During his lifetime Barend Cornelis Koekkoek was highly acclaimed and received numerous awards and decorations. King Willem II of the Netherlands, King Friedrich-Wilhelm IV of Prussia and Czar Alexander II were among his patrons and he received a great many commissions to that end. The first purchase by King Willem II of a work by Koekkoek was Het boslandschap met stoffage van boeren en vee which was executed in 1839. Koekkoek had won two gold medals with it, in The Hague in 1839 and in Paris in 1840.
King William II ascended the throne in 1840. Like his father he was conservative and not likely to initiate changes in the constitution. He intervened less in political affaires than his father had done before him. However, there was an increasing demand for broad constitutional reform and a wider electoral franchise. And although he was personally conservative and not a democrat, William II acted with sense and moderation. When the Revolutions of 1848 broke out across Europe and the Bourbon-Orleans monarchy fell in Paris, William feared a possible revolution in Amsterdam. One morning he woke up and said: 'I changed from conservative to liberal in one night'. He ordered Johan Rudolf Thorbecke to create a new constitution which included that the Eerste Kamer (Senate) would be chosen indirectly by the Provincial States and that the Tweede Kamer (House of Representatives) would be chosen directly.
Although his governmental deeds were dictated by moderation, his accumulation of fine art knew no bounds. After he had come to the throne he immediately extended his palace on Kneuterdijk in The Hague, adding a large amount of halls and galleries in the neo-Gothic style. The king, an enthusiastic amateur architect, made the designs himself. He had been an ardent collector ever since he had started at the age of 23 in Brussels. Although his collection had suffered twice, once at the hands of fire in 1820 and once at the hands of revolutionaries during the Belgian uprising in 1830, the King was able to acquire a large collection.
In 1845 he invited Barend Cornelis to join him on a tour of Luxembourg. It was announced officially in 1846 that Koekkoek would create a series of nine paintings depicting various scenes within the Duchy. The Kunstkronijk states:
'Tijdens zijner Majesteits verblijf in het Groothertogdom Luxemburg bevond zich aldaar de heer B.C. Koekkoek uit Kleef. Meermalen vergezelde de kunstenaar den vorstelijken hofstoet bij herhaalde pleiziertogtjes naar buiten, en ontwierp dan studien en schetsen van de schoonste partijen en gezichten. Thans verneemt men dat het Z.M. behaagt heft den beroemden landschapsschilder een negental schilderijen ter vervaardiging op te dragen, alleen tafreelen uit het Luxemburgsche en speciaal H.D. partikuliere domeinen. De verdienstelijke meester zal ongetwijfeld deze eervolle taak geheel zijner waardig vervullen'.
The paintings vary in size, probably to suit his Majesty's gallery. It took Koekkoek two years to complete the series for which he was highly praised by his patron. The whereabouts of eight of these nine masterpieces are known today.
The present lot depicts figures on a mountain pass with the village and the Chateau of Larochette (or Fels as it is known in German) in the distance. The main theme is of course the topography, thus adhering to the commission. Noteworhty is that the situation as depicted in the present lot is still relatively unchanged. Unlike much of Koekkoeks work the present lot is an accurate representation of the situation as it was at the time of the artist. Overall the series is characterized by modest and subtle staffage. The only artistic licence Koekkoek permitted himself in the present lot is the pastoral character created by the group in the foreground. This group serves as a repoussior, drawing the spectators' eye to the village and castle ruin in the distance. The present lot may be considered as one of the finest paintings in the Luxembourg series. Its appearance at auction will offer collectors a rare opportunity to acquire a work of historical importance and fit for a King.
We would like to thank Drs Guido de Werd for kindly confirming the authenticity of the present lot after firsthand examination.