CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Forthcoming Publication: Hamilton Palace – The Dukes of Hamilton and their Collections

An interesting book about the former art collection of the Dukes of Hamilton has been announced for publication in October.

Hamilton Palace: The Dukes of Hamilton and their Collections examines the vast palace of Scotland’s first peers and the hundreds of outstanding works of art acquired by twelve dukes over 300 years. In 1882, Hamilton Palace stood majestically to the south of Glasgow. Home to the Dukes of Hamilton since the sixteenth century, its magnificent walls contained treasures to rival the British Royal Collection. But by 1920, tens of thousands of items had been auctioned off, and the awe-inspiring building was about to be demolished.

Postcard of Hamilton Palace (1870).

Today, many of Hamilton Palace’s greatest treasures are held in museums and collections around the world, including the National Gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The forthcoming two-volume publication is the definitive book on the subject. It is written by Dr. Godfrey Evans, Principal Curator of European Decorative Arts at National Museums Scotland and Director of the Virtual Hamilton Palace Trust, and published by the National Museums Scotland.

The author was very kind to provide us with the following note, illustrating a selection of Dutch and Flemish works that once belonged to the Hamilton Collection.

Flemish and Dutch paintings and other items in Hamilton Palace and the collections of the Dukes of Hamilton 

A preview of some of the works that will be discussed in Dr. Godfrey Evans’ eighteen-chapter, two-volume book Hamilton Palace: The Dukes of Hamilton and their collections, which will be published by National Museums Scotland in October. 

Although the Hamilton Collection is chiefly famous for its Italian Renaissance paintings and outstanding examples of French eighteenth-century furniture, it contained many important works by Flemish and Dutch artists.

As a result of his close relationship with King Charles I, the 1st Duke of Hamilton acquired such paramount paintings as Rubens’ huge Daniel in the Lions’ Den (National Gallery of Art, Washington) and the two large panels of the Lamentation over the Dead Christ and The Burning of the Bones of St John the Baptist from Geertgen tot Sint Jans’ altarpiece in the Church of the Knights of Saint John the Baptist in Haarlem (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). They had been given to him by the King, who also presented his wife with two late sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century Flemish paintings of Christ and the Woman of Samaria and Christ Curing the Woman Diseased with an Issue of Blood (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts), which were thought to be by Raphael in the seventeenth century.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Daniel in the Lions' Den, 1614-16 Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Daniel in the Lions’ Den, 1614-16
National Gallery of Art, Washington

The two panels by Geertgen tot Sint Jans and an exquisite small Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Rubens (Kunsthistorisches Museum) were sold, along with almost all of the 1st Duke’s finest Old Master paintings, to the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, the Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, after his execution by the victorious Parliamentarians in 1649. Yet not everything of importance was exported to the Netherlands. Because of their size or subject matter, Rubens’ Daniel in the Lions’ Den and all the major full-length ‘family portraits’ by Daniel Mytens the Elder and Anthony van Dyck remained with the Hamilton family. These included the portraits of the Duke by Mytens, of 1623 and 1629 (Tate Britain and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh), and Van Dyck’s portraits of the Duke wearing armor (Liechtenstein Collection), the Duchess of Richmond and Lennox with the Duke’s young son as Cupid (North Carolina Museum of Arts) and the Duke’s father-in-law, the 1st Earl of Denbigh, with his Indian servant boy (National Gallery, London). In addition, the Hamiltons retained the profile portrait of the right-hand side of the head and shoulders of Queen Henrietta Maria by Van Dyck (Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, Tennessee). This was the cut-down, left-hand side of the aborted triple-portrait of the Queen that had been commissioned in 1638 to enable Bernini to carve a marble bust of the Queen. It was evidently given to the Duke by one or other of the royal couple in the late 1630s or early 1640s, because it is recorded in an inventory of his paintings that were packed up in crates in London in 1643.

