CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Scheinbar vertraut: niederländische genrebilder in Schwerin

Seemingly familiar: Dutch genre paintings in Schwerin Exhibition: 23 July - 14 November 2010

Information from the museum, 10 March 2010

That everyday life should be illustrated in paintings is anything but self-evident and one of the great innovations of Netherlandish art. It is only decades ago that art historians discovered these pictures not to be straightforward depictions of reality. In subtle ways the appearance of everyday life is made serviceable to specific outlooks. The life of the well-to-do may seem even more elegant, that of the peasant more bawdy than they were, or scenes shown may not be everyday life after all but rather outstanding like festivities, meetings, specific moments of any kind. In this way the paintings that we hail as the first realistic pictures of common life embellish what they show. They offer a praise of everyday life that will often be exaggerated in an Erasmian sense and thereby, as if unwittingly, expresses its own opposite. This, apart from and in addition to the pictorial beauty of the works, makes for intricate games of meaning that are capable of challenging and captivating the observer even today.

The Schwerin collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings houses a number of excellent genre paintings, among them the world-famous Sentry by Carel Fabritius as well as works by Frans Hals, Dou, Van Mieris, Steen, Potter, Honthorst, Lievens and others. Like most of the old master paintings they were amassed by duke Christian Ludwig II (d. 1756) in competition with other German princely collectors. As much as possible of the duke’s extensive correspondence with his agents kept in the Schwerin archives has been referred to in the provenance indications of the catalogue. Thereby the appearance of the collection is partly reconstructed, highlighting for instance the thirteen paintings then thought to be by Rembrandt. The publication of the catalogue of the Schwerin Dutch genre paintings is celebrated by an exhibition showing almost 70 of the more than 120 works, most of which are normally in storage and have never been illustrated. The attribution of all of the paintings, not assessed since 1882, has been checked and a number of corrections applied so that the collection now stands out much clearer than before.