CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

A Painting by Gerrit van Honthorst Returns to Gartenreich Dessau-Wörlitz

The Kulturstiftung Dessau-Wörlitz announced the acquisition of a painting by Gerrit van Honthorst (1592–1656). The group portrait of the children of Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, is a great addition to the foundation’s collection of paintings, which is the largest of the House of Orange-Nassau in Germany and thus an important testimony to the Dutch-German cultural transfer around 1700.

The painting shows William II, Prince of Orange, born in 1626, and his three younger sisters Louise Henriette, Isabella Charlotte and Albertine Agnes. The painting, dated by the artist to 1635, is a unique testimony to courtly art and cultural history at the stadtholder’s court of Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, and the art-minded Amalia of Solms-Braunfels, Princess of Orange and mother of the later princess Henriette Catharine of Anhalt-Dessau (1637–1708). At the same time, it is a fine example of the innovative portrait style of the court painter from Utrecht whose pictures inspired contemporaries with their lightness of depiction and application of color.

Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656), William II, Prince of Orange, and His Three Sisters, 1635, Kulturstiftung Dessau-Wörlitz, Dessau-Roßlau

The long-lost painting, is known to have been at the royal palace of Noordeinde in The Hague until 1673 when it came to Anhalt-Dessau through various inheritance processes. This is where, in 1659, the widowed Amalia of Solms-Braunfels married off her daughter Henriette Catharine (born 1637 in The Hague, died 1708 in Schloss Oranienbaum), who was still unborn at the time of the painting’s creation. The group portrait of her older siblings must have been in Henriette Catharine’s possession since the death of her sister Albertine Agnes in 1696. A photograph from around 1910 shows it above the fireplace. There is evidence of the painting being in the residential palace of Dessau until 1937, after which it was lost in the chaos of the war. The long-lost painting turned up on the art market recently.

The timing for the painting’s return to its authentic location could not have been better: this year marks the 350th anniversary of the renaming of the town of Nischwitz to Oranienbaum. The painting will be displayed in the festive hall of Schloss Oranienbaum – together with other portraits of the Orange dynasty which fortunately also include portraits of the stadtholder’s family by the hand of Gerrit van Honthorst such as a portrait of Amalia of Solms-Braunfels (the mother of the children) as Diana.

The acquisition was made possible with the generous support of the federal government, the state government as well as two foundations under civic law: Beauftragte für Kultur und Medien der Bundesregierung, the State of Saxony-Anhalt, Kulturstiftung der Länder, and Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung.