5

Auction, Exchange, Traffic and Trickle-Down: Dutch Influence on English Art

The execution of Charles I in London on 30 January 1649, and the death from smallpox of Prince William II at The Hague in November 1650, coincidentally brought both Orange and Stuart aspirations in art and culture, as they manifested themselves in the public domain, together with their long- and short-term political ambitions, to an abrupt halt.

The mirrored dynastic disasters for the Orange and Stuart élites are well conveyed by the wording of the legislation passed in May 1651 by the States General in the Dutch Republic, at the request of Oliver Cromwell’s ‘brotherly’ republican administration in England, prohibiting Prince William’s young widow, Princess Mary Stuart, from offering sanctuary to, or harbouring in any way, her exiled brothers or their followers:

We propound, that no rebel or declared enemy of the commonwealth of England shall be received into or be suffered to abide in any of the castles, towns, ports, creeks, or other places privileged or not privileged, which the Prince of Orange, Princess Mary the relict of William late Prince of Orange, or any other person, of what degree soever, have or hereafter shall have or possess by any title whatsoever within the dominions and jurisdictions of the United Provinces, nor suffered by the said Prince, Princess, or any other person, to any such rebel or declared enemy, but shall openly and expresly prohibit and hinder the same.1

Any infringement of this order would result in the ‘forfeit and losse’ of all lands and titles ‘for their respective lives’.

The two calamities did not, however, as we might perhaps have expected, interrupt the activities of Dutch artists, nor slow down the buying and selling of Dutch art in both England and the United Provinces. Rather, they temporarily displaced them from the realm of dynastic ostentation to the domestic sphere. The collapse of court culture on both sides of the Narrow Sea produced an unexpected flurry of movement within the artistic and musical communities in both countries, as courtiers and court hangers-on attempted to continue to make a livelihood, and to promote their cultural interests in the drastically reorganised social landscapes of Commonwealth London and Stadholderless Holland.

On the English side of the Channel, we get a strong sense of this defining period of reorganisation and redistribution of art interests through the well-documented rapid sale and dispersal at the end of the English Civil Wars, as settlement for the King’s huge accumulated debts, of the extensive collections built up by Charles I. Shortly after Charles’s execution, plans were set in motion by the new republican government for the disposal of his personally much-loved and internationally highly-regarded collection of paintings and sculpture. The sale was based on the meticulous inventory drawn up in 1640 by the royal keeper Abraham van der Doort. In the autumn of 1649 some 1,570 paintings were offered for sale, to buyers from England and abroad.2

In terms of its capacity to raise revenue, the sale proved a disappointment. Not only were prices inevitably depressed by the sheer quantity of quality artworks suddenly released onto the market, but other collections, including those of the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Arundel, were put up for sale at almost the same time.

Times were bad and money was in short supply. There were many in England who felt uneasy about profiting from the King’s downfall, and foreign buyers, although encouraged to participate, preferred to buy anonymously, and at one remove, from the speculators who moved in to make a quick profit by buying low and selling on at a much higher price. The most prominent Parliamentary purchaser was Colonel John Hutchinson, who had been a member of the tribunal that pronounced the death sentence on the King. He spent £1,349 acquiring a large number of works, including two voluptuous, oversized nudes by Titian, Pardo Venus and Venus with Organ Player. Colonel William Webb (another prominent figure in the Parliamentary administration) bought a number of van Dyck’s portraits of the Stuart royal family.

Knowledgeable art connoisseurs from abroad were shocked at the low prices for which works of art by great named artists could be acquired in the aftermath of the English King’s execution. Sir Constantijn Huygens’s third son, Lodewijk, was in London in 1651 as part of a delegation from the States General of the United Provinces sent to pursue possible closer links with the new English Commonwealth following the execution of Charles I. On the face of it, the prospects for an alliance between the two Protestant republics looked promising. The delegation, however, was made up of strong supporters of the house of Orange, with an equally strong continuing commitment to the rule of their Stuart cousins in England, and came to nothing. As a dutiful Huygens son, Lodewijk made use of the opportunity for tourism, to visit Somerset House – former home of Queen Henrietta Maria – where the dead Charles I’s art collection was on display, with everything up for sale to the highest bidder:

We went to Somerset House again and saw a number of beautiful things, among them the most costly tapestries I ever saw. One room was valued at £300. In that same room were many antique and modern statues, though nearly all damaged. There was also a unicorn cane as thick as an arm, with a large crystal knob.

Lodewijk’s training in connoisseurship under the able tutelage of his father, Sir Constantijn, allowed him confidently to identify some of the paintings ranged in disorderly fashion around an upstairs room as of real artistic importance and high value. He was astonished at the low estimates placed on them, though in such uncertain times most of these items failed to realise even these deflated prices:

In a gallery above, we saw a very large number of beautiful paintings, but all so badly cared for and so dusty that it was a pitiable sight. There was an admirable portrait by Van Dyck of King Charles sitting on a white horse, which could be obtained for £150. Five or six Titians, however, surpassed everything else there, and yet these also could be purchased at a very reasonable price. All these goods, brought together from several of the King’s houses, had been given in payment to some creditors of the late Sovereign, who did their best now to get rid of them.3

Long before Lodewijk toured Somerset House, incredulous at the artistic riches lying around in neglect, it became obvious that the sale was not meeting expectations. By May 1650 only 375 pictures, roughly a quarter of the total, had been disposed of, for £7,700 in all. A special committee was convened, empowered to settle the debts of former royal servants and other needy creditors with a combination of cash and goods from the collection. The creditors in their turn endeavoured to sell the valuable pictures on. Bakers and butchers, purveyors of bread and meat for the royal household, whose outstanding bills were settled in the form of works of art were only too keen to unload them back onto the market, thereby deflating prices still further. Foreign buyers (generally acting anonymously through local intermediaries) took advantage of the situation. Important works were discreetly acquired by agents acting for the King of Spain, Philip IV – an enthusiast for paintings and other art objects, with a collection to match that of Charles I. A number of important paintings from the King’s collection were bought by Dutch collectors, who felt less inhibited than the English about snapping up bargains by painters admired in the Netherlands. While the works acquired by English collectors were forcibly returned to Charles II at the Restoration in 1660, some of those which had been dispersed farther afield remained in the hands of their purchasers. I shall argue that this has had a curious effect upon our retrospective evaluation of what constituted ‘great’ art in the eyes of the English and the Dutch in the middle years of the seventeenth century.

