This summer, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham, will showcase a dazzling selection of Dutch and Flemish seventeenth-century masterpieces from Woburn Abbey, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Bedford.
Featuring a dozen Old Master paintings, the exhibition is one of the largest and most significant group of such works from this important ducal collection to be exhibited in a public gallery since the 1950s. Mastering the Market, which focuses on the themes of patronage and collecting, is curated by four Art History and Curating MA students from the University, with guidance and supervision from experts at both the Barber Institute and Woburn Abbey.
Other aspects of the innovative and dynamic seventeenth-century Dutch art market will also be explored – from the unique character of artistic culture in the newly independent Dutch Republic, through art dealership and attribution, to the demand for, and development of, new genres. The burgeoning wealth and rise of the merchant classes in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century sparked huge demand for portrait commissions, which the Barber exhibition examines, offering fresh interpretations of the works from Woburn Abbey.
Assembled principally by the 4th, 5th and 6th Dukes of Bedford between the 1730s and 1830s, the Woburn Abbey collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings is one of the finest in private hands in the UK. These include superb portraits and head studies by Rembrandt Van Rijn, Frans Hals and Anthony Van Dyck, exquisite landscapes and seascapes by Aelbert Cuyp and Jan van de Cappelle, and lively subject pictures by Jan Steen and David Teniers. The exceptional opportunity to see these paintings together in a public gallery has arisen due to the extensive and ongoing refurbishment of the Abbey.
Key loans include Rembrandt’s Portrait of a bearded Old Man, 1643, Hals’s Portrait of a Man, ca. 1635-38, Van Dyck’s Portrait of a Married Couple, identified as Daniel Mytens and his Wife, ca. 1632-34, Cuyp’s A Landscape near Calcar with the Artist sketching, ca. 1652, Steen’s Twelfth Night or ‘Le Roi Boit’, 1670-71, and Van de Cappelle’s A Dutch Harbour, with numerous Fishing Boats, ca. 1652-54.
Complementing the Woburn masterpieces is a small selection of the outstanding Dutch and Flemish paintings in the Barber’s own permanent collection, notably Steen’s The Wrath of Ahasuerus, ca. 1668-70, Van Dyck’s Ecce Homo, ca.1625-26, and Portrait of François Langlois, early 1630s (jointly owned with the National Gallery, London), plus Hals’s Portrait of a Man holding a Skull, ca. 1611-12. These will connect with the respective works by the same artists from Woburn.