Nicolaes Berchem (Haarlem 1620-1683 Amsterdam)
The Watering Place
signed 'NBerchem' (lower right, NB linked)
oil on panel
22 1/8 x 24 ¾ in. (56.2 x 62.8 cm.)
Gerrit van der Pals (1742-1839), Rotterdam; his sale, Rotterdam, W. van Leen & A. Lamme, 30 August 1824, lot 5 (7,900 NLG to the following).
with C.J. Nieuwenhuys, Brussels.
Lord Charles Townshend (1785–1853), London, by 1834; his sale, Christie's, London, 11 April 1835, lot 48 (750 gns. to Yates).
James Morrison, London, 1857, and by descent to the following,
Charles Morrison, London, and by descent, until sold by the family around 1950.
Private collection, England.
with Otto Naumann Ltd, New York.
with Noortman (Maastricht) BV, 18 September 1990, from whom acquired.
J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the most eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters, London, 1834, V, p. 64, no. 191.
G.F. Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, being an account of the chief collections of paintings, drawings, sculptures, illuminated mss., London, 1857, p. 109, in Mr. Morrison's collection.
C. Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII Jahrhunderts, Esslingen and London, 1926, IX, p. 240, no. 696.
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Old Masters Exhibition, 6 January-15 March 1879, no. 49 (lent by Mrs Morrison).

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Lot Essay

Described as ‘superb’ and ‘precious’ by the highly-respected connoisseur, dealer and art consultant John Smith in his seminal Catalogue Raisonné (op. cit.), this finely-executed painting is an excellent example of the type of Italianate landscape that Nicolaes Berchem had perfected by his late career. Born in Haarlem, as the son of the famed still-life painter Pieter Claesz, Berchem was predestined to become an artist. His father taught him to draw in his youth, and his early work reveals the influences of Jan van Goyen, Claes Moeyaert and Pieter de Grebber, all of whom may have also served as his teachers. By the 1650s, however, Berchem began to paint panoramic vistas with a distinctly southern brightness, strongly emulating the work of Jan Asselijn. Whether he travelled to Italy is uncertain; it is possible he made a trip in 1642 with his close friend and associate, the painter Jan Baptist Weenix, who was documented in Rome in 1645. Berchem could also have made the tour in the early 1650s, and a will dated to 1649 may have anticipated his prolonged absence.

Whether or not Berchem personally travelled to Italy, the dazzling light of this picture proclaims the artist’s affinity with the crisp, golden light of the Roman campagna. Carefully signed but not dated, this painting is consistent with the finest of Berchem’s works from the 1660s, which are characterised by highly-saturated colours and populated by graceful forms composed of uniform brushstrokes. In this painting, a young peasant girl rides a mule, surrounded by members of her cohort and a hoard of farm animals. In the left background, earthy, cloaked settlers mingle and pass through a triumphal arch. The right of the composition is dominated by an even larger ruin, its shape recalling an aqueduct or, perhaps given its tripartite arrangement, the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine. A beautiful passage of sky with downy, illuminated clouds is visible in the left background, balancing the harmonious composition. The afternoon sun is just above the horizon, casting long shadows over the figures and architecture.

Berchem’s fame endured into the eighteenth century, notably in France, where he was one of the most sought after artists from the Golden Age, and his works entered many important and princely collections. In a 1727 publication, the French connoisseur Dézallier d’Argenville described his ideal ‘Flemish’ collection, which included, among others, works by Rembrandt, Gerrit Dou, Frans van Mieris I and Berchem (see G. Seelig, ‘The reception of Berchem’s paintings in eighteenth-century France,’ in Nicholas Berchem: In the Light of Italy, exhibition catalogue, Gent, 2006, p. 61). Twenty years later, d’Argenville would declare, rather improbably, that ‘rien n’est plus recherché aujourd’hui que les tableaux de Nicolas Berchem’ (‘Nothing is rarer today than the paintings of Nicolaes Berchem’; ibid.). A century later, Gustav Friedrich Waagen saw this painting in the collection of James Morrison and described it as ‘A rich and picturesquely arranged composition of careful execution, of the later time of the master’ (op. cit.).

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