In the United Provinces, the Stadholderless period (1650–72) had a less obvious impact on fine art and its distribution. In spite of the fact that William III, as a mere infant, could not immediately lay claim to the Stadholdership, and that three years later, under pressure from Cromwell, the States General passed legislation permanently banning the house of Orange from ever again holding that office, the courts of the widowed Princess Royal, the widowed Amalia van Solms, and the widowed and exiled Elizabeth of Bohemia continued to operate as beacons of cultural and artistic activity throughout the 1650s and ’60s. One might, indeed, argue that, for the widowed Princess Royal and her mother-in-law Amalia, it became of even greater importance than previously to affirm their international importance and political status by continuing to enlarge their collections of artistic treasures. Just as in the 1630s the leading courtiers around Charles I had jostled for position by competitively purchasing the best and most exotic of art and luxury objects to grace their cabinets of curiosities and galleries, so now the three royal Princesses in The Hague competed for cultural prominence by commissioning paintings, hosting sumptuous balls and masques, and presiding at elegant musical soirées.

The continuing flow of commissions for portraits and engravings of the Princess Royal and her family, under Huygens’s watchful eye, and their circulation as gifts around Continental Europe, was a pragmatic part of this strategy for keeping the house of Orange and Prince William III in the public eye. A thriving community of artists conducted their business from The Hague, and a striking number of young Dutch painters continued to gain their early experience in the studios of portraitists working there.

Furthermore, the Dutch already had a distinctly different attitude towards works of art from their English neighbours. Art-purchasing in the United Provinces was not confined to those in court circles and high society. In the Netherlands fine art already appealed to, and found a market among, town-dwellers and those in commercial circles with large amounts of disposable income. Paintings hung on the walls of the homes of prosperous tradesmen, and the wills of local dignitaries included carefully itemised inventories of paintings and art objects. English travellers comment in their letters and diaries on paintings hanging on the walls of those they would not expect (because of their rank and occupation) to own them. The same English assumption that only the nobility collect art informs the ‘world turned upside down’ sentiments expressed in London following Charles I’s execution when witnesses claimed to be aghast at the sight of van Dyck portraits of the King and his family hanging on the walls of the royal baker.

Dutch purchasers who acquired works from the English royal collection in 1651 were not necessarily of elevated rank, nor – in the 1650s and 1660s – necessarily associated with the house of Orange, prevented by legislation from taking up its traditional ruling position in the Republic. In the United Provinces, men of means, but not of elevated birth, were proud, by the mid-seventeenth century, to own and display works of art.

As a consequence, in Amsterdam, Antwerp and Rotterdam (the main centres for art production and its sale), dealers in cheaper works of art flourished alongside those controlling the commissioning, acquisition and sale of bespoke paintings for wealthy private purchasers. The leading historian of the economics of art at auction in seventeenth-century Holland, John Michael Montias, has distinguished between the activities of high-class dealers acquiring works by well-known artists for relatively knowledgeable and wealthy clients, and those encouraging a demand for less ostentatious art by ordering cheaper originals and copies: ‘while some dealers specialised in mediating the demands for art works, others concentrated on increasing the supply of works available in the market’.4 A figure like Huygens’s close friend, the Antwerp diamond merchant and art dealer Gaspar Duarte, for example, himself a very considerable art collector who entertained the great and the good in his luxurious private home, clearly helped shape and develop the tastes of those who purchased from him.5 We can see the effect of Gaspar Duarte’s influence if we look at the inventory of Duarte artworks made on behalf of his son Diego in 1683. This listed more than two hundred paintings including works by Holbein, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, van Dyck and Vermeer (Young Lady Playing the Clavecin, with Accessories, believed to have been given to Duarte by Huygens).

By contrast, the turnover in artworks offered to ordinary individuals on the open market – through general dealers or at auction – was much faster, and included those bought largely for investment purposes. Accessible markets held two or three times a year, at which paintings were freely bought and sold, were a source of some astonishment to English travellers. Visiting such a Dutch art fair in 1641, John Evelyn commented:

We arrived late at Rotterdam, where was their annual mart or fair, so furnished with pictures (especially landscapes and drolleries, as they call those clownish representations), that I was amazed. Some of these I bought, and sent into England. The reason of this store of pictures, and their cheapness, proceeds from their want of land to employ their stock, so that it is an ordinary thing to find a common farmer lay out two or three thousand pounds in this commodity. Their houses are full of them, and they vend them at their fairs to very great gains.6

Art auctioned in Antwerp passed from one owner to another quite rapidly, whereas élite owners considered their acquisitions as part of a sustained process, sometimes extending over an entire lifetime, of building a valuable and distinguished collection. The middle half of the seventeenth century was a period during which plague and other epidemics took their toll. It was also a period of fluctuating financial fortunes, with bankruptcy a frequent occurrence among those trying to make their living in the new markets. Art collections crop up regularly in the ‘Orphan Chamber’ auctions in Amsterdam, at which the possessions of deceased citizens were sold on behalf of their underage heirs, in order to provide for their subsequent upbringing, and in the so-called ‘Desolate Boedelkamer’ (bankruptcy chamber). Here, complete collections of systematically accumulated paintings which had hung on the walls of one family home, pass to another. In a number of such cases, relatives of the deceased acquired several items, or entire collections, thereby keeping well-loved works in the family.7

Paulus Bisschop, whose art collection was auctioned by his widow in 1620, was born in London to parents from the south Netherlands, and lived there until at least 1601, when he was betrothed to Elizabeth van der Moer. After Elizabeth’s death he remarried, and moved back to the Low Countries, where he built up a significant collection of paintings by northern artists. Bisschop’s second wife was Petronella van Baerle, the sister of David van Baerle. Another sister of David’s, Susanna, married Sir Constantijn Huygens. At the auction of Paulus Bisschop’s art collection, David van Baerle bought four Dutch paintings, while another brother, Johan van Baerle II, bought four further paintings and ‘an atlas with horn bound in gold’.8 All but one of the paintings – including several landscapes and a ‘painting of a market with fruit’ – cost them between nine and fifty-six guilders; the most expensive of the works acquired was a landscape by Gillis van Coninckloo, for which Jan paid 120 guilders. When David himself died, his 1671 inventory still contained a number of the paintings he had acquired more than fifty years earlier.

Auctions, however, introduced a further element of risk into the acquisition of works of art. Private dealers could be asked to vouch for the authenticity of a work attributed to a particular artist, and buyers could – and did – complain to the supplier of a painting if it failed to comply with the description provided by them. Sir Dudley Carleton, for instance, protested to Rubens that paintings offered to him as by the hand of the artist himself were in fact largely the work of his studio. Rubens was quick to replace them with works he could vouch for as being entirely his own – it would not do to acquire a reputation for passing off inferior work as original. In a market in which legitimate copies of rare works and works by prestigious artists circulated freely, a bidder at auction might find himself with a copy when he had believed himself to be bidding on an original.

Jan Meurs, an Antwerp city councillor, died in January 1652. He left an impressive collection of paintings, largely by artists from the region, and the sale of his effects in May caused a considerable stir. A number of items were carefully identified in the sale catalogue as copies (mostly of rare works which Meurs knew he was unlikely ever to get the chance to purchase as originals). Several further items, however, were listed as originals, but had had questions raised about them by the auctioneer, Hendrik Tessers, who was knowledgeable about paintings. One of these was a Cattle Market by Jan I Brueghel, which Tessers was unsure was genuine. At the auction itself, Tessers began the bidding on the Brueghels with a landscape, which was bought by the painter and art dealer Jan Siebrechts for 204 guilders. The next lot was the Cattle Market, presented as an authentic original, and after lively bidding this went to Peter van Halen, painter and dean of the Guild of Saint Luke, for 160 guilders.

Once van Halen had got home and taken a close look at it, he decided that the painting he had bought was not an original but a copy. Furious at what he considered a deliberate deception, he rushed off to the Meurs family home, where Siebrechts, delighted with the landscape he had bought, was chatting to one of Meurs’s sons. Van Halen stood in the street and loudly demanded compensation, on the grounds that he had been sold a copy, and not an original (’gheen principael’). Finally Meurs’s son replied: ‘I cannot help you there – my father bought it as an original so we sold it as one.’ Van Halen retorted that the family had better get hold of the person who sold it to them to vouch for the painting, because he was going to go to law. After three years of lawsuits, van Halen managed to establish that the painting was indeed a copy: ‘his expertise overrode the picture’s supposed provenance, and he recovered his money as a buyer and his honour as dean of the painters’ guild’.9

There is, fortunately, a wealth of surviving documentary evidence, on the basis of which it is possible to take a closer look at some of the ways in which the initially separate trends in taste, stylistic appreciation and acquisition on the part of art-purchasers, patrons and connoisseurs in England and the United Provinces began to converge during the middle decades of the seventeenth century.

In the half-century before the 1650s dip in the fortunes of the houses of Stuart and Orange, the ground had already been thoroughly prepared for the effortless and easy transmission of art connoisseurship, artists and works of arts in both directions across the Narrow Sea. At the centre of the expanding network created by this developing, shared pool of taste and artistic enthusiasm we find, again and again, the figure of Sir Constantijn Huygens. In the previous chapter I described the process whereby his taste in art was shaped by his three trips to England between 1618 and 1624 – a process which, intriguingly, included close involvement in high-level dealing in contemporary art in English court circles. Now we need to look at his experiences of fine art in a Dutch context, between 1625, when he assumed the position of secretary to the new Dutch Stadholder, Frederik Hendrik, and the late 1660s, when the house of Orange resumed its pivotal position in Dutch politics and culture.

We are fortunate in having a detailed account by Constantijn Huygens himself of the artists he considered the leading lights of their generation, including precious critical comments on works of art we can still identify, and to which we can refer.

In an early fragment of autobiography written in the late 1620s and made public around 1630, Huygens, commenting on the state of contemporary Dutch art, selected for particular mention two young artists from Leiden for whom he predicted stellar careers: Jan Lievens and Rembrandt van Rijn. Here were two ‘moderns’ – contemporary young artists (both were under twenty-five at the time) – from modest backgrounds, whose virtuosity entitled them to consideration as outclassing in artistic terms more long-established names among Dutch painters. Demonstrating his command of the Dutch art world, Huygens conceded that Hendrik Goltzius and Michiel van Mierevelt were artists of distinction, but believed that Cornelis van Haarlem was old-fashioned. Although he criticised Hendrik Hondius for technical shortcomings as a painter of landscapes, he expressed the belief that a whole school of Dutch landscape painters, including Poelenburg, Uytenbroek, van Goyen, Jan Wildens, Paul Bril and Esaias van de Velde, were exceptionally accomplished, to the point of being able to show ‘the warmth of the sun and the movement caused by cool breezes’, and a match for artists from anywhere else in Europe.10

Dutch narrative history painters also meet with Huygens’s warm approval. He judges them a match for any of the Italians (hugely in vogue with the royal courts of England, Spain and Italy). Pieter Paul Rubens is, in Huygens’s view, undoubtedly the greatest of them, but he also names Honthorst, Terbrugghen, van Dyck and Janssens. He singles out a Medusa by Rubens for special approval – it ‘combines charm and horror’, especially because it is hidden behind a curtain, which is drawn back to create ‘terror’.

But above all, he expresses the view that the future of Dutch fine art lies with the younger generation of painters, from among whom he singles out Lievens and Rembrandt. Rembrandt is, Huygens thinks, superior to Lievens in judgement and in the representation of lively emotional expression. Lievens, however, depicts ‘that which is magnificent and lofty’, ‘larger than life’. Rembrandt, by contrast, ‘loves to devote himself to a small painting and present an effect of concentration’, as in his Judas Returning the Pieces of Silver. What impresses Huygens about this painting is Rembrandt’s ability ‘to depict expression, appropriate gestures and movement, particularly in the central figure of Judas, whose face is full of horror, whose hair is in wild disorder and whose clothes are torn, his limbs twisted, his hands clenched bloodlessly tight’. The whole body of the kneeling Judas ‘seems ravaged and contorted by his hideous despair’.

