By Peter C. Sutton
Between the two World Wars, Jacques Goudstikker was probably the most important Netherlandish dealer of Old Master paintings. As a relatively young man he catered to the rich and famous, to the leading collectors of his day as well as to museums, including the National Gallery, London, the Rijksmuseum and their benefactors. He sold to emerging collectors such as Andrew Mellon, then quietly collecting for the fledgling National Gallery of Art in Washington, but also carried in his stock something for virtually every taste and pocketbook.
Now that his paintings, so brutally confiscated by the Nazis, have been rightly restituted to his heirs, we can catch a glimpse of the variety and quality of the works that were on offer to Goudstikker's privileged clients nearly seventy years ago.
Indeed, through the three upcoming sales at Christie's, one can once again acquire a Goudstikker painting. They range from Italian trecento "goldbacks" to early Netherlandish paintings, Dutch Old Masters from the Golden Age, French Rococo, and 19th-century European paintings. However, Jacques' specialty was Northern Baroque art, specifically Dutch 17th-century painting. His offerings admirably attest to that era's most important contribution to the history of art, namely its unprecedented naturalism in compiling a record of the people, places and possessions of the freshly minted Dutch Republic.
The 19th-century French painter and art historian, Eugène Fromentin, once observed that Dutch painting, regardless of subject-matter, is portraiture. Whether depicting an actual individual, a landscape, a genre scene or a still life, all Dutch painting was designed to portray and record, albeit sometimes in a flattering, less than literal way, the Dutch people, their watery little country, social mores, and the evidence of their material prosperity, so proudly won in the face of what was then ferocious global competition.
What better expression of that understated yet worldly confidence than the pair of exceptionally well preserved pendant portraits of 1623 here on offer by Jan Anthonisz. van Ravesteyn (fig. 1 & 2 ). Ravesteyn was a successful painter to the Dutch court in The Hague and while we do not know the identity of the very proper couple in the Ravesteyn's paintings, the artist's careful observation of their reserved personages and the high degree of finish that he brings to the record of their costly finery speaks to the essence of Dutch painting.
Dutch portraiture was more in fashion in Goudstikker's day than in subsequent decades, when it seemed that virtually the only portraitists that post-war collectors recognized (especially in the United States) were Frans Hals and Rembrandt, but in recent years the virtues of these distinguished Dutch portraitists, many of whom were more famous in their own time, have come back in favor.
And who could question the vitality and immediacy of such images when considering a painting like the bristling, mustachioed Portrait of Jean le Gouche by the gifted Haarlem portraitist and contemporary of Hals, Johannes Cornelisz. Verspronck (fig. 3 ).
The Dutchman's pride in his newly independent country, large portions of which, we recall, had been laboriously reclaimed from the sea, was perhaps best expressed in their naturalistic landscapes. These often depict seemingly unpromising subjects such as dunes, polders, or Holland's extensive inland waterways-rivers, canals, estuaries-which provided the country's remarkably efficient transportation and communication network.
One of the greatest masters of this specialty was Salomon van Ruysdael, uncle of the better known landscapist, Jacob van Ruisdael. While Salomon's teacher is unknown, he probably studied with Esaias van de Velde, one of the first true landscape painters and a specialist in river views. Salomon in turn became a pioneer of "tonal" landscape painting, which brought an unprecedented naturalism to the subject, with sweeping diagonal compositions, a limited range of hues and unifying atmospheric effects. Nearly a quarter of his production was devoted to views of canals and rivers; however, his genius was in his almost infinite ability to vary the elements of his subject, ringing the changes, as it were, on this favored theme.
One of the finest works in this offering of the Goudstikker paintings is the Ferry Boat with cattle on the River Vecht near Nijenrode of 1649 (fig. 4 ). An accomplished mature work by the master, it characteristically fills the entire foreground with still water, while the tree-lined riverbank gently retreats from left to right beneath a windswept sky. The diagonal recession is mediated by the darkened form of the crowded ferry boat in the foreground, which also serves to enhance the sense of spatial relief. Many wealthy Dutch families built country homes along the Vecht River in the 17th century, and the present painting has special significance for this collection since the Goudstikker family owned Nijenrode Castle, which still stands today.
Among the other Dutch landscapes in these sales is a fine view of The entrance to a harbor (fig. 5 ) by the gifted marine painter and contemporary of Salomon, Simon de Vlieger, as well as works by Salomon's partner in the advancement of "tonalism," Jan van Goyen, and a large and brooding Extensive landscape with trees and a cottage (fig. 6 ) by the Rembrandt pupil, Philips Koninck, who rarely appears at public auction but is famous for his contributions to painterly landscapes and panoramas.
Since the Dutch were great seafarers and travelers, creating a trading empire that spanned the globe, they not only exported their people but also their artistic ideas. As remarkable as it may seem, the Dutch were the first to introduce naturalistic landscape painting to Italy. Many Dutch painters made the pilgrimage to Rome and a group of them, including Johannes Lingelbach, formed an association there known as the Bamboccianti, which the local authorities sought to repress, in part because of the artistic competition but also because of their rowdy initiation rites and socializing.
The Dutchmen came to study not only the Eternal City's great monuments and the majestic art of the Renaissance and Antiquity, but also contemporary Italian street-life and Rome's picturesque citizenry. An excellent example of Linglebach's keenly observed art with nimble little figures is the Italian river landscape with figures and horses to be offered in the London sale.
While the majority of the works then are Dutch, Jacques Goudstikker also dealt extensively in 14th- and 15th-century Italian painting. An impressively monumental example is the Saint Lucy by Jacopo del Casentino (fig. 7 ). Here too one finds notable 18th-century French and Italian paintings, including a lovely grisaille by François Boucher of The Judgment of Paris and Pietro Longhi's The Fritole Seller (fig. 8 & 9 ). Thus the New York sale offers a representative sampling of Jacques Goudstikker's extensive inventory, and provides an historic opportunity to restore his stature as an exceptionally astute and successful dealer, and tell the distressing story of the illegal seizure of his property and its triumphal return.
Peter C. Sutton, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut