Information from the curator, 9 May 2016
This summer the V&A will for the first time display some of the most important works from the Museum’s outstanding collection of Dutch and Flemish drawings: one of the principle holdings in Britain. Master Strokes: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Golden Age will present over 70 works from the 16th to the 19th century, including masterpieces by Peter Paul Rubens, Sir Anthony van Dyck and Rembrandt van Rijn, and a recently re-attributed drawing by Carel Fabritius. These will be supported by rich collections of works from many lesser-known Golden Age artists who were hugely relevant in their day yet are no longer considered household names, such as Hans Bol and Jacob Jordaens. Designs for architecture and the applied arts will also be on display, demonstrating the diversity and enduring artistic and technical excellence of Netherlandish artists of the 17th century – a period of extraordinary prosperity and artistic output.
Master Strokes: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Golden Age will include portraits, figure studies, genre scenes, landscapes and botanical studies, as well as designs for stained glass, tapestries and prints. Drawings will be grouped thematically and chronologically to demonstrate both the contrasts and similarities between the artistic styles and practices of artists working in the Northern and Southern Netherlands across the period. Objects will range from rough sketches and sketch-books to working studies and finished ‘picture drawings’, representing a variety of media and techniques including watercolours, ‘trois crayons’ and pastels.
The display will begin with Netherlandish drawings from the 16th century, demonstrating the development of landscape, genre and religious subjects in the century before the Golden Age. Highlights will include early landscapes by Hans Bol and Matthijs Cock, as well as religious works by Jan Swart van Groningen, Lambert Lombard and Pieter Coecke van Aelst.
An important collection of figure studies by Rubens will be shown as part of a selection of drawings from the long 17th century in which figures are central to the composition. It will also feature preparatory life studies, portrait drawings and genre pieces, including a rare finished watercolour drawing by Jacob Savery. The display will also consider how Golden Age artists from both the Northern and Southern Netherlands engaged with the natural world though landscapes, still lives and animal and flower studies. Landscapes by Flemish artists Paul Bril and Jan Breughel the Elder, and pioneers of the Dutch landscape tradition Cornelis Vroom and Jan van Goyen will be featured, as well as an important late landscape by Rembrandt.
A section of the display will be devoted to religious, mythological and allegorical subjects, including drawings by Rembrandt and Van Dyck, presenting the contrasting religious subjects of the Protestant Dutch Republic and the Counter-Reformation Catholic Southern Netherlands during the 17th century. Highlights here include Van Dyck’s first preparatory drawing for the now lost Christ Crowned with Thorns – formerly held at Berlin’s Kaiser Friedrich-Museum but destroyed in the Second World War.
Master Strokes: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Golden Age will conclude with a selection of drawings from the 18th and 19th centuries, demonstrating the continuing influence of Golden Age art on artists working in a period of political and geographic change in the Northern and Southern Netherlands.
The display follows a 10-year study undertaken by Sir Christopher White, formerly Director of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and Jane Shoaf Turner, Head of the Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam to catalogue and discuss every work in the V&A’s comprehensive collection of approximately 700 Dutch and Flemish drawings spanning a period of over 400 years, exploring recent discoveries and re-attributions.