From this remarkable fragment we discover those characteristically modern and Dutch features of contemporary painting which drew the eye and the approval of Sir Constantijn: concentration, precision and detail in depiction, and above all, the capacity to convey intensity of personality and feeling by way of the painted image.

We gain further insight into Huygens senior’s taste through the surviving portrait Lievens painted of him, some time around 1625, concerning which we also have Huygens’s own critical comments.11 As Huygens describes it, once having met him (and been praised by him), Lievens badly wanted to paint him, and having obtained permission, arrived only a couple of days later, saying that he had been unable to sleep because of his excitement at the prospect.12

Huygens later described the sombre Lievens portrait as one of his ‘dearest belongings’. In spite of what others have said about the painting, Lievens has, he says, painted him as he was at the time. He goes on:

Still, some deem it necessary to point out that my pensive stare overshadows the natural cheer of my mind. To them, I’d like to say that I have myself to blame for this, because at the time I was seriously involved in very grave family matters, and, as things are wont to go, the concern that I tried to hide inside was not completely left without its trace in the expression on my face.13

Lievens’s portrait is broodingly dark and melancholy. As far as critical appreciation goes, we have a number of helpful comments by Huygens himself upon it. Portraitists, he tells us in that early autobiography, strive to represent the inward soul of their sitter, not simply his outward appearance. Nor is this as difficult as it sounds. ‘After all,’ he writes, ‘the expression on our face offers a highly reliable indication of the status of our soul.’ ‘In case someone would want to argue against this’, he goes on, he himself has learned it ‘not so much by the lessons given to me by others, but through personal experience and great attention to the matter’.14

In his 1629–30 appreciation of Lievens’s and Rembrandt’s pre-eminence as Dutch artists, Huygens senior urged the two of them (they were sharing a studio at the time) to go to Italy to further improve their technique. In fact, the career paths of the two men parted at this point, and Lievens took another route to international recognition. Some time in 1631 or early 1632 Sir Constantijn Huygens seems to have introduced him to Anton van Dyck, who was visiting The Hague, and who sketched Huygens for inclusion in his print series known as the Iconographia during his stay.15Lievens had already formed a plan to travel to England in 1629: in April of that year he petitioned the city guard of Leiden to release him from his obligation to serve on the night watch there for a period of three months, so that he could finish a painting commissioned by the Stadholder. He promised then to fulfil his obligation, unless he carried out his plan to travel to England. Now, a year and a half later, van Dyck seems to have persuaded him to try his luck with him at the English court.

Before he left, however, Lievens painted several fashionable ‘story portraits’ for the court of Frederik Hendrik and Amalia van Solms at The Hague, thereby smoothing his way into Stuart circles across the water in London. The most ambitious of these – a large Soothsayer – hung over the fireplace in the Stadholder’s own quarters: ‘Een stuck schilderei daer een waerseghster off een heyen in de handt goeder geluck seght’ (’A painting of a soothsayer telling fortunes by reading palms’). ‘The painting shows an old woman with a child on her back who has put down a basket and kneels, holding the palm of a richly clad young woman in a chair. Behind is a girl in white and to her right an African woman in silhouette.’16

Lievens’s reputation preceded him at the court of Charles I – Robert Carr had presented the King with a Lievens painting acquired by the Dutch Stadholder, while Charles I’s sister, Elizabeth of Bohemia, had commissioned a portrait of her eldest son by him. We can be sure that Huygens, who was a trusted adviser both to the household of Frederik Hendrik and to that of Elizabeth, and who knew the English Stuart court well from his three visits there, facilitated Lievens’s entry into patronage circles at Whitehall.

The transition was a success. Lievens’s biographer Orlers tells us that in London he, ‘thanks to his artful works immediately became famous, even to His Majesty the King, who he portrayed with his wife the Queen, the Prince of Wales his son and the Princess his daughter, together with many great Lords. He was richly paid by the King of Great-Britain for these.’17

Van Dyck’s dramatically successful career at the Stuart court in London is well documented. He had gone to England for the first time in 1620–21 at the invitation of the Earl of Arundel, who had made enquiries concerning his availability while he was still working for Rubens in Antwerp in 1620. Van Dyck travelled in Italy and France between 1621 and 1627, returning to Antwerp, and then visiting The Hague in 1631, at exactly the time that Lievens was at work there. Van Dyck moved to London via Brussels in 1632, arriving there by the beginning of April, and was named court painter to Charles I shortly after his arrival. The last evidence of Lievens’s presence in Holland is his signature on a document dated 6 February 1632, and his most recent biographer maintains that he and van Dyck must have arrived in London almost simultaneously.18

By the time Lievens arrived with van Dyck, Dutch and Flemish artists were already well established at the English court. Rubens, van Dyck and Gerrit van Honthorst had all had major commissions.

The Utrecht artist Honthorst had already travelled extensively in Italy before he was brought to the attention of Charles I by the English Resident Sir Dudley Carleton, who sent a sample of his work in 1621. It was in fact Balthasar Gerbier, acting as agent for the Duke of Buckingham, who in 1628 brought Honthorst to England, where he stayed for eight months, until the assassination of his patron sent him hurrying back to Holland, though not without substantial signs of recognition from Charles I: English citizenship, a £100-per-annum pension, a silver service and a horse. Honthorst settled at The Hague, where he became enormously successful as a portrait painter. His work for Elizabeth of Bohemia included a family portrait commissioned as a gift for the English King, Charles I.

Many major court commissions by van Dyck survive today in the Royal Collection in London, and further examples are distributed across Europe. By contrast, deceptively few works by Lievens from this period are to be found, in spite of the fact that according to Huygens he was known for his ‘indefatigable application to diligent labour’. In part, this is simply an accident of history (and his most recent biographer has suggested that works attributed to other artists are in fact Lievens’s). In part also, it may be a direct result of the way that Charles I’s collection was dispersed after his execution (by way of the auction, the viewing for which, as we saw, was attended by interested Dutch art connoisseurs, including Lodewijk Huygens), and also the way it was reassembled at the Restoration. While some works bought by overseas buyers were returned in 1660, many more remained in mainland Europe.

