Although several paintings by Albertus van Beest are known - most notably the four in the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen and the one in the Maritiem Museum Prins Hendrik (both in Rotterdam) - the artist is perhaps best remembered as a draughtsman. In this field he was not only very accomplished but also prolific, producing numerous finished drawings in pencil and washed ink, ranging from the small-sized to the very large. He seldom worked in watercolour. His subjects were mainly seascapes and boats.
It would not be exaggerating to regard Van Beest, alongside Wijnand Nuyen (1813-1839) and Johannes Tavenraat (1809-1881) who are usually exclusively mentioned as the only two in the Netherlands of that stature, as a true Dutch romantic artist. His style, part of his subject-matter and the course of his life and career permit this. The artist's first biographer, the Frenchman Auguste Demmin who knew him in Amsterdam, must have hinted at this when he praised above all the genius of Van Beest.
Albertus van Beest was born in Rotterdam in 1820. Nothing is known about his training as an artist. Legend had it that he taught himself to draw while he was roaming through the Rotterdam harbours, and for his young age on too friendly terms with the coarse sea-dogs. This may partly be true, but his manner is too sophisticated to be wholly self-styled and responds closely to the then fashionable Dutch variant of the French romantic manner. In 1843 an influential protector brought his work to the attention of Prince Hendrik of Orange-Nassau, 'the Seafarer'. He allowed Van Beest instantly to accompany him as one of three artists in his train through the Mediterranean, the others being Petrus Johannes Schotel and the 'Admiral of French seascape-painters' Theodore Gudin. In all Van Beest made three of these summertrips with the Prince, i.a. to Tunis and the ruins of Carthago. Addiction to drinking had dictated in the meantime his life during the winters. On board he turned out to be from time to time as unmanageable that he had to be locked up in one of the holds of the ship.
One day, after October 1847 as is demonstrated from the annotation in the present lot (p. 18), he suddenly disappeared from the house of his parents where he still lived if he did not pass the night sleeping in some shed in the harbour. They were not to hear much of him untill his death was reported in 1860 from New York. Albertus van Beest had died at the age of 39 in his atelier on Broadway 365.
After leaving the Netherlands he had traveled to Iceland, joined the Russian Navy as an artist, roamed about Brazil and the Falklands, and may also have been in the Dutch East-Indies. From 1855 onwards he was registered in New York and Massachusetts. He was regarded as a famous painted and met some success, although there are also reports of his untrustworthy lifestyle there.
Van Beest produced many finished sketchy drawings. The numerous small ones in circulation should be accounted for by his often immediate and urgent need for drinking-money. Over and above that Van Beest had a for his times unusual predilection for drawings on large sizes, most dominantly present in his fancy to unusually large sketchbooks. Four of these are kept in Dutch Museums. Two contain views that were drawn after nature during trips to the Mediterranean. The two others are filled with finished sketchy drawings of ships, boats, details of landscapes and seascapes, all with attractive mises-en-page, in various cases with several scenes together, and with a signature on each sheet. The present lot is similar to these two latter albums.
These three books are not sketchbooks in the usual sense of the word, i.e. books where ideas for compositions and observations after life are jotted down. They are albums that are filled with drawings that have no other function than being works of art in themselves. These books with drawings were to be sold as a whole, and they have only a few precedents in the history of drawing. Van Beest probably invented these ready-made albums to seduce buyers to take 'without their knowing' a larger amount of drawings at once than if presented in single sheets. This practice could probably bring him more profit than painting with oils. Van Beest is known to have boasted of his extraordinary rapidity in making drawings with pencil and brush. Several of the large drawing books he has filled have most probably since then been split up, a practice possibly foreseen or even indicated by the cunning Van Beest in putting his signature in each page. In one case we know that the artist himself tore out the pages of such a large sketchbook. He was cooking for friends on wood that would not catch fire and used the paper to get a good burn, saying: 'That is a cookery that cost me eighthundred guilders, but now the fish will be really done'.
The present lot gives a good survey of both the techniques used by Van Beest and of his choice of subject-matter. The boat lying on the beach but with a man on board, fishingboats in choppy sea, a running camel with his Eastern rider smoking a relaxed pipe - a theme through which he manifests himself as an early Dutch Orientalist -, a large rowingboat en profile, a sailing 17th century state-yacht seen from behind en trois quarts, more fishingboats, a threemaster, a paddle-steamer and a ferry-boat with men, cattle and a waggon. Last but not least there is also a representation of that particular romantic Van Beest-theme: a fragment of a wrecked mast in wild sea floting with some survivors clinging to it. As a whole the drawing in this book give a good and general overview of the special abbilities of this generally rather underestimated Dutch artiste maudit.
We like to thank Drs R.J.A. te Rijdt for his help in cataloguing this lot