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Curator's Collection

Dutch Art at the Château de Chantilly

January, 2024

Unlike any other French château, the Château de Chantilly transcends its decorative and historical attributes, ranking among the country’s most exquisite fine arts museums. Its collections were built up almost entirely by Henri d’Orléans (1822-1897), Duke of Aumale, a son of the French king Louis-Philippe (1773-1850). After his father was forced to abdicate in the Revolution of July 1848, Aumale was sentenced to exile, spending most of his remaining days in England and Belgium. Napoleon III (1808-1873) feared the duke’s influence and sought to prevent any threat to the Second French Empire that the Orléanist party might pose. Aumale was indeed one of France’s wealthiest men and eagerly involved himself into politics. Although he had bought prints, drawings, and rare books in the past, it was not until his years in exile that he embarked on collecting in earnest.

Many factors must have combined to set Aumale on this path. He was driven by a desire to recover his family’s scattered possessions and a passion for the great figures of French history, but one can easily guess the role played by the sudden idleness that probably overwhelmed this young man with shattered dreams of a military career. His importance as an art collector was on a par with Richard Wallace (1818-1890), William Thompson Walters (1820-1894), Isabella Stewart-Gardner (1840-1924), and Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). All five were mainly active on the art market in the second half of the nineteenth century, wealthy enough to purchase nearly anything they desired, and very much wanted their collections to be open to the public following their death. The museums they created were not based on any historical or theoretical concept, instead reflecting their own subjective and often eclectic tastes; each of them was, in the apt description of Anne Higonnet, “A Museum of One’s Own.”1

While the French and Italian schools clearly account for the lion’s share of Chantilly’s collections, the Dutch occupy third place. In addition to sixteen Dutch paintings,2 Aumale had eighty-odd drawings by Dutch artists in his rich graphic arts cabinet.3 A consummate historian, he was fascinated by the genealogy of all the former occupants of the Château de Chantilly, and must have easily traced the links between Dutch art and the houses of Condé and Orléans back to the seventeenth century himself.

During the Franco-Dutch war (1672-78), the Prince of Condé, who lived in Chantilly, commissioned paintings and porcelain from the Netherlands, and asked Dutch artists to come and work in France. In The Risen Christ with Saints Peter and Paul and Two Angels by Anthonis Mor (ca. 1520-1575), known as Antonio Moro, which Condé purchased in the early 1680s, the château still possesses a painting that belonged to this original collection. A painting of farmyard birds by Melchior de Hondecoeter (1636-1695) is also mentioned in Chantilly as early as 1720. In the seventeenth century, the Orléans family also began to assemble a legendary collection of paintings – dispersed during the French Revolution – in which the Dutch school was represented by great masterpieces.

Matthias Stom (ca. 1590-1650), Sarah Presenting Hagar to Abraham, ca. 1640-1650, oil on canvas, 150 x 204 cm, musée Condé, Chantilly

With the bulk acquisition in 1854 of the 72 paintings owned by his father-in-law, the Prince of Salerno (1790-1851), Aumale came into possession of several portraits by Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt (1566-1641), a large painting by Matthias Stom (ca. 1590-between 1650 and 1660; fig. 1), and an allegory of wealth by Jacob van Loo (1614-1670). He also bought paintings by Theodorus Netscher (1661-1728), as well as a cavalry scene formerly attributed to Pieter Wouwerman (1623-1682) – now given to his workshop – from distinguished art dealers, such as Colnaghi in London and Goupil in Paris.

Fig. 2. Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707), The Sea on a Calm Day, 1671, oil on canvas, 83 x 105 cm, musée Condé, Chantilly

The greatest Dutch masterpieces in Chantilly’s painting collections are unquestionably the two seascapes by Jacob van Ruisdael (ca. 1628-1682) and Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707; fig. 2) that Aumale bought in 1868 at the sale of the collection of Count Anatoly Nikolaievich Demidov (1812-1870), Prince of San Donato. As Léa Saint-Raymond has pointed out, this sale was an unique opportunity for French art lovers to purchase Dutch paintings of outstanding quality. Several of these masterpieces fetched record prices: 1,820,000 francs for a copper painting by Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681) that was gifted to the National Gallery (London) by Richard Wallace and 98,000 francs for a panel landscape painting by Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709) now preserved at the Wallace Collection.4 Although the barons Florentin-Achille Seillière (1813-1873) and James de Rothschild (1792-1873) also took part in the bidding, Aumale secured Chantilly’s two seascapes for a total price of 128,000 francs.5

Just under half of Chantilly’s Dutch drawings were purchased by Aumale in 1861, with the acquisition of the entire collection of drawings owned by Frédéric Reiset (1815-1891). Reiset was a curator at the Louvre and his 360 drawings became the nucleus of Chantilly’s drawing collection when he decided to sell them in order to prevent any conflict of interest between his private passion and his public duties. Driven mainly by patriotism, Aumale wanted to prevent works of such high quality (including several drawings by Albrecht Dürer and Raphael and one by Michelangelo) from being acquired by the British Museum, which was also interested in the Reiset collection.6 His other Dutch drawings were purchased in the last twenty years of his life, during which time Dutch art became one of his main interests. In his diary he described the powerful impressions that the paintings of Rembrandt (1606-1669) and his contemporaries had made on him when he had seen them in Munich and London.

