CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

CODART TIEN Study Trip: background information


“It is not generally known that outside Paris there are thousands of Dutch Old Master paintings hanging in some 300 larger and smaller museums throughout France. It is my belief that not even the French know the treasures housed in their provincial art collections.” Thus Abraham Bredius (1855-1946), connoisseur and director of the Mauritshuis, in an enthusiastic article on Dutch art in French collections published in 1901 in Oud Holland.

With its many and multifaceted collections of Dutch and Flemish art, France has long been at the top of the list for a CODART study trip. The excursion planned for 2007 will focus on a number of these collections located in northern France. We will not only see the works on public display, but also whenever possible, objects housed in the storage facilities and print rooms.

Most of the cities and towns to be visited on the trip are part of the cultural region known as Flandre du Nord. The name Flanders first appears in the eighth century, describing a small area around Bruges. The territory later grew to encompass lands stretching from the Canache river in northern France to the mouth of the Schelde. Towns in the ancient county of Flanders and today’s northern France – for example Lille or Douai – grew wealthy through the textile industry, which in turn provided the means for the district’s rich cultural life.

In the 18th century Dutch and Flemish art became popular among members of the French royal houses and the aristocracy. Louis XV paved the way with his purchases of Rembrandt, Verkolje, Van Poelenburch and Saftleven, among others. In 1772 the collection of Randon de Boisset comprised 125 Dutch masters, while the catalogue of the collection of the Prince de Conti, dating to 1777, includes some 307 works originating in the Low Countries.

Most French museum collections can trace their inspiration and origins to three sources: republicanism, anti-clericalism and the Napoleonic Wars. Many private collections were expropriated in the wake of the French Revolution. These included the collections of the emigrated nobility, religious orders and the Catholic church. In this way, a large number of artworks came into the hands of the French state. Napoleon’s campaigns, and the works looted during them, also enriched the French national collections. The emperor’s conquête artistique also affected the Netherlands. On 7 June 1795, just a few months after the French invasion, revolutionaries laid claim to Willem V’s most noteworthy art treasures, thereafter transporting them to Paris. A large number of paintings were returned to the Netherlands in 1815; some, however, have remained in the Louvre.

In 1801 a French government decree established 15 major municipal museums across France. They were to house the works seized locally during the Revolution – chiefly paintings from deconsecrated monasteries and churches – to which were added important government deposits, among them pictures captured abroad that would later be excluded from the restitution policy implemented subsequent to Napoleon’s fall. These formed the basis for a number of the collections we will visit: Rouen was opened in 1809; the museums in Caen and Valenciennes were founded in 1801 and 1802, respectively; the museum in Douai is even older, dating to 1800.

Bredius followed his zealous introduction to the collections of Dutch art in France with two more articles, published in Oud Holland in 1904 and 1905, in which he described a number of the collections to be visited during the CODART study trip. Like Bredius we make stops at, among others, the Musée de Picardie in Amiens and the Museé des Beaux-Arts in Caen and Rouen.

As with the study trip to the Netherlands in 2006, each museum will be asked to present CODART members with several “problem cases” from the collection. Should you wish to see and/or study specific works during the trip, please let us know in advance and we will be happy to arrange it.

Sophie Raux (ed.), Collectioner dans les Flandres et la France du Nord au XVIIIe siècle, Lille 2003; Hervé Oursel, “La peinture flamande dans les musées du Nord de la France,” De Franse Nederlanden. Les Pays-Bas Français (1983), pp. 29-54; Jean Vergnet-Ruiz, “La peinture hollandaise dans les collections françaises,’ in: exhib. cat. Le siècle de Rembrandt. Tableaux hollandais des collections publiques françaises, Paris (Musée du Petit Palais) 1970-71
Information on all the museums of the region can be found on the website of the Association des conservateurs des Musées du Nord/Pas de Calais:
For information on French museum in general:

Wednesday, 14 March

09:30–12:00 Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts
The Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen is housed in a 19th-century building, which was renovated in 1994. The majority of works in the museum’s collection were expropriated from the Church following the French Revolution. These formed the basis for a rich collection of Dutch and Flemish art.