Lievens returned from England to the Netherlands in 1635 and settled in the second centre of art activity after The Hague, the Flemish trading city of Antwerp, shortly after van Dyck’s arrival there (though van Dyck, unlike Lievens, was to return for a further period to work in London). After a brief return to Leiden, he settled in Antwerp for the next nine years.

We have no comments by Sir Constantijn Huygens himself on the execution or critical success of a second immediately recognisable and frequently reproduced portrait, which hangs today in the Mauritshuis at The Hague. Constantijn Huygens senior was painted around 1640 by another artist who shuttled between patrons, clients and milieux in England and the United Provinces, Adriaen Hanneman. This is a family portrait, showing Huygens and his five children, their portraits placed symmetrically in roundels around the central portrait of their father, with the roundel at the bottom replaced by a cartouche, which contains an inscription. The work is probably a silent tribute to his wife Susanna (a portrait of whom might have sat in a sixth, completing roundel), who had died in 1637.

Portrait of William III as a child by Hanneman (1654).

Adriaen Hanneman had trained in The Hague with the portraitist Anton van Ravestijn, with whom Lievens had also worked during his period there.19 In 1626 Hanneman moved to London, where he may have worked as assistant to Daniël Mitjens (another Dutch artist who had worked first for the Earl of Arundel, and then for Charles I). In 1630 he married an English wife, Elizabeth Wilson, having first unsuccessfully courted the daughter of goldsmith Nicasius Russell. Although she may have died by 1635, it is clear that Hanneman was well integrated into London life, and a competent English-speaker.

Some time between 1638 and 1640 Hanneman returned to the United Provinces, settling in The Hague, where he married for a second time, the niece of his old master, Maria van Ravestijn. Thereafter he built a thriving portrait-painting business in The Hague, benefiting particularly from the arrival of a steady flow of privileged exiles from England, fleeing the Civil Wars. By 1645 he had gained the patronage of Frederik Hendrik and Amalia van Solms, and also that of Princess Mary Stuart (the ‘Princess Royal’). There can be no doubt that this patronage was secured through the efforts of Sir Constantijn Huygens, whose efforts to develop a sophisticated artistic style and iconography on behalf of both courts at The Hague were at their most successful and energetic at this time. In 1646, Hanneman painted the portrait of the fourteen-year-old Princess Mary, in a ‘jauntily feathered cap with a sheaf of arrows slung upon her back, a costume which imitates the “huntress” fashion employed several years before by her exiled Palatine cousins at the Hague’. In January 1650, we have a record of a payment made to Hanneman for ‘several likenesses executed by him in the service of the Princess Royal’.20

Hanneman also painted portraits of Charles II himself (1648), Charles’s sister, Henriette, Duchess of Orléans, his cousin Louise Hollandine (daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia), as well as prominent officials of the English court in exile, like Sir Edward Nicholas (1652 or 1653). The Princess Royal was an important and influential patron of Hanneman. ‘The close family ties between Dutch and English royal families continued to produce commissions for Hanneman even after the Royalists had all returned home. In 1664 he executed two copies of a portrait of William of Orange (both Royal Collection), for which he was paid 500 guilders. He also found patrons among wealthy residents of The Hague, including Cornelia van Wouw, whose portrait he painted in 1662 (van Wouw almshouse, The Hague). For these sitters he combined the glamorous style of van Dyck with the more sober Dutch tradition of portrait painting.’21

So when Hanneman painted the portraits of Sir Constantijn Huygens and his children in 1640, we may consider this picture as a monument to more than a family which had recently lost a mother. It is also a memorial to a fascinating moment in Anglo–Dutch art history, when the English Channel was no obstacle at all between artists and clients who confidently shared the same taste in the styles and execution of expensive portraiture. In The Hague, Princess Mary Stuart liked to sit for Adriaen Hanneman because he could converse with her in English during their sittings. Perhaps Sir Constantijn Huygens indulged his personal love of the English language by doing likewise.

While Hanneman took advantage of the turbulent times to build a flourishing business in portraits of Orange and Stuart princely sitters and English exiles associated with them at the courts in The Hague, another Dutch painter was doing the same for those in and around the milieu of Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians in England. Pieter Lely’s family came from The Hague, and he received his training in Haarlem as a pupil of the artist Frans Pieter de Grebber. By 1643 he was in London, where the Civil Wars interrupted his career as a promising portrait-painter, perhaps hoping to take the place of Anton van Dyck (who had died in 1641). During the Commonwealth years Lely seems to have continued to work for important former court patrons in London, while maintaining links with The Hague (he was there in 1656 on family property business), at the same time building up a clientele among influential Parliamentary and Commonwealth figures.

In 1653, three established Dutch portraitists resident in London – Pieter Lely, George Geldorp and Sir Balthasar Gerbier – petitioned Parliament for a commission to decorate Whitehall Palace with a series of paintings celebrating Parliament’s victories in the Civil Wars, including individual portraits of its most important generals and commanders. They proposed a large group portrait commemorating ‘the whole Assemblie’ of Parliament to decorate one wall of ‘the great Room, formerly called the Banqueting House’. On the opposite wall there was to be a group portrait of members of the Council of State.22 Although the proposal was not acted upon, the following year Lely painted the portrait of Oliver Cromwell. By 1658 Lely was described by the seventeenth-century historian William Sanderson as one of the seven notable ‘Modern Masters’ of English portrait painting.

At the Restoration in 1660, Lely had sufficiently hedged his bets, established a high enough reputation as a portraitist, and gained enough influential supporters in the King’s party, to be sworn in to the post of Charles II’s principal painter (George Geldorp also managed to survive the change of regime, and was appointed picture-mender and cleaner to Charles II). The first instalment of his annual pension of £200 ‘during pleasure as formerly to Sr A. Vandyke’ was made in October 1661, and he was granted naturalisation by Parliament on 16 May 1662 and exempted from paying local taxes.

