Hals of Haarlem

Amongst the many paintings at the Wallace Collection in London hangs a portrait titled The Laughing Cavalier. Whilst the man is unnamed, an inscription in the corner reads “aetatis suae 26, anno 1624,” which reveals the sitter was 26 at the time of painting in the year 1624. Despite its title, the sitter probably had no connection with the militia but was instead a wealthy civilian. He is also not laughing, but smiling. Some art historians suggest the sitter is the Dutch cloth merchant Tieleman Roosterman (1598-1673), who the artist painted in 1634 at the age of 36. Yet, who is the artist? It is, to quote the Wallace Collection, the “highly gifted portraitist, Frans Hals.”

Frans Hals the Elder was a 17th-century Dutch Golden Age painter known for his many portraits. Born in 1582 or 1583 in Antwerp, the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium), Hals was the son of a cloth merchant who fled to Haarlem in the new Dutch Republic (the Netherlands) during the Fall of Antwerp between 1584 and 1585. While growing up in Haarlem, Hals received Mannerist artistic instruction under the Flemish émigré, Karel van Mander (1548-1606).

Few records about Hals exist until 1610 when he joined the Haarlem Guild of Saint Luke. The guild was formed in 1590 by professional painters, many of whom had fled from Antwerp, as a means of protecting the art market. In the year Hals joined, he had started working as an art restorer for the town council. When the Protestant Dutch Republic was formed in 1588, the Haarlem council confiscated all the Catholic artwork. They later decided some of the paintings were suitable for display in the town hall but many needed restoration.

Also, in 1610, Hals married a Catholic woman called Anneke Harmensdochter (1590-1615). Catholics could not marry in churches in the Dutch Republic, so the wedding took place in the city hall. Sadly, Anneke passed away following the death of their third child in 1615. Of the three, only Harmen (1611-1669) reached adulthood and followed his father’s footsteps to become a painter.

In 1611, Hals produced a portrait of the Catholic pastor Jacobus Zaffius (1534-1618). This is Hals’ earliest known portrait, but his breakthrough into the art world occurred the year after his wife’s death when he painted The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company in 1616. Hals served with the St George Militia between 1612 and 1615, so knew some of the men in the group portrait. Civilians were only allowed to serve for three years, which is why Hals was no longer serving at the time of painting. Due to the importance of the officers, the names of all the men are on record today. Holding the flag in the background is Jacob Cornelisz Schout (1600-27). Whilst little is known about Schout, only unmarried men could carry the flag, indicating he was a bachelor in 1616. Seated in the centre is Nicolaes Woutersz van der Meer (1575-1666), the future mayor of Haarlem, whose wife Hals painted in 1631.

In 1617, Hals married Lysbeth Reyniers in the small village of Spaarndam. They could not marry in Haarlem because Lysbeth was already eight months pregnant. A month after the wedding, they welcomed the first of their eight children. As well as his son Harmen from his first marriage, four of these children became painters: Frans Hals the Younger (1618-69), Jan Hals (1620-54), Reynier Hals (1627-72) and Nicolaes Hals (1628-86).

Following Hals success with The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company in 1616, he received several commissions for portraits, for example, Willem van Heythuyzen (c1590-1650), a cloth merchant and almshouse owner. Hals painted Heythuyzen at least twice, once in 1625 and again in 1634. The earlier of the two features the merchant leaning on a sword and wearing the typical rich clothing and broad-brimmed hat of the day. The painting inspired several artists, including Judith Leyster (1609-60), who copied the pose for her Standing Cavalier (1630). In 1897, the British politician Edgar Vincent, 1st Viscount D’Abernon (1857-1941), dressed up as Heythuyzen for a costume ball.

Another portrait commission came from Pieter van den Broecke (1585-1640) of the Dutch East India Company. Similar to Hals, Broecke was born in Antwerp but fled to the Dutch Republic after the Fall of Antwerp to the Spanish. During his career, Broecke visited Yemen, where he became one of the first Dutchmen to drink “something hot and black, a coffee.” When he retired, Broecke received a gold chain, which he wears in the portrait by Hals painted in 1633. Broecke spent his remaining years in the Indonesian Banda Islands, where his descendants live today.

Some of the portraits Hals produced were marriage pendants. Man and wife were painted on separate canvases that usually hung side-by-side in the family home. Traditionally, men stood angled towards their left whilst women turned towards their right.

Hals painted marriage pendants of Catharina Both van der Eem and her husband, Paulus van Beresteyn (1582-1666), in 1620. Beresteyn was a twice-widowed lawyer in Haarlem who married his third wife in 1619. Beresteyn and Catharina had six children, including Emerantia and Claes (1627-84), who appeared in paintings by Pieter Soutman (1593-1657) during the 1630s.

The portrait of Catharina is angled three-quarters to the left (her right), which gave the impression she turned towards her husband on the adjacent canvas. Catharina wears a wedding ring on her right forefinger, a lace ruff and wrist collars with gold bracelets. The fashion was typical of the 16th and 17th centuries, although the style of dress originated in Spain. The portrait of her husband featured similar lace material and black clothing.

Unconventionally, Hals broke away from marriage pendants to include both husband and wife on the same canvas. The Marriage Portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen (1622) depicts the happy couple relaxing in a garden, which also went against the conventional style of 17th-century Dutch portraits. The clothing does not differ from the fashion of the day and the couple look over dressed in the setting to the contemporary eye.

Isaac Abrahamszoon Massa (1586-1643) sat for Hals several times for portraits, but only once with his wife, who he married in 1622. Massa was a Dutch grain trader, traveller and envoy to Russia who created some of the earliest maps of Eastern Europe and Siberia. The Isaac Massa Foundation established in his honour continues to stimulate scientific and cultural contacts between the Russian Federation and the Netherlands.