Fig. 3. Nicolaes Maes (1634-1693), Young Woman Holding a Basket, ca. 1650, red chalk on laid paper, 248 x 188 mm, musée Condé, Chantilly

In 1877 he finally traveled to the Netherlands, visiting several museums in Amsterdam. The artists whose work particularly fascinated him included Jan Both (1618/9-1652), Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684), Frans Hals (ca. 1580-1666) and Adriaen van de Velde (1636-1672). Aumale’s detailed knowledge of his collection is reflected in his comment about The Daydreamer by Nicolas Maes (1634-1693) at the Rijksmuseum: he wrote that the subject reminded him of a beautiful red chalk drawing by the same artist that he had bought at Colnaghi’s (fig. 3).

Most of Chantilly’s Dutch drawings feature landscapes, including seascapes by Willem van de Velde the Elder (ca. 1611-1693) and the Younger (1633-1707), Allaert van Everdingen (1621-1675), Ludolf Bakhuizen (1630-1708), and Hendrik Rietschoof (1678-1747). There are also countryside views and cityscapes by Philips Koninck (1619-1688), Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1691), Lambert Doomer (1624-1700), Jacob van der Ulft (1627-1689), Jan Hackaert (1628-1685), and Jacob van Ruisdael (fig. 4). Aumale seems to have been particularly fond of animal and pastoral subjects, as reflected by the presence in his collection of works by artists such as Adriaen van de Velde and Jan van der Meer the Younger (1656-1705). Genre scenes are also represented, including superb examples by Frans van Mieris (1635-1681) and Adriaen van Ostade (1610-1685).

Fig. 4. Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682), Oaks by a River, ca. 1645-1650, pen and brown ink, grey wash and watercolor on vellum, 146 x 197 mm, musée Condé, Chantilly

Since the 21 etchings by Rembrandt preserved at Chantilly were published by Nicole Garnier-Pelle and Jaco Rutgers in 2018,7 the last section of the château’s Dutch collections to be catalogued consisted of the remaining engravings from the Golden Age. The research project undertaken in this connection yielded some pleasant surprises. The main dealers from whom Aumale had purchased his prints were Londoners, primarily Colnaghi and Holloway. Although they include works by artists whose copperplates have been the subject of numerous reprint campaigns over time, all the château’s prints are original, in some cases even of rare states or trial proofs. Aumale seems to have set out to create ensembles by artists whose work was already present in his collections. His four engravings by Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617) are perfect complements to the artist’s three drawn portraits that he also possessed, and his six etchings by Adriaen van Ostade (1610-1685) display subjects resembling those in his three drawings by the master. The duke liked to purchase works by the same artist in different artistic mediums: he expressly asked his agent to buy a print by Van Ostade and its drawn modello at a public auction that was held in 1865. The château also has two pastoral prints by Paulus Potter (1625-1654), and a drawing by Potter that may have been preparatory to a third etching – never produced – which the artist had planned as a complement to the first two. As with his drawings, a large proportion of the duke’s Dutch prints feature pastoral and animal subjects. In this respect, Nicolaes Berchem (1620-1683) is among the artists best represented, with both ambitious compositions (fig. 5) – such as those nicknamed “the pearl” and “the diamond” by print lovers as early as the eighteenth century – and his more spontaneous animal studies.

Fig. 5. Nicolaes Berchem (1620-1683), The Cow Drinking, 1680, etching, 277 x 377 mm, musée Condé, Chantilly

Fig. 6. Constantijn Daniel van Renesse (1626-1680), Village Fair, ca. 1636-1650, etching, 129 x 200 mm, musée Condé, Chantilly

In the same perspective, the duke must have linked his seascape etchings by Reinier Nooms (ca. 1623-1664), called Zeeman, to those painted by Van de Velde and Ruisdael that he owned. One of the best discoveries made while cataloguing these prints was the identification of a view of Amsterdam by Zeeman that is not described in his Hollstein volume. Far from concentrating solely on the great masters of the Golden Age, Aumale developed a keen interest in lesser-known artists, such as Constantijn Daniel van Renesse (1626-1680; fig. 6) and Dirk Maas (1659-1717).

The château de Chantilly’s collection of Dutch prints encapsulates both the personality of the man who built it up and the artistic tastes of the nineteenth century. The Dutch prints can be viewed in the temporary exhibition Beyond Rembrandt: – Dutch Prints from the Golden Age until 25 February 2024.

Baptiste Roelly is Curator of Cultural Heritage at Musée Condé, Château de Chantilly located in Chantilly.


1 Anne Higonnet, A Museum of One’s Own, Pittsburgh and New York, Periscope Publishing Ltd., 2009.
2 All of which were published by David Mandrella and Nicole Garnier-Pelle in 2010 (David Mandrella and Nicole Garnier-Pelle, Peintures hollandaises du musée Condé à Chantilly, exhibition catalogue, Chantilly, musée Condé, 15 September 2010 to 2 January 2011, Chantilly, Domaine de Chantilly, 2010).
3 All of which were published by David Mandrella in 2001 (David Mandrella, Arcadie du Nord. Dessins hollandais du musée Condé à Chantilly, exhibition catalogue, Chantilly, musée Condé, 26 September 2001 to 7 January 2002, Paris, Chantilly, Smoggy Éditions d’Art, Musée Condé, 2001).
4 Léa Saint-Raymond, À la conquête du marché de l’art. Le Pari(s) des enchères (1830-1939), Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2021, p. 271.
5 Ibid.
6 Nicole Garnier-Pelle, Trésors du Cabinet des dessins du Musée Condé de Chantilly. Histoire de la collection du duc d’Aumale, exhibition catalogue, Chantilly, musée Condé, 18 March–13 June 2005, Paris, Somogy éditions d’art, 2005, p. 16.
7 Nicole Garnier-Pelle and Jaco Rutgers, Rembrandt au musée Condé de Chantilly, exhibition catalogue, Chantilly, musée Condé, 27 January–3 June 2018, Dijon, Éditions Faton, 2018.