Lely’s career continued to flourish, as the returning Royalists celebrated their return with family paintings proclaiming the new English royal order. His most important royal patrons were James, Duke of York (later James II), and his first wife, Anne Hyde. His first portraits of them were the pair of pendant paintings commemorating their wedding in 1660. These were commissioned by Anne’s father, Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon. Lely seems to have met the Hyde family in exile in The Hague, in that other cultivated courtly circle, with its shared Anglo–Dutch tastes and artistic preferences. Over a four-to-five-year period beginning in the early 1660s, the Duchess of York commissioned him to paint a group of three-quarter-length portraits, known as the ‘Windsor Beauties’, of the most good-looking women at her own and Queen Catherine of Braganza’s courts. Samuel Pepys records that he saw a full-length portrait of Anne, in a white satin dress, seated on a chair of state, in Lely’s studio on 18 June 1662, and a few years later Lely painted a seated full-length portrait in which Anne holds a tress of hair in her right hand.23

When Lely died in 1680 he was an extremely wealthy man, with a fashionable house on the piazza in Covent Garden, another house at Kew and further properties at Greetwell and Willingham in Lincolnshire and in The Hague. He was also the proud possessor of an impressive art collection of his own, containing no fewer than 575 paintings, although over half (about 320) were works either by himself or his studio. Of the rest the largest proportion were by Dutch and Flemish artists. Lely was an unusual and early example of a painter who also collected, and his interest in acquiring other artists’ work was probably triggered by that very sale of ‘the Late King’s Good’s’ in the early 1650s whose low prices and lack of orderliness had so shocked the young Lodewijk Huygens. Lely purchased eight paintings there, all of which were returned in 1661 to the ‘Committee for the Restoration of the Royal Collection’. The Dutch artist turned art dealer Gerrit van Uylenburgh, who worked briefly in Lely’s studio, valued the collection at approximately £10,000.

In 1631, Rembrandt and Lievens both painted different versions of the Crucifixion, perhaps as an official competition staged by Huygens. Immediately afterwards, Rembrandt was awarded the commission for a series illustrating Christ’s Passion for the Stadholder. In 1639, with the series still incomplete, Rembrandt wrote to Huygens to tell him that two paintings, ‘being the one where the dead body of Christ is laid in the grave and the other one where Christ rises up from the dead to the great shock of the guards’, were now complete:

I therefore would request if my lord could please tell his Highness of this and if my lord could please have the two pieces first delivered to your house as happened before. I will wait first for a short note to this effect.

And since my lord will be bothered with this business for the second time in recognition a piece 10 feet long and 8 feet high will be included as well which will do honor to my lord in his house.24

Like those dealing in art for the top end of the market today, Sir Constantijn Huygens became the possessor of a large work by Rembrandt of his own, as recompense for the time and trouble he had taken in securing the deal and seeing it through to completion.

Huygens retained his commitment to the talents of Lievens and van Dyck throughout his life. In 1633 he penned a commendatory distich on a sketch by Rembrandt of his old friend Jacob de Gheyn III (Huygens’s companion on that memorable first tour of the major private art collections of England):

Rembrandtis est manus ista, Gheinij vultus:

Mirare, lectore, es ista Gheinius non est.

[Rembrandt’s is the hand here, the face is de Gheyn’s:

Marvel, dear onlooker, that this is not de Gheyn in person.]

In the end, though, he (unlike us) preferred a more intense, painterly representation of human feeling, and greater attention to detail than that developed by Rembrandt in his maturity. Rembrandt’s name was not among those selected by Huygens senior to decorate the memorial room at the Huis ten Bosch following Frederik Hendrik’s death in 1647.

Sir Constantijn Huygens’s influence as an artistic facilitator, adding lustre to the reputations of the princely courts at The Hague by astute encouragement of talent and acquisition, was by no means limited to painting. An enthusiast for classical architecture, he also encouraged a generation of classical sculptors, whose work adorned houses like his own in The Hague. One of these was François Dieussart, with whom Huygens was closely involved for the ten years during which he lived and worked in The Hague (Dieussart arrived in 1641 bearing a letter of recommendation for Huygens from Gerrit van Honthorst). Through Huygens, Dieussart received a number of important commissions. The year of his arrival he executed an Italian marble bust of Elizabeth of Bohemia, followed by marble busts for the large reception room in Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen’s newly completed Mauritshuis, and a bust of the Elector of Brandenburg for an overdoor niche in the bedchamber. In 1646, Dieussart produced a dynastic series of full-length figures of the Princes of Orange for the Huis ten Bosch. For this last commission, Huygens was responsible for negotiating the conditions of delivery and the cost, as well as keeping an eye on the sculptor’s progress. In April 1646, Huygens wrote to Frederik Hendrik assuring him that he expected to get the price of the four statues reduced:

On Wednesday evening, the sculptor Dieussart will give me four little clay models for Madame’s [Amalia van Solms’s] statues. He is quoting 1000 francs each, not including the marble, which adds about another 200 francs, but I think I can make him see reason.25

Like other artists who had depended heavily on expensive commissions from within the court circle, Dieussart left The Hague in 1650, shortly after the death of William II.

By the Restoration, then, artistic taste and artistic practice on either side of the Narrow Sea were strenuously entwined. And throughout the period 1630–60, Sir Constantijn Huygens advised, facilitated and pressured in England and the United Provinces, establishing a vigorous dialogue between the growing number of connoisseurs both within and beyond court- or pseudo-court-related circles in both places. If developing tastes began to elide during this thirty-year period, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that he was in large part responsible.

So it is no surprise to find him involved in another watershed art ‘moment’ – the hasty assembling of a gift of suitably distinguished paintings by the States of Holland to present to the English King, Charles II, as he returned to his artistically-depleted kingdom in 1660.

In spring 1660, as Charles II gathered his supporters and future ministers around him in the northern Netherlands prior to his return to England to lay claim to the throne, the States of Holland and West Friesland resolved to secure the favour of the new King by making him a fine and memorable diplomatic gift. Its expensive centrepiece was a magnificent, highly decorated carved bed, with bed-furnishings, and there was also the promise of a handsome ship, to be called the Mary. But the ‘Dutch Gift’ also included a carefully selected group of paintings by major, recognised artists, and a number of classically inspired sculptures.