As well as commissioned portraits, Hals experimented with character portraits that captured expressions of merriment. The Lute Player (1623), for example, depicts a smiling jester playing the lute. He is smiling naturally and looking up to his right as though engaging with another musician or singer out of view.

Portraits of lute players was a new theme at the time, introduced to the Dutch Republic by Dirck van Baburen (1595-1624) in 1622. As well as the first Dutch artist to paint musicians, Baburen also painted card players, thus inspiring painters to move away from generic portraits and genre themes. As well as The Lute Player, Hals produced The Gypsy Girl (1628) and The Laughing Fisherboy (1628), both depicting relaxed, smiling individuals. Some art historians list the Marriage Portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen amongst Hals more expressive artworks, although the latter was likely staged.

In 1627 , Hals was invited back to produce another banquet portrait of the St George Militia Company. Since civilian officers only served for three years, those featuring in The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company in 1627 did not appear in the earlier painting of 1611. The men in this version are celebrating the end of their tenure.

The man in the centre of the banquet portrait is Captain Michiel de Wael (1596-1659), who Hals painted separately in 1625. As well as his career with the St George Militia Company, Wael was a brewer and the grandson of one of the first Calvinists in Haarlem. Seated at the head of the table is Colonel Aart Jansz Druyvesteyn (1577-1627), a promising landscape painter and future mayor of Haarlem. One of the flag bearers, Boudewijn van Offenberg (1590-1633), had just resigned so that he could marry Beatrix de Laignier. As mentioned earlier, only bachelors could serve as flag bearers. On the far right is another flag bearer, Jacob Cornelisz Schout, who did appear in Hals previous painting from 1611. Unlike the officers, flag bearers and men of significant rank could serve for more than three years.

As well as the St George Militia, Hals painted The Officers of the St Adrian Militia Company in 1633. He first painted the company in 1627, seated around a table in a hall, but his second painting shows the men outside in the courtyard. The officers wear similar clothing to the St George Militia, with colours that resemble the oranje-blanje-bleu flag of the Dutch Revolution.

Whilst all the men in the portrait are named, only a couple earned enough fame to warrant a Wikipedia entry in the 21st century. Andries van Hoorn (1600-60), who stands on the right with the bow of the orange sash protruding from his back, later became the Mayor of Haarlem. He was captain at the time of painting but gained the rank of colonel before his time with the St Adrian Militia was up. Sitting with a book behind Van Hoorn is Hendrik Gerritsz Pot (1580-1657), a Dutch painter who received tuition from the same tutor as Hals. Pot painted a banquet portrait of the St Adrian Militia in 1633 before becoming an officer. Before then, Pot spent some time in London, where King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria commissioned him to paint their portraits in 1632.

In 1639, Hals returned to the St George Militia to paint another portrait of the officers. Rather than depicting them at a banquet, the men are standing in a line across the 4 meters wide canvas. Ensign Dirck Dicx carries the blue flag on the right, and Captain Michiel de Wael stands out by wearing a different colour coat to the other officers. Hals went one step further to make this painting different from the others by including past Militia officers in the background, including himself and Hendrik Gerritsz Pot. Whilst Hals served with the Militia, he never earned a rank, yet the company admired him as an important local artist.

In 1644, Hals became chairman of the Guild of St Luke, a privileged position that signified Hals’ reputation amongst other artists. Unfortunately, his prestige did not make him immune to money troubles. Unlike other painters, Hals did not adapt his technique to suit the fashions and preferences in the Dutch Republic. Instead, his artwork became less lively, focusing more on the stature and dignity of the people portrayed. As time went on, Hals work became darker until he was almost only using monochrome shades. Some art historians suggest this was because coloured paint was expensive, and Hals lost customers to more modern artists. Several times, Hals’ creditors took him to court. In 1652, he was forced to sell his belongings to settle a debt with a baker, leaving him destitute. Fortunately, the government started paying him an annuity of 200 florins in 1664.

Despite his money issues, Hals continued to paint, including a portrait of the board of trustees at the Oude Mannenhuis in Haarlem in 1664. In the same year, Hals painted The Regentesses of the Old Men’s Almshouse. The Old Men’s Almshouse, or Oude Mannenhuis, was a home for poor men over the age of sixty. It is likened to an early example of retirement home, providing the men with regular meals and somewhere clean and safe to sleep. The painting is an example of Hals’ later dark, loose style. Although fashions had changed by the 1660s, Hals painted the women in typical clothing from the 1640s.

Frans Hals passed away in Haarlem on 26th August 1666. He was buried in the Grote Kerk, a Reformed Protestant church. Despite his pension and the high esteem in which the city held him, his widow was forced to apply for financial aid and was admitted to the local almshouse. When Hals died, four of his sons were still alive and working as artists, although none of them achieved the status of their father.

Throughout his career, Hals inspired many Dutch artists and took on several students. Rather than teach his pupils how to paint like him, Hals let them develop their own styles and techniques. Today, historians are uncertain how many students Hals had because they cannot use the paintings as a way of identifying Hals as the teacher because the styles are so dissimilar.

Hals’ reputation waned after his death, but he reemerged in the 19th century when impressionist and realist painters studied his technique. Claude Monet (1840-1926), Édouard Manet (1832-83), Gustave Courbet (1819-77), James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) and Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) all list Hals as one of their greatest influences. In a letter to his brother, Van Gogh wrote, “What a joy it is to see a Frans Hals, how different it is from the paintings – so many of them – where everything is carefully smoothed out in the same manner.”

In the 21st century, Hals’ paintings are found in cities all over the world, including Antwerp, London, Toronto and New York. Several works belong to Haarlem town council and hang in the Frans Hals Museum, established in 1862. The museum is located on the site of the Oude Mannenhuis, where Hals painted The Regents and Regentesses of the Old Men’s Almshouse in 1664, which hangs in the museum. As well as paintings by Hals, the museum displays artwork by other Dutch artists, including Judith Leyster, Karel van Mander, Hals’ brother Dirck Hals (1591-1656), and Jan Steen (1625-79).

In 1968, the Nederlandsche Bank issued a tien gulden (ten guilders) banknote featuring a portrait of Frans Hals. He remained on the note until 1997 when the bank commissioned new designs. After the Millennium, guilders were replaced by euros. Hals was also honoured by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), who named a 93-kilometre crater on Mercury ‘Hals’.

Until January 2022, the Wallace Collection is hosting the exhibition Frans Hals: The Male Portrait. Whilst it reveals little about the artist, the portraits perfectly demonstrate the subtle changes in Hals’ technique throughout his career. Tickets are available from the Wallace Collection website.


My blogs are available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Reuniting Rubens

For the first time in over 200 years, two landscape paintings by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) have found themselves in the same room. Painted as a pair, The Rainbow Landscape and A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning parted ways in 1803, eventually ending up in the Wallace Collection and National Gallery, respectively. In partnership with VISITFLANDERS, the two paintings are temporarily on display at the Wallace Collection until 15th August 2021, after which they will separate once more. Attracting the likes of Jon Snow, who filmed his visit to the exhibition for Channel 4, the paintings have captured the attention of art lovers and tourists alike, providing what may be a once in a lifetime experience.

The name Rubens is usually associated with historical and mythological paintings, full of action and voluptuous women, rather than the idyllic landscapes shown at the Wallace Collection. Yet, landscape painting had intrigued Rubens since his youth and one of his first teachers specialised in the area. To succeed as an artist, Rubens needed to paint what his commissioners and buyers wanted. Landscape painting was not a respected theme where Rubens lived in Antwerp, so he focused on fleshy figures depicting historical moments in the typical Flemish Baroque tradition.

Towards the end of his career, Rubens moved away from the busy city lifestyle to devote himself to landscape painting. The majority of these Rubens produced as a hobby rather than for profit. Not many knew about the extent of his artistic talents until after he died in 1640.

In 1592, Rubens was serving as an emissary for the Spanish crown. At 53 years old and a widower, he longed to settle down in his homeland. Unlike many artists of his day, Rubens had a considerable amount of money, having worked for the Archdukes of the Spanish Netherlands, Charles I of England, Philip IV of Spain and Queen Marie de Medici of France. After completing his negotiations in England on behalf of Spain, Rubens returned home to Antwerp, where he married 16-year-old Hélène Fourment (1614-73).

Following his marriage, Rubens contented himself by painting his young wife and growing family, whilst spending time in his large garden. Rubens enjoyed painting for pleasure, unrestrained by commissions and deadlines. Throughout his career, Rubens was restricted to the preferences of his patrons and buyers, but in his retirement he had the freedom to choose his subject matter. His love of landscapes resurfaced and he longed for the countryside, away from the pressures of commercial and city life.

In 1635, Rubens purchased an eight-acre country estate in Elewijt, Flemish Brabant. The house, known as the Castle of Het Steen, cost Rubins 93,000 florins and gave him the right to the title of Lord of Het Steen. A three-hour ride (half an hour by car) took Rubens from his home in Antwerp to his “manorial residence with a large stone house and other fine buildings in the form of a castle.” It also had a garden, an orchard, a lake and extensive grassland. The family used the estate as their summer home, returning to the city during the autumn.

Built in the typical Flemish style, the manor house had gabled roofs, red-bricked walls and a crenellated tower. The latter has since been demolished, and the house has also undergone remodelling and renovation over the past centuries. Rubens captured the building as it looked during his day in the paintings, The Rainbow Landscape and A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning. 

The extensive views around Het Steen provided Rubens with the perfect backdrop for many landscape paintings. Although he had produced many landscapes before moving to the estate, his nephew Philip admitted Rubens made the purchase intending to study and paint the landscape. Rubens kept most of these artworks, displaying them at Het Steen. As a result, not many knew of the extent of his oeuvre until after his death.

“Having bought the seignory of Steen, between Brussels and Malines in the year 1630 [sic] he took great pleasure living there in solitude, in order to paint vividly and au naturel the surrounding mountains, plains, valleys and meadows, at the rising and setting of the sun, up to the horizon.” – Philip Rubens

After producing many landscapes, which explored composition, figure and animal placement, light and darkness, and so forth, Rubens finally painted his two most famous landscapes. The Rainbow Landscape and A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning represent Rubens zenith of his achievements in landscape painting, evidenced by their sheer size and panoramic content.

A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning

In A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning, usually shortened to Het Steen, the house is set to the far left, making the extensive open plains the main focus of the painting. The colours suggest it is late summer or early autumn on a sunny morning, although puddles and clouds hint at a recent rainstorm. Whilst the house is a faithful representation, Rubens elevated the view of the land between the foreground and the horizon to produce a continuous panoramic sweep.

On the left, a man drives a cart away from the house, carrying a woman and a trussed calf. Closer to the building is a group of people, which many believe represent Rubens’ family. In the foreground, a hunter and his dog hide behind a large tree stump, keeping a steady gaze on a bevy of partridges. This activity, combined with the altocumulus clouds, gives away the time of day, as does the cart, which is presumably on its way to market. In the distance, maids milk the cows in the pastures.

The Rainbow Landscape

Het Steen sits in the far distance in The Rainbow Landscape, which provides a view of the estate from the other side of the fields. Once again, Rubens raised the level of the viewpoint to encompass the many topographical features. The scene in this painting takes place later in the day after farmhands have already had time to create two haystacks. Yet, the cart carrying more hay in the left-hand corner suggests their workday is far from over. Some art historians propose Rubens based the appearance of the cart driver on his likeness, although it is unlikely he ever contributed to the farm work.

The cart driver greets two milkmaids, one who is balancing a pitcher on her head. Their smiling faces suggest happy workers, which compliments the idyllic landscape. Meanwhile, a herdsman goes about his work, herding cows along a path beside the stream, contrasting with the lively ducks playing in the water. Both the ducks and cows are similar to those in other paintings by Rubens, suggesting he did not paint them from life but memory or imagination.

Whilst there is a lot of activity in the lower half of the painting, it is the sky that captures the viewer’s attention. Spanning the width of the landscape is a double-arced rainbow, which is an unusual feature in artworks from this era. Artists were discouraged from depicting rainbows because their fleeting appearances were difficult to portray accurately. Rubens attempt is impressive, yet it is not true to nature. He chose not to represent its full-colour spectrum, obscuring sections with clouds instead.

The rainbow hints at the recent storm, whose dark clouds are still visible in the distance. The phenomenon also had religious connotations, symbolising God’s divine blessing. In the Bible (Genesis 9:11-15), God made a covenant with his people, promising never to flood the world again. This promise followed the well-known story of Noah’s Ark.

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. (Genesis 9:12-15, NIV)

Art historians believe Rubens produced Het Steen and The Rainbow Landscape to be displayed together because they are linked by their subject matter, scale, size and composition. The English landscape artist John Constable (1776-1837) agreed, saying some years after the two paintings were separated: “When pictures painted as companions are separated, the purchaser of one, without being aware of it, is sometimes buying only half a picture. Companion pictures should never be parted…”

Both paintings have similar motifs, such as milkmaids, wagons, cows and fowl. These, along with the inclusion of the manor house, albeit almost unnoticeable in The Rainbow Landscape, suggests the landscapes depicts the same area from different perspectives. Although the paintings represent different times of day, when hung together, they complete a cycle of a late summer’s day.

Another connection between the two paintings is the way Rubens constructed the landscapes. Using X-radiography and infra-red reflectography, the National Gallery and the Wallace Collection have discovered that Rubens produced the paintings in three stages. Rubens began both compositions on a medium-sized panel, upon which he depicted the middle ground leading to the horizon. Rubens then added or commissioned someone to add extensions to the bottom and sides of the panel. Upon these, he extended the landscapes, making them more panoramic. A final extension to the top, bottom and sides, gave the landscapes a dimension of 136 cm x 236 cm (54 in x 93 in).

Careful analysis of the two paintings has revealed images below the top layer of paint, which indicates Rubens developed the composition gradually. Unlike his commissioned work, Rubens did not need to rush and had no deadline. X-rays show Rubens included a seated milkmaid and herdsman on the original panel of The Rainbow Landscape but painted over them after extending the boards. A half-rainbow decorated the sky, which tells us Rubens always intended to include it in the landscape. After increasing the size of the work, Rubens repainted the trees and added the herdsmen and cattle by a river. The ducks, horses and wagon joined the scene after the final extension.

With more space above the horizon to play with, Rubens expanded the rainbow to sweep across the sky. Although it remained a double-arced rainbow, only a section of the second arc is visible in the top right-hand corner. Rubens added touches of blue, pink and yellow to the trees, river and ground to suggest a reflection of the rainbow, although, in reality, the rainbow would make no such impression.

The construction of A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning has similar paint handling and attention to detail as its companion. During the first stage of the painting, Rubens filled the space with open pastures interspersed with trees. As the boards grew, so did the landscape, incorporating a bridge, stream, tree trunk and hunter. Only in the final stage did Rubens paint the house and add the other figures and cart to the composition.

Unlike The Rainbow Landscape, which developed gradually with the expansion of the boards, the painting of Het Steen changed dramatically in the final stages. During the first two stages of the painting process, the composition was typical of Rubens’ landscapes, revealing idyllic farmland and a peaceful environment. When he began the painting, he had no intention of including his house, yet it became a key feature during the latter stages. This element, with the suggestion of the building in the background of The Rainbow Landscape, is what convinces many art historians that the paintings belong together.

Shortly after Rubens died in 1640, the two paintings appeared in a sales catalogue with 312 other works of art from his collection. A version of the catalogue translated for Charles I describes the landscapes as “A great landschap after the life, with little figures in’t uppon a board,” (Het Steen) and “A great landschap where it raines with little Cowes in it” (The Rainbow Landscape). Since they were listed one after the other suggests Rubens’ family intended them to stay together, which they did for many years.

In 1691, both paintings hung in the palace of Juan Gaspar Enríquez de Cabrera, the 10th Admiral of Castile (1625-91) in Madrid, after which they appeared in Genoa in the early 18th century. Records state they belonged to a Genoese banker to the Spanish Crown, Bartolomeo Saluzzo (1651-1705), who bequeathed his art collection to his sons. Constantino Balbi (1676-1741) purchased the landscapes in 1706 and hung them in the Palazzo Balbi. In 1802, art dealers William Buchanan (1777-1864) and Arthur Champernowne (1767-1819) purchased the paintings and brought them to London, where they were displayed at an Oxdenden Street gallery. They quickly became the talking point of the artistic circle in the capital.

Despite attempts to sell the two landscapes as a pair, Buchanan and Champernowne were unsuccessful. Instead, they sold Het Steen to Lady Margaret Beaumont for £1500 in 1803. Little did they know the paintings would not appear in the same room again until 2020. Lady Margaret gave the artwork as a present to her husband Sir George, who pronounced it the “finest landscape I believe [Rubens] ever painted.” On his death in 1823, George Beaumont bequeathed Het Steen and other paintings in his collection to the National Gallery.

