Information from the curator, 2 March 2015
A lady looking into a mirror in the soft candlelight, proud, a little pert perhaps, but certainly enigmatic. Few artists have matched the ability of Godefridus Schalcken (1643–1706) to capture such magical moments on canvas so powerfully that they still compel attention three centuries later. The subtle way in which Schalcken illuminates his motifs, whether shown in natural or artificial light, has always fascinated viewers. Yet sophisticated lighting effects are not the only outstanding feature of his work. In addition, the elegance, sensuous appeal, varied subject matter and technical brilliance of his paintings helped him to gain a reputation throughout Europe. Collectors of his work included Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm and the Medici family in Florence.
In autumn 2015 the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Courboud launches in cooperation with the Dordrechts Museum the first-ever exhibition to survey Schalcken’s oeuvre as a whole, inviting a reassessment of this unique painter and seducing visitors to have a detailed look at the charming and enchanting art of Schalcken. More than eighty loans from public and private collections worldwide will be on show, a third of his known painted oeuvre. Lenders include the Leiden Collection, New York, Uffizi Florence, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Mauritshuis The Hague, National Gallery London, Národní Galerie in Prague, Statens Museum Copenhagen, Gemäldegalerie Dresden, Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe and Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister Museumslandschaft Hessen-Kassel.
Schalcken will not have seemed predestined for an artistic career when he was born in 1643 into a family headed by a Protestant pastor. At the age of nineteen, following an apprenticeship with Samuel van Hoogstraten, a pupil of Rembrandt, he entered the workshop of Gerrit Dou, the celebrated founder of the school of artists known as the Leiden ‘fine’ painters. The choice was wise: not only was Dou one of the best-paid artists of his time; his pupils would also dominate Dutch art in the late seventeenth century. Like many others, Schalcken drew on the illusionistic skills and wide-ranging store of motifs current among exponents of Leiden ‘fine’ painting; yet he developed his own unique style, notable for its pictorial wit, unusual adaptations of familiar motifs and striking effects of colour and light. Despite economically and political difficult times, he single-mindedly pursued a career that took him from his native town Dordrecht, via Leiden to London, Düsseldorf and The Hague. Schalcken’s ambition and success is clearly reflected in his self-portraits, which feature prominently in the exhibition.
The exhibition catalogue with essays by Guido M.C. Jansen, Wayne Franits, Anja K. Sevcik, Nicole E. Cook and Marcus Dekiert and extensive entries aims to update the meritorious Catalogue raisonée by Thierry Beherman of 1988.