By the late 1660s, Sir Constantijn Huygens was in his seventies, with a career’s worth of experience brokering art and culture for the house of Orange. He occupied an unrivalled position in cultivated circles in the Dutch Republic, as arbiter of taste in all things cultural, from music and poetry to art and architecture. When it came to the delicate task of selecting a few Dutch pieces to include in the ‘Dutch Gift’, he was the obvious expert to consult.

Discreet enquiries had been made, and it had been determined that Charles’s taste, like his father’s, was for Italian art and antique statuary. Accordingly, most of the works presented were by Italian masters, beginning the process of reassembling a major collection for the English monarch to replace that sold off and dispersed by the Commonwealth in 1650. Art connoisseurship at The Hague now tended towards modern, Dutch works – visiting the palace of Rijswijk some years earlier, John Evelyn had commented that there was ‘nothing more remarkable than the delicious walks planted with lime trees, and the modern paintings within’.

So the Italian paintings and sculptures for Charles’s ‘Dutch Gift’ were acquired, conveniently, from the collection of the art-collecting brothers Gerrit and Jan Reynst, which had recently come on the market, following the death of Gerrit in 1658 (Jan had died in 1646).26 This was one of the most celebrated collections of Italian paintings of its time – though later the authenticity of a number of prominent works in it would become a very public matter of dispute.27 The States of Holland approached Gerrit Reynst’s widow, Anna, with the proposal that they should select from among her late husband’s paintings and sculptures a group of the most outstanding. In September 1660 the sculptor Erasmus Quellinus and the dealer Gerrit van Uylenburgh chose twenty-four pictures and twelve statues, which arrived in London at the beginning of November, and were exhibited in the Banqueting House at Whitehall. Charles II ceremoniously paid a visit to inspect the paintings, and his evident delight caused a considerable stir.28

In addition to the Italian artworks, with their acknowledgement of the Stuart taste of Charles II’s father, the Dutch Gift included four contemporary Dutch paintings. One of these was a classic near-contemporary work: Pieter Saenredam’s The Large Organ and Nave of the St Bavokerk, Haarlem, from the Choir (1648), which was purchased from the Amsterdam Burgomaster Andries de Graeff. The other three were bought directly from the much-admired ‘modern’ artist Gerrit Dou. One of these was a characteristic Dutch domestic interior (exquisitely detailed): Dou’s The Young Mother (1658), now in the Mauritshuis at The Hague.

In the case of Saenredam’s Large Organ and Nave of the St Bavokerk, Haarlem, from the Choir, the connection to Huygens’s patronage can be documented, since we can identify this very painting, acquired from de Graeff, as one that Huygens had seen some years earlier, and considered purchasing himself. On 21 May 1648, Pieter Saenredam wrote a letter to Huygens, following up an approach by Huygens on behalf of Stadholder Willem II concerning some newly completed works:

My Lord van Zuylichem, It pleases me very much to hear that His Highness has begun to take pleasure in paintings, that he indeed desired to see my recently completed great church, and that he wanted to have it shipped now, in which I foresee, on the basis of continuous experience, difficulties of such magnitude, too long to relate, that I do not dare ship it or take that risk.

Nonetheless I cordially wished that His Highness saw the same with his own eyes, as has happened with you, My Lord. I have had this piece along with five more of the largest brought to Monsr Vroons.

As for the price of the church, I trust that Your Excellency still recalls our oral discussion.29

Huygens had clearly been with Saenredam, seen the paintings, and discussed purchase prices. Nothing, however, came of the Stadholder’s interest in the St Bavokerk painting – Saenredam was never represented in the collections of the house of Orange. But it is possible that the six paintings were indeed sent via Vroom to The Hague, and five of them were purchased instead by Huygens himself, and thence entered the collections of members of his family. The Large Organ and Nave of the St Bavokerk, Haarlem, from the Choir, was sold to Andries de Graeff, from whose collection it was acquired by the States of Holland to give to Charles II.30 It is a particularly appropriate piece for the Protestant monarch, in a strongly symbolic moderate Protestant Dutch tradition.31

Recent work on the art market in the northern Netherlands has stressed the fact that in the mid-seventeenth century, ‘access to the latest artistic knowledge depended on personal introductions, from patrons to painters and painters to patrons. Even in the Dutch Republic, where painters sold their works through myriad channels, from auctions and dealers’ shops to fairs and lotteries, some of the most innovative and expensive art remained primarily accessible through private élite channels.’32 As well as his brokering of art acquisition for the house of Orange, Huygens also acted as just such a trusted facilitator, helping would-be collectors gain access to the already highly-esteemed northern Netherlandish painters in the 1660s.

Gerrit Dou received his training as an artist alongside Jan Lievens, in Rembrandt’s studio at Leiden. He entered Rembrandt’s studio in February 1628, at the age of fourteen, and remained there for three years, until he became ‘an excellent master’. Since Lievens painted Huygens’s portrait at just around this time, we may assume that Huygens also made the acquaintance of Gerrit Dou (though Dou was too young to be included in his autobiographical fragment from this period, which included a celebration of the Rembrandt studio).

In 1669, Pieter Teding van Berckhout, a patrician of The Hague with family connections to both the Huygens and Paets families, visited Delft in the company of Huygens. He noted in his diary that he paid a call on ‘an excellent painter named Vermeer’. On a second visit to the ‘celebrated painter named Vermeer’ van Berckhout saw several ‘curious perspectives’. In assessing the value of Vermeer paintings currently on the market, he and Huygens compared these with prices for comparable works by Gerrit Dou.33Here is somewhat more circumstantial evidence that Huygens probably played a part in selecting Dou’s work to be included in Charles II’s ‘Dutch Gift’.