In 1815, Champernowne sold The Rainbow Landscape to art collector George Watson-Taylor (1771-1841), who, in turn, sold it to Horatio Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford (1783-1858) for 2,600 guineas. Walpole hung the painting in the Principle Dining Room at Wolterton Hall in Norfolk, where many people admired it. Allegedly, George IV (1762-1830) attempted to purchase the painting from Walpole shortly before his death in 1830. The landscape remained in Lord Orford’s possession until he decided to sell it in 1856.

Sir Charles Eastlake (1793-1865), the first Director of the National Gallery, attended Lord Orford’s sale intending to reunite Rubens’ landscapes. Unfortunately, one of the wealthiest collectors in Europe, Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford (1800-70), was also in attendance and outbid the director. Lord Hertford paid £4,550 for The Rainbow Landscape, which he hung in his London residence, Manchester House. After his death, his son Sir Richard Wallace (1818-90) inherited the house and its contents, thus becoming the new owner of the painting. Wallace extended the house to create a large gallery where he installed the landscape and other notable paintings. After his death, the collection was bequeathed to the nation. The house opened to the public as the Wallace Collection, and The Rainbow Landscape has hung here ever since.

Thanks to the collaboration between the National Gallery and the Wallace Collection, the public have once again been able to view both landscapes in the same room. Unfortunately, the exhibition is ending soon, and the paintings will separate once more. There is speculation that Rubens’ two great landscapes may be reunited permanently in the future. Hopefully, we will not need to wait 200 years to make this a reality.

It is a shame that the exhibition coincided with the coronavirus pandemic. Fewer people than expected have visited the Wallace Collection to see the two landscapes in situ. Yet, the display made the national news, proving that the story of two landscape paintings, reunited, at last, has touched the hearts of thousands of people.

Het Steen, now known as Elewijt Castle or Rubenskasteel, still stands. It was briefly used as a prison in 1792 before being abandoned. In 1955, the current owner restored the building, although the tower seen in Rubens’ painting was unsalvageable.

RUBENS: REUNITING THE GREAT LANDSCAPES is open until 15th August 2021 at the Wallace Collection, London. Tickets are free with a suggested donation of £5.


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Forgotten Masters

Honouring overlooked artists, The Wallace Collection presents Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company, shedding a light on life in Anglo-Indian history. Guest curated by Scottish historian William Dalrymple (b.1965) who has lived in India on and off since 1989, the exhibition provides an opportunity to view sets of paintings from 18th and 19th century India together for the first time. The paintings reflect both the natural world and society the East India Company wished to remember.

Company Style is a term used to describe the type of Indo-European paintings produced in India by native artists for European patrons of the English East India Company. Earlier paintings were more traditional, however, over time Rajput and Mughal elements began to merge with Western ideas, particularly concerning perspective.

The British mostly settled in Calcutta, Madras, Delhi, Lucknow, Patna and Bangalore, which is where the majority of the paintings were executed. Animals were a key theme for the painters, however, they were also commissioned to produce portraits, landscapes and scenes of traditional Indian people.

Rather than display the paintings, the artworks were usually kept in portfolios or albums, which is one of the reasons the artists are not well-known today. The works were usually private commissions rather than something to show off. Unfortunately, the advent of photography brought an end to the Company Style, since a camera could easily and quickly capture the desired scenes. Also, the paintings by Indian artists were becoming increasingly westernised, making them appear as though they were produced by a European artist.

Shaikh Zain ud-Din

li_901_14-a-l

Common Crane, Shaikh Zain ud-din, 1780

Little is known about this artist’s life apart from he was a Muslim artist from the city of Patna in north-east India. Shaikh Zain ud-Din was trained as a Mughal miniature painter but is known today for the paintings he produced for Sir Elijah and Mary, Lady Impey in Calcutta. Employed in the 1770s, Shaikh Zain ud-Din produced many paintings of Lady Mary’s collection of flora and fauna.

Sir Elijah Impey (1732-1809) was a British judge and the first chief of justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in Bengal. He and his wife Mary (1749-1818) collected various birds, animals and native plants, which they employed local artists to paint – Shaikh Zain ud-Din amongst them. The paintings of their menagerie were put together to form the Impey Album, which has now been dispersed throughout the world with different art galleries each owning a few paintings.

Lady Mary Impey initially lived in Hammersmith with her husband and four children, however, when Elijah was made chief of justice of Fort William, they left the children with his brother and moved to India. Once settled, Lady Impey began collecting native birds and animals, using the extensive gardens of their estate as a place to house them.

Amongst the animals were a selection of birds, particularly cranes. Shaikh Zain ud-Din was commissioned to produce life-size paintings of these birds, which he achieved in the fairly flat style common in India. Lady Impey also requested he paint some of the birds with native plants, such as Indian Roller on a Sandalwood Branch. The exotic colours combined with the flat style caused a future purchaser to mistake it for the work of a Japanese artist.

As well as birds, Shaikh Zain ud-Din painted other tree-dwelling animals in their natural habitats, including a Malabar Giant Squirrel. Endemic to India, this is one of the largest squirrels in the world, reaching over one and a half feet in height. The squirrel rarely leaves the trees, however, in this particular painting, the animal appears to be much larger than its habitat. This was a common feature of early Company Style. The squirrel usually eats fruit and nuts, such as the type it is reaching for in the painting.

Not all of Shaikh Zain ud-Din’s artwork was “flat”. Perhaps under Lady Impey’s guidance, the artist became much more detailed in his work, using thin paintbrushes to add exquisite details to his work. Lady Impey’s Pangolin is a prime example, where each scale has been precisely drawn, making it almost appear three-dimensional. The shadow added under the feet of the creature also aids this effect.

ppp043

Lady Impey, Supervising Her Household

Attributed to Shaikh Zain ud-Din are a couple of paintings of the Impey household. Once again, the flatness of the Indian style of art can be seen in the furnishings of the house, however, shading has been added to the people in the scene to make them more life-like.

