CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Horses, windmills and skaters: images of pleasure and purpose in the Dutch Republic

Lecture: 21 February 2009

From the library website, 12 February 2009

Dr. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Curator of Northern Baroque Painting at the National Gallery of Art, will speak at the National Sporting Library on Saturday, February 21 at 2 p.m. In his lecture, Horses, windmills and skaters: images of pleasure and purpose in the Dutch Republic, Wheelock will explore the ways in which the Dutch found both delight and warnings about human behavior in the games and sports that they so enjoyed. Please call Judy Sheehan at 540-687-6542 x 10 to reserve a seat and leave a contact number where you may be reached. Admission is free.

The National Sporting Library received a generous donation by Mrs. Henry Weldon of New York City, N.Y. of a seventeenth-century Dutch painting, Horse in a Landscape, by the artist Abraham van Calraet (1642–1722). Painted circa 1690, this oil on panel work is currently the oldest painting in the Library’s permanent collection. The artist has portrayed a dark brown horse against a dramatic landscape of cliffs beside the ocean. A sky billows with cumulus clouds above the horse, which is shown in three-quarter view standing atop a plateau in the foreground. Jan and Willem Jan Hoogsteder suggested in a recent publication that the landscape is Italian. The seaside landscape and ruins in the background (visible between the horse’s legs) are indeed reminiscent of the area near the Bay of Naples. A tree trunk appears at an angle in the left foreground while three cows graze in the background to the right of the horse.

Abraham van Calraet painted in the city of Dordrecht in South Holland, a major port known for its shipbuilding industry. Though little is known about Calraet’s life, the subject matter of his work is similar to that of his more famous contemporary and probable teacher, Aelbert Cuyp (1620-91). Both artists painted the Dutch landscape and images of horses and other livestock appear frequently in their work. Calraet’s paintings have often been mistakenly attributed to Cuyp, since Calraet often signed his works with the same initials, AC. Although the Weldon painting is signed A. Cuyp, a number of scholars, including historian of Dutch art, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., have confirmed its authorship by Calraet.

Calraet likely composed his works from life sketches. An almost-identical brown horse appears in Two Horses in a Landscape, in the Kunsthandel Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder in The Hague, Netherlands. In the Hague picture, the dark brown horse stands head-to-tail with a chestnut horse against a Dutch landscape with windmills in the background.

The painting is also unusual in that it was enlarged by additions to the panel to the right and to the top of the horse. “Additions are not all that common in Dutch art, but they do exist,” said Wheelock. “Very little is known about the reasons for doing it, although I can imagine that there were a wide range of reasons. In this case it seems to have been largely to provide an atmospheric ambiance for the horse.”

Mrs. Weldon and her late husband, Henry (who was born in The Netherlands) collected Dutch and Flemish paintings for more than four decades. The Calraet horse was exhibited in 1999 at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore as part of the exhibition, An Eye for Detail: 17th-century Dutch and Flemish Paintings from the Collection of Henry H. Weldon.

“Although the Calraet painting cannot be labeled a sporting painting ipso facto it is none the less a fine example of a skillfully-executed oil heralding the importance of animals in art in Western culture,” said NSL Curator of Fine Arts, F. Turner Reuter Jr. “In this context its acquisition fits nicely within the mission statement of our library and new museum.” Nancy H. Parsons, President & CEO, added, “We are thrilled to have this lovely Dutch painting for the Library’s collection and we thank Mrs. Weldon for her generous gift.”