During our visit we will see, among others, Gerard David’s The Virgin among the virgins (1509), painted for a Carmelite convent in Bruges, and a cycle illustrating the story of Eliezer and Rebecca by Maerten de Vos. These six surviving pictures testify to the artistic links between Normandy and the Netherlands. We will also see Artus Ortkens’s cartoons for the stained-glass windows that still adorn the city’s churches. From the time of the museum’s foundation, large narrative paintings, such as the Adoration of the shepherds by Rubens, have been counterbalanced with small-scale northern tableaux d’amateurs. Many of these came from the collection of Jean-Baptiste Descamps, a native of Rouen and author of La vie des peintres flamands, allemands et hollandaise (1753-63). The museum also preserves landscapes by Van Goyen, Porcellis, Egbert van der Poel and Hendrick van Minderhout, as well as genre paintings such as an early Tavern scene by Gerard ter Borch.

In 1905 the museum was left the collection of Jules Hédou, which included a Nativity by Pieter Aertsen and a Cittern player by Caesar Boetius van Everdingen. In 1975 Henri Baderou donated around 400 paintings of all periods and almost 5,000 drawings. The gift included works by Karel van Mander, Paulus Bor, Govert Flinck, Cornelis Gysbrechts and Ferdinand Voet, as well as rare drawings by Jodocus van Winghe, Jacques II de Gheyn and Hendrick ter Brugghen. The last decade has seen purchases of pictures by Abraham Bloemaert, Lambert Jacobsz and Barent Fabritius.

Director Laurent Salomé and curator Diederik Bakhuÿs, who will give a brief introduction to the collection, will be our hosts.

Diederik Bakhuÿs, “The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen,” CODART Courant 12 (2006), pp. 12-13; François Bergot, Marie Pessiot and Gilles Grandjean, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen. Guide to the collections of the XVIth and XVIIth centuries, Paris 1992 (also available in French); François Bergot, The Museum of Fine Arts, Rouen, Paris 1989 (also available in French). A new general guide to the collection will be published in late 2006 or early 2007.

14:00–16:00 Caen, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen
Caen’s Musée des Beaux-Arts was officially opened in 1809; as was usual at the time, it initially occupied several rooms in the Hotel de Ville. A short time later, in 1911, Rubens’s Abraham and Melchizedek entered the collection, one of a group of 35 works taken from Germany and Austria by Napoleon’s troops. The museum now houses paintings by Rogier van der Weyden, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, the Master of Hoogstraten, Frans Floris, Rubens, Frans Snijders, Gerard de Lairesse, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Jan Asselijn and Willem van Aelst, among others.

The collector, book dealer and publisher Pierre-Bernard Mancel (1798-1872) donated his collection of paintings, prints, manuscripts, faiences and jewelry to the museum in 1872. This gift included some 45 Dutch and Flemish works, among them Rogier van der Weyden’s Madonna and child, as well as more than 50,000 prints by, among others, Callot, Dürer, Rembrandt, Tiepolo and Piranesi.

The museum was devastated by bombing in 1944. Although part of the collection had been taken to safety, as many as 500 paintings were destroyed. The new museum was finally reinstalled in 1971, and a renovation in the 1990s made still more room for the display of the collection. In 1995 the French ministry of culture awarded Caen the Grand Prix National des Musées for its architecture and programming.

Our host will be director Patrick Ramade. At the start of our visit he will give a brief introduction to the history of the regional museums of northern France and their collecting policies. Following his talk, we will tour the painting and print collections, as well as the storage, which houses an altarpiece by Cornelis Schut.