The painting suggests Lady Impey had a role in overseeing the servants of the household. Traditionally, a woman and the staff would not be seen together often, however, in this instance it appears the lady of the house had far more interaction. One suggestion for this is the servants were uneducated in the ways of the Western world and Lady Impey was helping them to learn the “correct” ways of doing things.

Shaikh Zain ud-Din also painted a scene in the nursery. Although Sir and Lady Impey had left their children in England, they had four more whilst in India. Many female servants were used as nursery nurses and helped raise the children.

Shaikh Mohammad Amir of Karriah

An English Gig Album folio with painting

English Gig, by Sheikh Mohammah Amir (copy)

Shaikh Mohammad Amir of Karriah was an Indian painter during the British Raj period, flourishing between the 1830s and 40s. Very little is known about him today, however, a few of his surviving paintings show us differences between traditional Indian and Western art.

When the British arrived in India, they brought with them their culture. Rather than adapting to the world around them, they tried to do the opposite and “civilise” the natives. As a result, India was introduced to new rules, new objects, new ideas and new modes of transport, for example, an English gig. A gig, also known as a chaise, is a light, two-wheeled cart that is pulled by a single horse. It was traditionally a more formal and more comfortable version of a village cart.

Shaikh Mohammad Amir painted one of the English gigs that had been brought to India in the early 19th century. Since it has a top, it is likely a tilbury carriage. The driver and passenger sat under the cover from where the horse could be controlled by long reigns. It is not certain why Shaikh Mohammad Amir painted this but it is likely to have been a commission. Nonetheless, he demonstrates the Indian style of painting but of an English object.

Shaikh Mohammad Amir specialised in depicting the houses and staff of his employers, however, he also painted the domestic animals. Horses were one of the main animals the British kept in India because they could be used for transport and for working the land on their estate. In one painting, A Syce (Groom) Holding Two Carriage Horses, the groom is dressed in silk clothing and a hat, which immediately identifies him as Indian. Even without the title, it is clear the horses are not used for farming. They have been prepared to be attached to a gig, like the one above, most likely by the Indian groom.

Another painting, A bay horse standing with a groom, shows a horse that must have been used on the land. With a simple rope around its head instead of strong reigns, it is being led by an Indian groom wearing far more casual clothing than the syce in the previous painting. Although Shaikh Mohammad Amir has tried to add shadow and shading to make the horse and man appear three-dimensional, they appear quite large in comparison to the background.

The difference in size between the subject and background is more obvious in Two dogs in the compound of a Calcutta house. The two dogs, a male Feathered Saluki called General and a female Smooth Saluki called Aiyar, tower over the trees in the distance. Whilst objects in the background usually appear smaller than those in the foreground, the perspective is inaccurate. Perspective was not something usually dealt with in the traditional style of Indian painting. Instead, it was something introduced to them by the Europeans.

english-child

English child seated on a pony and surrounded by three Indian servants by Shaikh Muhammad Amir

Of humans, Shaikh Muhammad Amir tended to only focus on the natives, i.e. the staff of a British household. One painting, however, contains the figure of a young English child. English child seated on a pony and surrounded by three Indian servants reveals the type of jobs the servants were charged with. To take a female child on a horse, one servant was needed to lead the animal, another to make sure the child stayed safely in the saddle and a third to hold a parasol over the child’s head. Interestingly, Shaikh Muhammad Amir gives very little detail of the child’s appearance. Her face is hidden by her bonnet and her clothing covers the shape of her arms and legs. This could be a form of respect for the child and the English family; alternatively, it could be a sign of resentment that the British have overrun the country. Most scholars like to think it is the former.

Yellapah of Vellore

mughal-artist

Portrait of a Mughal artist, by Yellapah Of Vellore

One thing that is generally missing from Company Style paintings is a (self-)portrait of the artist. Yellapah of Vellore is an exception to the unwritten rule who painted a portrait of a Mughal artist, which many believe to be him. Unlike Western artists who sit at a table or stand at an easel, the Mughal artist is sat cross-legged on the floor with his tools spread out around him. A stone slab or small table is positioned in front of the artist on which his paper canvas lies. Either side are two figures, the artist’s assistants, who are ready to help in the creative process in any way they can.

indian-sepoys

Sepoys of Madras

Yellapah was good at depicting people, particularly their clothing, as can be seen in Sepoys of Madras, which shows six Indian men dressed in European-style uniforms. From left to right are men representing the Madras Horse Artillery, the Madras Light Cavalry, the Madras Rifle Corps, the Madras Pioneers, the Madras Native Infantry and the Madras Foot Artillery. Coming from Vellore, Yellapah was probably familiar with the different uniforms after witnessing the Vellore Mutiny in 1806.

Vellore is a city and district in the south of India where some of the British Military were stationed. The army employed Indian soldiers or sepoys who were stationed at the historic fort of Vellore. Initially, it appears the native soldiers enjoyed being a part of the military, however, new rules were introduced after 1800, which began to erase their identity. No longer were sepoys allowed to wear “caste marks”, i.e. religious markings on their forehead. Turbans were also prohibited and they were forced to wear a cow leather cockade, which was usually reserved for Indians who had converted to Christianity. Muslim soldiers were forced to trim their beards, even if they had grown them for religious reasons and everyone had to wear the proper uniforms.

These changes came about when General Sir John Craddock (1759-1839) became the Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army of the British East India company. He proposed the new rules in an ambitious attempt to reform the army’s disciplinary system. Whilst sepoys were happy to wear uniforms, they were outraged at being forced to remove any religious embellishments. Many felt they were being forced to convert to Christianity but those who protested received public lashings and dismissal.

