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A SHORT HISTORY OF THE ART GALLERY SCHEEN
The name Scheen is a household word among art lovers, one which will forever be associated with the matchless lexicon which has already gone into three editions. Less well-known, however, is what else the compiler of this reference work, Pieter Arie Scheen (b. April 1, 1916) did during his long working life.
He was not the first art dealer by the name of Scheen. His father Pieter Scheen (Leiden February 27, 1874-The Hague July 12, 1952) was originally a headmaster, who in his leisure hours became a competent restorer and amateur painter. He did mainly landscapes, in the style of the masters of the Hague School, which he signed 'Pieters'. In 1916 he decided to set up shop as an art dealer in a ground floor flat at Zeestraat 65A in The Hague, where his son Pieter was born. The upstairs flat was occupied by the photographer Henri Berssenbrugge, who in 1920 took over the entire house. Scheen moved across the street to Zeestraat 54, opposite the Mesdag Panorama. In the tastefully furnished rooms on the ground floor he mounted an opening exhibition which was highly praised by his fellow art dealer J.H. de Bois in the weekly De Hofstad. Scheen's tastes were wide-ranging. Paintings by Willem de Zwart, Josef Israels, B.J. Blommers and Louis Apol were on exhibit, alongside contemporary work by Han van Meegeren and Chris van Ees. The following year Scheen decided to branch out. Alongside nineteenth- and twentieth-century works, he also exhibited a small panel entitled Aanbidding der Koningen (Adoration of the Kings), which he attributed to the fifteenth-century Flemish artist Joost van der Beecque, and a genre scene by the seventeenth-century painter Richard Brakenburg. However, the emphasis was always on works from the nineteenth century.
During the twenties and thirties Scheen the elder sold mainly paintings and watercolours by representatives of the Romantic School in Holland, including Bakker Korff, Leickert, Apol, Bosboom and members of the Koekkoek family. He purchased his paintings from colleagues in The Hague, such as L.J. Krüger and S.J. Sala, and from H. van der Ploeg's Hollandsche Kunsthandel in Amsterdam. From time to time Scheen travelled to London, where he bought works by Dutch painters. For a short time in 1922 the firm even had a branch there, at 5 Carlisle Street, near Soho Square.
His son Pieter A. Scheen was something of a ne'er-do-well, who was expelled from various schools before joining his father's firm in 1931, at the age of fifteen. There he learned the trade and early on displayed a talent for documentation. He devoted himself mainly to collecting information on Dutch artists active during the period 1750-1850, together with as many photographs of their work as possible. This was considerably more difficult than it is today. When the Second World War broke out, the twenty-four-year-old Scheen travelled every day to the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Royal Library), where he went through the Thieme/Becker artists' lexicon in search of data on Dutch artists. His aim was to compile a lexicon of Dutch painters and draughtsmen active during the period 1750-1850. It was to be published in 1944, but in the end did not appear until just after the war, in 1946, under the title One hundred years of Dutch painting and drawing. Romanticism, its rise and decline (1750-1850). The book contained no fewer than 3.000 biographies of painters and draughtsmen who died after 1750 and were born before 1850. There were some 400 illustrations, many previously unknown. Scheen also hoped to compile a lexicon on the Belgian painters active during this period, but this project was never realized, presumably due to lack of time.
For many people the book came as a complete surprise, according to a 1944 letter from A. Staring to J. Knoef, then the acknowledged authorities on eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century Dutch art respectively. They wondered who this 'P. A. Scheen' was, and whether the book could possibly be a solid piece of scholarship. At the R.K.D. (Netherlands Institute for Art History) they had no doubts. Scheen was a regular visitor to the institute, and during the war he had even been asked by acting director J.G. van Gelder to join the staff as a volunteer. In the end he did not take up the position.
Shortly after the war Pieter A. Scheen took over his father's firm on Zeestraat. From 1947 on he organized annual - later semi-annual - exhibitions in which new acquisitions were displayed. Scheen searched out unknown work by the artists of Dutch Romanticism and the Hague School, in order to introduce them to a wider audience. And he did not shrink from drawing the attention of Dutch art lovers to 'new' artists from the period 1750-1880. These exhibitions were mounted not only at the Zeestraat address, but in various other locations throughout the country, including Amersfoort, Tilburg and Groningen. Each exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue in which several of the top pieces were reproduced. He also had photographs made of all the works that passed through his hands or that he was able to track down. These illustrations were part of a growing photographic archive which ultimately consisted of many thousands of reproductions. When there were doubts about the authenticity of a work, these reproductions made it possible to quickly identify forgeries. Scheen became a tireless advocate for the Dutch Romantic School. In fact in 1952 he went so far as to organize a retrospective exhibition of the then almost forgotten genius, Wijnand Nuyen, at the Mesdag Panorama.