Françoise Debaisieux, Caen Musée des Beaux-Arts. Peintures des écoles étrangères, Paris & Caen 1994 (with a detailed history of the collection); Musée des Beaux Arts, Caen, ed. Conaissance des Arts (1994)

Thursday, 15 March

09:30–12:00 Excursions in Rouen
Participants will be divided into three groups, with the possibility of taking part in the following:

  • (1) Franco-Flemish Renaissance walking tour of Rouen conducted by Marie Pessiot, with visits to the stained-glass windows in the churches of St. Godard, St. Patrice and St. Jeanne d’Arc. The churches of Rouen have a particularly rich history of stained-glass windows, some of them designed by artists from the north. St. Patrice houses a spectacular ensemble dating from the 16th century, with 19 of the original 24 windows still intact. St. Godard, too, contains windows from the 16th century. The cathedral windows date from the 13th to the 20th centuries. See also: vitraux des églises de Rouen
  • (2) Visit to the collection of ceramics and tapestry at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, with an additional opportunity of a visit to the prints and drawings collection under the auspices of Diederik Bakhuÿs.
  • (3) Viewing of Flemish manuscripts from the municipal library. A number of manuscripts will be brought from the library to the Musée des Beaux-Arts especially for the CODART visit.

13:30–16:30 Amiens, Musée de Picardie
The Musée de Picardie was built between 1855 and 1867 on the initiative of the Société des Antiquaires de Picardië and with private funds – an almost unique occurrence in France. It was opened in 1867 by Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie. The grand staircase and surrounding gallery are decorated with murals on the theme of war and peace by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.

Works donated by the Société des Antiquaires and the Hotel de Ville form the basis of the museum’s holdings. These separate collections were fused at the end of the 19th century. Many of the important works by Dutch and Flemish masters originated with the Navallards, a family of Parisian textile barons. The museum comprises Flemish altarpieces and pictures by Joachim Wttewael, Van Dyck, Jordaens, Albert Cuyp, Frans Snyders, Herman van Swanevelt, Jan Fyt, Abraham van Beyeren and Frans Hals; landscapes by Salomon and Jacob van Ruysdael and Jan van Goyen; and a church interior by Bartholomeus van Bassen and Cornelis van Poelenburgh.

The Société des Antiquaires de Picardie still exists and owns a monumental library housed the museum where CODART will be greeted by one of the curators or the new director.

Following the visit to the museum there will be an opportunity to see the cathedral of Amiens.

Mathieu Pinette, Couleurs d’Italie, couleurs du Nord. Peintures étrangères des musées d’Amiens, Amiens & Paris 2001 (with CD-ROM)

Friday, 16 March

09:30–15:00 Lille, Musée des Beaux-Arts
The so-called Palais des Beaux-Arts houses the largest art collection in France after the Louvre. This magnificent late 19th-century palace was thoroughly restored in the 1990s by the architects Ibos and Vitart. The renovation created special rooms for the display of medieval and Renaissance works. Flemish art makes up an important part of the collection of this museum, located at the heart of the Flandre du Nord region.

Following an introduction by the museum’s director, Alain Tapié, participants will be divided into three groups. We will pay a visit to the collection of Flemish art, which includes, among others, works by Rubens. The museum preserves four of his altarpieces, among them a Descent from the cross. Most of the artist’s pictures in the museum were commissioned for churches in Lille. There are also two altarpieces by Van Dyck; an excellent group of paintings by Jordaens; and works by Frans de Momper and Frans Snyders. The Dutch art collection includes works by Abraham van Beyeren, Paulus Moreelse, Paulus Potter, Jan Baptist Weenix and Philips Wouwerman, among others.

The museum’s drawings collection includes some 4,000 sheets. For amateurs of work on paper there will be an opportunity to see a selection of the museum’s rich holdings with curator Cordélia Hattori. Curator Florence Gombert will give a tour of the newly installed rooms for medieval and Renaissance art. It will also be possible to visit the Philippe de Champaigne exhibition.

Arnauld Bréjon de Lavergnée and Alain Tapié, Manieristes du Nord dans les collections du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lille, Lille 2005; Arnauld Brejon de Lavergnée and Annie Scottez-De Wambrechies, Catalogue sommaire illustré des peintures. I – Écoles Etrangères, Paris 1999 (with an introduction by Jacques Foucard)

15:00–17:00 Walking tour of Lille and visit to the Hospice Comtesse
Conducted by Frédéric Vienne and others, with a visit to the recently reopened Hospice Comtesse, whose collection includes a number of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings.