On 9th July 1806, the sepoys took advantage of a wedding to enter the fort of Vellore. The bride was the daughter of Tipu Sultan, the late leader of a south Indian kingdom who was killed by the imperial forces of the British East India Company. The sepoys ripped down the British flag and replaced it with the Royal Tiger Flag of Tipu. The following day, they ransacked the European quarters in the fort before moving on to the houses belonging to the British army. Over 100 British soldiers were killed and the mutiny only ended when the British commander, Colonel Robert Rollo Gillespie arrived from another fort with his army. Although actions were taken to resolve the situation that led to the revolt, another mutiny would occur fifty years later.

As a painter, Yellapah was not involved with the army except to document the different uniforms. As well as this, he painted Indians in traditional clothing, including people from different Hindu denominations, such as Vaishnavism.

Ghulam Ali Khan

1024px-ghulam_ali_khan_003

View of the Red Fort, from Sketches of The Delhee Palace & Delhee

Ghulam Ali Khan from Dehli was the last royal Mughal painter at the court of Akbar II (r.1806-37) and Bahadur Shah II (r.1837-58). As well as working in the court, Ghulam Ali Khan was associated with the East India Company and adopted the Company Style for his British Patrons, most notably William Fraser (1784-1835) and James Skinner (1778-1841). Most of his paintings were watercolours on gold paper with black margins.

family_of_ghulam_ali_khan_six_recruits_.width-2000

Family of Ghulam Ali Khan, Six Recruits, Fraser Album

William Fraser was a British India civil servant who joined his brother, the author James Baillie Fraser (1783-1856), in India during the reign of the last Mughal Emperor. Greatly influenced by the culture, Fraser commissioned local artists to produce paintings for what would become known as the Fraser Album. Amongst these artists was Ghulam Ali Khan who helped to fill the album with paintings of villagers, soldiers, Indian nobles and village scenes.

Work on the Fraser Album came to an end when William Fraser was killed by an assassin in 1835. He was eventually buried at St James’ Church in Delhi, which had been built by his brother’s friend Colonel James Skinner.

800px-1st_regiment_of_skinner27s_horse_returning_from_a_general_review2c_1828

The 1st Regiment of Skinner’s Horse returning from a General Review

James Skinner was an Anglo-Indian mercenary, the son of an officer in the East India Company and, so he claimed, an Indian princess. He joined the Bengal Army belonging to the Company in 1801 and became well-known for his regiment of irregular cavalry, which were nicknamed “Skinner’s Boys”. This eventually developed into a light cavalry, which still exists in today’s Indian Army.

Whilst lying injured on a battlefield, Skinner vowed he would build a church if he lived. So, in 1826, Skinner commissioned Major Robert Smith to build St James’ Church, also known as Skinner’s Church, which had three porticoed porches and a central octagonal dome.

Ghulam Ali Khan painted highly detailed paintings of the exterior and interior of St James’ Church. Before this, he had painted at least 31 buildings and monuments around Dehli, which emphasised his attention to detail. Although the minute details lend themselves towards traditional Indian art, Ghulam Ali Khan successfully achieved a sense of perspective in his paintings, which was something other painters failed to depict. This was probably influenced by British artists or tutors living in India at the time.

Sita Ram

At the end of the exhibition, the Wallace Collection features one artist whose artwork is unlike any of the others on display. Precious little is known about him other than he was a Hindu from Bengal, however, his work is now being appreciated as a master of watercolour.

The Governor-General of India Francis Rawdon, Marquess of Hastings (1754-1826) has been identified as the person who commissioned the majority of Sita Ram’s paintings. At the beginning of his term of office, Hastings spent 15 months touring the towns and cities between Calcutta and Delhi. Sita Ram was employed to visually record the sights he saw.

Looking at Sita Ram’s artwork, there is no obvious indication that it was painted by an Indian artist. The watercolour style is similar to European paintings and completely unlike the flat Indian style images shown at the beginning of the exhibition. Whether this was due to a European tutor or if Sita Ram had been influenced by paintings he had seen is unknown. It is unlikely he developed this style alone since it is so different from the types of art available in India at the time.

Since Indian artists were predominantly commissioned for private work that ended up in family albums, the world has not had a chance to learn their names. Although art galleries are beginning to focus on artists of other ethnicities, most of Asia has yet to be brought to the foreground. The Wallace Collection is paving the way forward.

Not only are visitors introduced to unknown artists, but they are also provided with an insight into a piece of history – one in which the British are now looked upon unfavourably. Colonialisation changed a country’s culture, fashions, beliefs and, evidently, art. Whilst this cannot be undone, the lives and work of those affected can still be and deserve to be appreciated.

Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company is open until 19th April 2020. Tickets are £12 for adults and £9 for 18-30-year-olds.


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

The Wallace Collection and What We Find There

Now a national museum, The Wallace Collection was once a fashionable London residence built for the 4th Duke of Manchester in the late 1700s. It was later inhabited by the first four Marquesses of Hertford – thus renamed Hertford House – until being purchased by Sir Richard Wallace, the 4th Marquess’s illegitimate son, in 1871. Richard Wallace, along with his father, are the collectors responsible for the majority of the artworks on show.

Opened as a museum in 1900, The Wallace Collection is an art gallery displayed in a domestic setting, providing insight into the lives of Sir Richard and Lady Wallace, whilst captivating visitors with hundreds of treasures. Amongst the collection are outstanding 18th century French paintings, medieval artworks, ceramics and an exceptional array of armour – the largest in Britain.

Unlike the crowded art galleries in cities throughout the world, The Wallace Collection is a peaceful, quiet building, with enough freedom to view the artworks at a leisurely pace. Yet, being so extensive, it is difficult to appreciate each and every painting, sculpture and artefact without spending hours there, or even days. Therefore, a plan of action needs to be taken. What important artworks should visitors be on the lookout for?