The arrival of the Dutch paintings in the Royal Collection made a tremendous impression on the English art-appreciating public, particularly after their public display at Whitehall, and may be credited with helping to consolidate a taste and a flourishing market for contemporary northern Netherlandish art in Britain. Evelyn saw the Dou (and another ‘rustic’ painting) at court, on 6 December 1660, and wrote with approval:

I waited on my Bro: & sister Evelyn to Court: Now were presented to his Majestie those two rare pieces of Drolerie, or rather a Dutch Kitchin, painted by Douce [Dou], so finely as hardly to be at all distinguished from Enamail.34

The King himself is supposed to have been so charmed by the exquisitely detailed painting that he offered Dou the post of court painter (Dou declined).35

And the story of Anglo–Dutch cultural circulation and percolation does not, in fact, end here. When William III came to the throne in 1689, he quickly identified major works by artists Huygens had encouraged his family in the Low Countries to acquire in the English Royal Collection, and selected them to be shipped back to Holland, to be hung in his royal palaces, like Het Loo. There they joined the extensive house of Orange art collections, some of them – like the Dou Young Mother – being given pride of place for their exceptional quality.

The exquisite little Dou painting which had been included in the Dutch Gift to Charles II in 1660 was removed from London by William and Mary and taken to Het Loo, where it hung in pride of place over the fireplace in Queen Mary’s private apartments. An English visitor who had known her toured Queen Mary’s apartments at Het Loo around 1700, and reported on the splendour of the royal closet, or private sitting room, closely hung with exceptionally fine paintings:

In the first closet were several good paintings in bright colours. Through that we passed into a second which was hung with extraordinary fine paintings. There was a small piece of a woman rocking a cradle [the Dou], which was valued at 16,000 guilders.36

After William’s death, the English Crown had to apply to the Dutch government for the return of these paintings – with limited success. In the early-eighteenth-century inventory of paintings which ought to be returned to the Royal Collection in England, drawn up by the English Resident Ambassador Alexander Stanhope, the Dou was prominently listed as needing to be recovered. Today, it still hangs in the Mauritshuis – too beautiful a painting for the Dutch ever to have relinquished to the less appreciative English.37

Here, perhaps, lies the answer to the vexed question of what happened to the Jan Lievens works produced for the court of Charles I during the 1630s. A growing taste in England for Dutch painters of both portraits and landscapes developed from the 1660s, as exiles returning home absorbed tastes they had acquired abroad, which merged seamlessly with tastes established by Dutch artists working in England before the Commonwealth period. Samuel Pepys (to take just a single example) records his admiration for perspective paintings by Samuel van Hoogstraten that he had seen at wealthy city entrepreneur Thomas Povey’s house, and in 1669 himself commissioned his own Dutch ‘landskips’ in ‘distemper’ by Hendrick Danckerts made to measure for his living room: ‘Mr Dancre … took measure of my panels in my dining room where … I intend to have the four houses of the King, White Hall, Hampton Court, Greenwich and Windsor.’ Once these works were complete, Pepys pronounced them to be ‘mighty pretty’. Sir Pieter Lely owned at least three Danckerts landscapes at his death in 1680.

Dutch artists like these, even if they did not reside in England, made it their business to visit regularly during these years – van Hoogstraten was in London at the time of the Great Fire in 1666 (in his treatise on painting he describes the effect of the dense smoke on the sunset).

Yet the English Royal Collection remains today depleted of many of its former Dutch holdings. Some failed to return at the Restoration, when forcible and conscience-based restitution of artworks dispersed in 1651 was most effective inside England, and with aristocratic owners in Italy and France, who had, on the whole, acquired Italianate paintings. Paintings sold under the Commonwealth to overseas buyers – particularly those that did not represent members of the Stuart royal family – remained with the purchaser, and over time passed into galleries and collections worldwide.

The importance of Dutch works of art for the great collections of the Stuart royals and the Orange Stadholders is also lost on us today for a further reason. When Amalia van Solms died in 1675, under the terms of her will the magnificent collection of paintings she and Frederik Hendrik had assembled over their married life together were divided up between her three daughters and her Hohenzollern grandsons (the children of Louise Henriette, Electress of Brandenburg, who had predeceased her). The most distinguished works in the collection, including paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Lievens and Honthorst, were dispersed between the electoral household in Berlin and other court cities in the Empire.38

After the 1688 invasion, when William and Mary took advantage of their newfound access to the riches of the English Royal Collection to enhance their own, the trusted member of William’s household charged with selecting and transporting these works of art was none other than Sir Constantijn Huygens’s son Constantijn junior, William III’s personal secretary.

On the very day on which William was proclaimed King of England – 23 February 1689 – William and Constantijn Huygens junior appraised the art in a number of rooms at Whitehall Palace (which Mary had decided the couple could not live in, because the central London air exacerbated William’s asthma). These, according to Constantijn, ‘also contained fine and admirable works; one of them contained many miniatures by [Isaac] Oliver, some of them after Italian originals’. William arranged for van Dyck’s great equestrian portrait of Charles I to be removed from the gallery at Hampton Court so that it could be hung where he could admire it. Over the next nine months, Huygens records numerous occasions on which the new King had him draw up lists of paintings in one or other of the royal palaces (Whitehall, Hampton Court, Windsor and Kensington), and have some or all of them moved from one to another. After the death of Queen Mary in 1695, William had Huygens move the best paintings from her apartments at Windsor and Hampton Court, to be hung in the refurbished rooms at Kensington Palace. The King instructed Huygens ‘that I should sort the small paintings from the large ones to some extent’. They were to be hung on strings ‘so that they can be arranged and rearranged’.39

It was inevitably paintings appealing to developed Dutch courtly taste that William and Mary moved to their palaces in The Hague and elsewhere in the northern Netherlands – particularly large numbers of works of art from the English Royal Collection found their way to the walls of their favourite palace at Het Loo. These were the paintings that remained in the Netherlands when the English Crown passed back to the Stuarts (in the reign of Queen Anne) and then to the house of Hanover.

At The Hague, by contrast, the mingled and interwoven fortunes of Anglo–Dutch art continue to be represented today in the Mauritshuis collection and the Rijksmuseum, which retain the traces of the shared tastes of the houses of Stuart and Orange, from 1660 down to the invasion of 1688 and beyond.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!