17:30-19:00 Lecture and reception at the Belgian consulate
Preceding the reception, Luc Devoldere, director of the foundation Ons Erfdeel and editor-in-chief of the journal of the same name, will give the lecture “Vous êtes en Flandre”: about French Flanders, frontiers and languages on the Flandre du Nord region.

Saturday, 17 March

09:30–11:00 Douai, Musée de la Chartreuse
The Musée de la Chartreuse is located in a former Carthusian monastery, built in the years 1663-1725. In March 1792 all the paintings seized from the churches, religious houses and monasteries of the region were placed in storage in the church of the Dominicans in Douai. The museum was opened to the public in 1800. In 1857 the museum received a large bequest from Doctor Escallier. The gift included 176 Flemish and Dutch paintings, among them various panels from Jean Bellegambe’s Anchin polyptych.

In 1939, with the threat of war looming, part of the collection was packed up and moved. All the works remaining in the museum – among them ethnographic objects, the natural history collection, furniture and sculpture – were destroyed in a bombing raid in August 1944. The museum only reopened its doors in 1958; it was at this time, too, that new works began to be acquired for the collection. One such purchase was a Martyrdom of St. Barbara by Jean Bellegambe, who had spent most of his life in Douai. The museum also owns the artist’s The Virgin as protectress of the Cistercian order, his Polyptych of the Trinity and Triptych of the Immaculate Conception.

The collection also includes work by the so-called Master of Manna, perhaps a native of Leiden (The gathering of the manna, The crucifixion), and by Jan Sanders van Hemessen, Jan Massys, Frans Floris, Cornelisz van Haarlem, Hendrick Goltzius, Jacob Jordaens, Pieter Saenredam and others. One of the museum’s important Dutch works will, however, not be on display: Jan van Scorel’s altarpiece is currently being restored in Versailles.

Françoise Baligand, The Musée de la Chartreuse Douai, Paris 1999; Françoise Baligand, “Le Musée de la Chartreuse à Douai. Peintures des Ecoles du Nord,” De Franse Nederlanden. Les Pays-Bas Français (1985), pp. 191-209; Françoise Baligand, Peinture hollandaise. Musée de la Chartreuse, Douai, Douai 1978-79

13:30–15:30 Valenciennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Valenciennes
The history of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Valenciennes began in 1782, the year Pujol de Montry founded the city’s academy of fine arts. As elsewhere, the churches of Valenciennes were plundered during the French Revolution. A large number of the works saved eventually found their way into the museum, which opened to the public in 1801. Other works hung originally in abbeys, among them a Triptych of St. Etienne by Rubens and a Lamentation of Christ attributed to Pieter van Mol. A number of interesting pictures by Dutch and Flemish masters originated in the collection of the du Croÿ family, for example a Portrait of Elisabeth of France by Frans II Pourbus and a Saint James and the magician Hermogenes by Hieronymus Bosch.

The construction of the Musée de Picardie in Amiens (1855-67) and the museum in Lille (1892) inspired the construction of a museum in Valenciennes, which opened in 1909. A large part of the work was financed by lotteries held between 1905 and 1908. The building was designed by the municipal architect, Paul Dusart.

In the 1950s the museum received a number of Flemish works on long-term loan, among them three pictures by Rubens (e.g. Elijah and the angel) and a Jordaens (As the old sing, so pipe the young). The 1960s saw a number of purchases, such as the Last Judgment by Aert van Leyden and John the Baptist preaching by Pourbus the Elder.

In addition to the paintings, it will also be possible to see a selection of the museum’s holdings of works on paper. Our host is Emanuelle Delapierre, director of the museum.

Patrick Ramade and Philippe Beaussart, Musée des Beaux Arts de Valenciennes. Guide des collections, Paris & Valenciennes 1998