From the museum website, 7 June 2011
The premises of the Neo-Renaissance villa housing the Liberec Regional Gallery do not allow the simultaneous exhibition of all the gallery’s collections. For this reason, the collection of 16th to 18th century Dutch paintings is currently stored in the depository. As the gallery is preparing to lend its 19th century French landscape paintings to the museum in Liberec’s twin town of Augsburg, we have decided to use the temporarily vacant space to exhibit the exquisite works of Dutch Golden Age Painting.
The paintings in the Liberec collection of 16th to 18th century Dutch art come from three sources – purchases, assignments and private collections. Most of the paintings were purchased in the 1960s thanks to the former gallery director, Dr. Hana Seifertová. Several paintings were purchased in later years too, the last of them in 2000. Some of the works come from big aristocratic collections. One of the paintings, probably the most valuable, comes from the collection of the famous Liberec collector Heinrich von Liebieg.
In the 16th century, the Netherlands consisted of seventeen provinces belonging to Spain. In 1581, the seven northern provinces (Fríesland, Gelderland, Groningen, Holland, Overijssel, Utrecht and Zeeland) seceded from Spain. However, their sovereignty was not recognized by Spain until 1609. The term Dutch Art applies to two regions – the northern provinces (presently the Netherlands) and the southern provinces (modern day Belgium, whose art is known as Flemish). During the 17th century, the Dutch brought a flourish to kinds of painting that were known in Italy as pittura minore, lower categories of painting, especially landscape, but also still lifes and genre painting. These three kinds of painting, which stemmed from the local tradition of realism, became hugely successful in the Netherlands. The word realism is not entirely accurate in this case, as in their compositions painters combined depictions of reality with symbols. Nevertheless, they managed to point the way towards realism, which was later taken up by 19th century landscape painters, in particular.
Apart from typical landscapes (Wouter Knijff’s Seacoast) and seascapes, the Liberec collection also contains Italian-influenced Flemish landscapes with figure staffage, like the large-scale View of Paris by Cornelis Beelt (most likely based on an old master print).
The still life as a distinct genre of painting emerged in the Netherlands in the mid 16th century. There are many sub-genres of still lifes, the oldest of them being the kitchen and the market varieties, followed by still lifes which symbolically represent months or the seasons, vanitas (still lifes symbolizing transience, such Still life with a Book and a Skull or Vanitas by Jan Davidsz de Heem), hunting still lifes (aptly called nature morte), flower paintings (for example, Still life with flowers by Elias van der Broeck), and others. The most common type of still life in the Netherlands of the first half of the 17th century was stilleven, depicting simple laid tables with dishes, glasses, cutlery, meals and fruit. This genre is represented in the Liberec Regional Gallery’s collection by Still life with goblets, grapes and walnuts by Jan Jansz van de Velde.
Genre painting – scenes from the everyday life of all classes – reached its peak in the Netherlands of the 17th century. Each kind had its own name – a merry company, inn scenes, market scenes, scenes from the lives of military men, peasant life, and so on. Several samples can be found in the gallery collection, for example, The merry company of Peasants in an Inn by Bartolomeo Molenaer, and Meeting before Patrician House by Thomas Heeremans.
Only a small number of religious and mythological paintings were produced by Dutch artists of this period; nevertheless, a few examples of these can also be found in the gallery’s collection.
A typical Dutch painting of the 16th century, The Holy Family with John the Baptist, Zechariah and Elizabeth, shows the great admiration of the Northern Mannerists for the work of Leonardo da Vinci and his followers.
We believe these examples of Dutch painting from the 16th to 18th centuries by so-called minor masters will please regular as well as occasional visitors to our gallery. Apart from a few exceptions, there are no big names here. Nevertheless, it is an interesting collection of minor paintings with a charming atmosphere, which represent chronologically individual painting styles and genres and also introduce major artistic centres of Dutch painting, such as Amsterdam, Antwerp, Haarlem and others. To paraphrase Karel Čapek, “Dutch paintings might be small in size, but of great or at least very good quality.”