Gradually more and more space at these exhibitions was reserved for works by the artists of the Hague School. Not only the catalogues reflect this shift in accent on the part of the firm, but also a book on the Hague School compiled by the literary historian Gerben Colmjon, in collaboration with Pieter A. Scheen. This work was published in Dutch in 1950 and in English a year later. According to Colmjon, it was based largely on the almost inexhaustible expertise and recollections of Johan Tersteeg (1873-1953), the last director of the firm of Boussod, Valadon & Cie (formerly Goupil & Cie) in The Hague. All the illustrations were taken from Pieter Scheen's documentation. By the early fifties Scheen's name was firmly established. In 1951 the minister of Education, Arts and Science appointed him commercial expert for the consultancy 'Import and export of historical and art objects' of the Foundation for the Art Trade. The firm was now so successful that in 1953 Scheen was able to move into a larger building at Zeestraat 50.
Almost all of Scheen's customers were private individuals, alongside a number of museums, such as the Haags Gemeentemuseum, the Frans Halsmuseum in Haarlem, the Gemeentemuseum in Arnhem, and the Jan Cunenmuseum in Oss. In 1957 the latter museum purchased seven works from the Romantic School; as a token of his appreciation, Scheen gave the museum three drawings by Bosboom. Six years later the same museum purchased a painting by Matthew Maris, Het betoverde kasteel (The enchanted castle). Not only did he sell the Haags Gemeentemuseum paintings and watercolours, during preparations for the exhibition Masters of the Hague School in 1965, Scheen also helped to track down works which had been sold abroad. The organizers of the Nuyen exhibition (1977), also held in the Haags Gemeentemuseum, were likewise able to rely on the documentation - and commitment - of Pieter A. Scheen.
Scheen purchased art works not only in Holland, but also abroad, regularly travelling to Scotland, Canada and the United States. Around the turn of the century many Dutch art dealers, including A. Preijer, E.J. van Wisselingh & Co and Maison Artz, and a number of English, Scottish, American and Canadian firms had sold Dutch Romantic and Hague School works in the New World. Scheen placed advertisements in local newspapers, offering the 'highest prices' for works by Bilders, Bosboom, Gabriel, the Maris brothers, Mauve, Mesdag, Roelofs, Tholen and Weissenbruch. Through his efforts many of the paintings and watercolours which had once been exhibited abroad again came into Dutch hands. In the sixties and seventies, Scheen was instrumental in creating a good market for these works in Holland.
Although Scheen continued his search for unknown work, the supply began to dwindle in the course of the seventies and eighties. In the meantime, however, Scheen had invested a great deal of time in an ambitious project. First he looked up the birth and death dates of thousands of artists. He then had the Hague photographer A. Dingjan make photos of all the paintings, watercolours and drawings that had gone through his hands. His collection, which now consisted of countless thousands of reproductions, again proved its worth in the preparation the two-volume Lexicon Nederlandse beeldende kunstenaars 1750-1950 (Lexicon of Dutch artists), which appeared in 1969-70, and the production of the annual calendars published by the firm. The Lexicon was such a success that a number of pirate editions appeared.
In September 1975 Pieter A. Scheen retired as director of the firm. His son-in-law Joop L. Breeschoten, who had assisted him since 1969, took over the running of the business, together with his wife Tineke. Scheen remained a consultant to the firm, which continued to enjoy the benefit of his knowledge and expertise. His son Pieter Scheen Jr. took over responsibility for the firm's publications, and in 1981 the Lexicon Nederlandse Beeldende kunstenaars, 1750-1880 appeared, a revised edition of the lexicon which his father had published in 1969-70. For practical reasons the artists discussed in this work died after 1750 and were born in or before 1880. For some time the firm was also involved in the publication of the art journal Tableau. Between 1980 and 1987 the art dealer Pieter A. Scheen ran an advertisement on the striking back page of the journal. The book which Jan Juffermans devoted to Albert Roelofs was published by 'art dealer P.A. Scheen b.v.' and appeared in 1982. This project was a financial debacle. Unfortunately, this meant that a book on W.B. Tholen, for which the illustrations had already been selected, could not be published. This marked the end of the firm's publications.
The business continued in existence for another ten years. The accent was now on representatives of the Hague School and the Impressionists, works which Breeschoten bought mainly in Canada. In 1991 the business was rather abruptly closed and sold with the entire inventory, including the reproduction apparatus and the library, to the present owner. Now, over ten years later, Christie's Amsterdam is honored to auction the following selection of paintings and works on paper from the collection from the collection of Kunsthandel Pieter A. Scheen B.V.
Author of works on the art dealers J.H. de Bois and E.J. van Wisselingh & Co.
EVENING SESSION AT 7.00 P.M.
A Selection from Kunsthandel Pieter A. Scheen B.V. (Lots 185-218)