lot 138.
Herman Frederik Carel ten Kate (1822-1891) and Genre Painting by Jeroen Kapelle
At the end of the 18th century, the art of the Golden Age was rediscovered. The simple subjects from everyday life that Dutch painters from the 17th century showed on their canvases and panels stood in stark contrast to the classicist tradition. This artistic tradition, which was followed more strictly in France, for example, found less of an audience in our country. According to the classicist artistic theory, the representation of one's own environment is avoided, and the artist must choose universal themes. However, in the 17th century most Dutch artists painted much less elevated subjects, such as genre pieces with farmers, pub patrons, housemaids and market vendors. This supposedly realistic view that the 17th century painters had on life appealed to the 19th century public.
In the first half of the 19th century a 'modern' genre arose in which the compositions of 17th century painters served as an example, but where the figures had more or less contemporary dress and the poses of the models created a different atmosphere than with their 17th century predecessors. In around 1850, painters such as Hubertus van Hove (1814-1864) and Johannes Stroebel (1821-1905) were looking at their illustrious predecessors such as Pieter de Hooch (1629-1683) and Nicolaes Maes (1634-1693). For instance, they painted interior views with housemaids in which the compositions are almost literally quoted. In their younger years painters such as David Bles (1821-1899) and Herman ten Kate (1822-1891) produced historical pieces with themes from the Golden Age. For example Bles chose the subject 'Rubens and the Teniers family' (1843) and Ten Kate painted 'Oliver Cromwell's guardroom' in 1841. Around 1840, Bles and Ten Kate received lessons together - aside from their academy classes - at the studio of the historical and genre painter Cornelis Kruseman (1797-1857) who had a lively studio full of students on the Prinsegracht in The Hague. Initially they, like Kruseman, did a number of historical works. The history piece, in which the artist needed a good insight into the subject, was seen as the most difficult task for a painter. This involved the artist showing the event as clearly and as true to life as possible, which demanded solid study. Many young painters made several history pieces in the early stages of their careers to show that they had mastered the craft. To the extent that they became more successful, they often abandoned this exacting genre. David Bles and Herman ten Kate were also slow to choose a subject with an actual historical event, but preferred to paint images with groups of people in a historical environment. Bles applied himself to elegant companies in an 18th century context. Ten Kate also painted the salon life of the 18th century, but became more devoted to the Golden Age.
Starting in the 1850s he specified his genre and primarily painted 17th century soldiers in watch posts. 'With his detailed brush, Ten Kate manages to describe in a remarkable way the doings and dealings of our lusty musketeers and soldiers, our round porters, dignified sheriffs and jolly lasses,' noted his contemporary Johan Gram (1833-1913). Herman ten Kate found his subject close to home. At Javastraat in The Hague - where he lived from 1869 - he had a studio fully furnished in the style and a reception room full of antiques. A journalist from the Dagblad van Zuid-Holland wrote in 1891: 'One was entirely transported to the 17th century, with the furniture and decor taken from old residences, including from the house of Maarten van Rossum in Zalt-Bommel, and by countless valuable antique objects, and not least by the tempered light that shone into the artistic residence through the lead-pane windows.'
The various antique objects and building fragments can be found in his works of art. Ten Kate was already famous among his contemporaries for his exceptional representation of these objects. Art critic Carel Vosmaer (1826-1888) noted that he enjoyed 'getting to know his drawn studies' which according to him brought him 'to the original surroundings, to the source'. After a visit, Johan Gram wrote that 'Ten Kate's skill, his technique is extraordinarily developed.' The work of Ten Kate also fit in with the work of the French masters Ernest Meissonnier (1815-1891) and Louis-Georges Brillouin (1817-1893). The historicizing genre practiced by Ten Kate was indeed employed by many foreign artists, and also had a large international market. In 1888 a German newspaper reported that, aside from in the Netherlands, the paintings of Herman Ten Kate were also very popular in France and America. This meant that his works made their way to many foreign collections, from Saint Petersburg to Vienna.
Jeroen Kapelle is curator of the 19th Century Art Department at the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague, and author of numerous publications including Magie van de Veluwezoom (Arnhem 2006).
Anonymous, 'Hermann ten Kate', in: Schorers Familienblatt, 1888, clipping collection of RKD [Netherlands Institute for Art History] press documentation, The Hague.
Johan Gram, 'Herman Frederik Carel ten Kate', in: Eigen Haard 7, 1881, 31.
Robert-Jan ter Rijdt, 'Nederlandse tekenkunst uit de eerste helft van de negentiende eeuw. Bronnen over tekenkunst, circa 1780-1850', in: Manfred Sellink e.a., Nederlandse tekeningen uit de negentiende eeuw 1 : keuze uit de verzameling van het prentenkabinet = Nineteenth-century Dutch drawings 1 : drawings from the collection of the printroom, Rotterdam (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen), 1994, pp.11-23.
Louis van Tilborgh, Guido Jansen, Op zoek naar de Gouden Eeuw. Nederlandse schilderkunst 1800-1850, Zwolle 1986.
C. Vosmaer, 'Herman Frederik Carel ten Kate', in: Onze hedendaagsche schilders; met bijschriften van mr. C. Vosmaer, The Hague 1882.