Hertford House is decked out with artwork in every room, regardless of its original function. Therefore, it is impossible to miss the sculpted busts on the left when entering the Entrance Hall. Sculptures are dotted around various rooms from different time periods, but those in this first room include the posthumous bust Charles I, King of England by the impressive Louis François Roubiliac.

Portraits are in abundance, whether of real people, fictional or imagined. On the ground floor, a particular one to note is the portrait of Queen Victoria painted by Thomas Sully in 1838, a year after she ascended the throne. Most have an inkling as to how Queen Victoria looked (typically the large woman shown in the photograph by Alexander Bassano, 1882), however this particular painting shows the young Queen at the height of her youth.

The other portrait to look out for on the bottom storey can be found in The Billiard Room, which overlooks the restaurant in the courtyard. Woman Looking at her Mirror by Jean Raoux, is exactly as the title suggests. Painted toward the beginning of the 18th century, it encompasses ideas from Netherlandish and Venetian art, which was becoming of interest to the French painters at that time. The anonymous woman stands out from the dark background, but what is most striking is the reflection of the mirror on her body. The viewer cannot see the glass of the mirror, however Raoux has expertly captured the effect of the light being thrown back to accentuate the model’s features.

300px-fragonard2c_the_swing

The Swing, Fragonard (1767)

The upper rooms of the house are where the more famous and impressive paintings can be found. Portraits are also displayed here, including Madame de Pompadour by François Boucher. Alongside Boucher’s art work are those of his pupil, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, which can be found in the Oval Drawing Room as well as the Landing at the top of the grand staircase. Amongst this collection is Fragonard’s most famous painting, The Swing (1767).

According the The Wallace Collection Guidebook, one critic expressed “the grace of it’s execution and the tact of the artist excuse the sauciness of the subject”. What is depicted is the suggestion of adultery, with the ladies husband pushing her on a swing, and her lover hiding amongst the bushes and looking up her skirt. The coquetry is intensified by the inclusion of Madame’s slipper coming loose and flying through the air. Despite the indecency of its risqué subject, The Swing is pleasing to look at as a result of its delicate colours and dreamy setting.

Another artist the original owners of Hertford House favoured was Canaletto (Antonio Canale), who has almost an entire room dedicated to him. Canaletto was an 18th century Venetian painter who specialised in detailed landscapes of his home city. The majority of Canaletto’s works were done at the request of tourists who wished to take home visual memories of their trip to Venice (naturally cameras were not around), and it was on a trip to Venice when the 1st Marquess of Hertford acquired these paintings.

Presumably, since it was the 1st Marquess that bought them, these Canaletto artworks are some the the earliest paintings the family purchased. It is not surprising that the Marquess found them so irresistible, when the attention to detail is taken into account. Canaletto excelled at depicting buildings and canals of Venice, painstakingly illustrating every brick and ripple of water.

The East and West Galleries contain an assortment of paintings and small sculptures by various artists, and are generally displayed in some sense of chronological order. Grouped together are French and British painters from the early 1800s, artwork from the Napoleonic era, and 17th century Dutch paintings, including those by Rembrandt van Rijn.

18056731_10210679858264049_4805173188928770385_n

Great Gallery

Both East and West Galleries lead visitors to the most resplendent room of the house, the Great Gallery. This room was not part of the original house, but was added during the 1870s so Sir Richard Wallace could hang the most important part of his family’s collection. Naturally, this is where the most famous paintings can be found (so if time restricted, this is a room not to be missed).

There is no logical sequence to the artwork depicted here in the Great Gallery, resulting in an amalgamation of portraits, religious scenes and mythological stories. Significant artists located here range from Rembrandt and Rubens to Velázquez and other 17th century contemporaries.

Particular highlights include The Laughing Cavalier (1624) by Frans Hals, The Persian Sybil (c.1620) by Domenichino, The Annunciation (c.1640-50) – Phillippe de Champaigne, and Bartolomé Estebán Murillo’s The Adoration of the Shepherds. It is in this gallery that the majority of the religious imagery is located, mostly focused on Jesus’ birth and childhood.

The religious paintings are somewhat ironically displayed alongside the scenes from Greek/Roman mythology. The latter are a striking contrast to the humble, peaceful biblical narratives, focusing on the more violent parts of the stories. One scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses is shown by two different artists. Titian’s Perseus and Andromeda (1553-62) depicting the slaying of a sea dragon, is markedly different from the painting of the same name by François Lemoyne in 1723. It is interesting to note the differentiation between the two styles and observe the change in techniques and influences between the two centuries.

The Wallace Collection is not solely for those interested in art, but also for those with an enthusiasm for armour, swords and other weapons. Located on the ground floor at the back of the courtyard, are several rooms full of armour and arms ranging from Medieval and Renaissance eras to the Napoleonic era up until the end of the 19th century. Originally a coach house and stable yard, this section of the gallery has been converted in order to display one of the largest treasuries of early firearms in Britain.

Whether you are planning a lengthy visit, or are enticed by the thought of a cup of tea in the stylish restaurant, The Wallace Collection is certainly worth a visit. Although the collection does not contain the masterpieces that a larger, more well-known gallery may display, it definitely has artworks of fame and significance. The added bonus of the domestic setting makes the viewing appreciably more relaxed and enjoyable.

Not much is explained about the individual artworks around the collection, however the gift shop supplies a reasonably priced guidebook containing a concise explanation about the history of the house, as well as details about a handful of paintings, sculptures, ceramics and armour. It may be of more worth to purchase this before beginning to tour the galleries.


I recently went to The Wallace Collection and can highly recommend a visit. However, it may not be suitable for very young children. Whilst looking at a figurine (pictured below) a young boy asked “Why does he have a spare head?”

18056803_10210679861144121_5441269553231921412_n