Few Flemish or Dutch paintings of any real artistic significance entered the Hamilton collection between 1650 and 1800, but things changed dramatically when Lord Archibald Hamilton, the second son of the 5th Duke, succeeded his nephew in 1799. The 8th Duke had allowed Hamilton Palace to deteriorate and the new Duke quickly set about improving and revitalizing it. He brought up many of his Old Master paintings from London and his house near Lancaster. Among them was the allegorical portrait of Don Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, the powerful minister of King Philip IV of Spain, by Rubens (Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels). It also seems likely that the 9th Duke was responsible for the introduction into Hamilton Palace of Rubens’ sketch for a basin decorated with the birth of Venus (National Gallery, London) – the model for the silver basin that Theodore Rogiers made for Charles I – and Van Dyck’s full-length portrait of Princess Henrietta of Lorraine attended by a Page by Van Dyck (Kenwood House, London), as both are recorded in the 1811 Hamilton Palace inventory.

Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton (1767-1852), was primarily interested in Italian art. Nevertheless, he celebrated his forthcoming marriage to Susan Euphemia Beckford, the favorite daughter of the great collector William Beckford, by buying the very well-advertised star lot, Rubens’ oil painting of The Loves of the Centaurs (Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon), at Christie’s sale on 31 March 1810 for 610 guineas. It was an extremely crude choice for a man who was going to be married in less than a fortnight’s time, because it shows two of the centaurs actually mating, while the other male is trying to stop and mount the other, fleeing female. However, the painting appealed to the future transformer of Hamilton Palace because it had belonged to his revered dead relative, Sir William Hamilton, the former British ambassador to Naples, and indicated that – although the 9th Duke was still alive – it was his elder son who was now the dynamic head of the House of Hamilton.

As a result of the 10th Duke’s collecting and – more importantly – of William Beckford’s bequest of his still enormous collection to the Hamiltons in 1844, there were many good paintings by Dutch and Flemish painters in Hamilton Palace and the Hamiltons’ London townhouses in the mid-nineteenth century. Most of the major Dutch painters of the Golden Age – such as Jan van Goyen, Jacob van Ruisdael, Willem van de Velde the Younger and Meindert Hobbema – were represented with pleasant, ‘representative’ pictures.

The Hamilton Collection also included a number of paintings associated with Rembrandt. Remarkably, the most important – the head of a young woman, of about 1665, which had been in the 9th Duke’s possession in the late eighteenth century – was attributed to Velázquez during its time in Hamilton Palace, despite being recognized as a work by Rembrandt by the artist and diarist Joseph Farington in 1801 and by John Smith in 1836. There was also an early copy of Rembrandt’s Samson threatening his Father-in-Law in Prison in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, which was definitely in Hamilton Palace in 1811. By chance, both are now in Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

In sharp contrast, Rubens was much better represented. As well as the four paintings by Rubens already mentioned, the Hamilton Collection definitely contained five significant oil sketches by him:

  • The model for the painting of Christ Triumphant over Sin and Death that hung over the tomb of Jeremias Cock and his family in the church of St Walburga in Antwerp (acquired by Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1921 and stolen from there in 1933).
  • The model for the unfinished painting of The Battle of Ivry, or Henry IV at the Battle of Ivry, in the Uffizi, which was intended for the Henri IV Gallery in the Luxembourg Palace in Paris (Musée Bonnat, Bayonne).
  • The Landscape with a Gallows and a Hanged Man (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin).
  • The model for the altarpiece of The Descent from the Cross painted for the high altar of the Church of the Capuchins in Lille (both now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille).
  • The model for the picture of Bellerophon Slaying the Chimaera, which formed part of the decoration on the Triumphal Arch of Hercules Prodicius, erected at the entrance of the Abbey of Saint-Michel, in Antwerp, for the reception of the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand, the new Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, in April 1635 (Musée Bonnat, Bayonne).

The first three are known to have been acquired by the 9th Duke, while the fourth is clearly listed in the 1811 Hamilton Palace inventory. Beckford secured the final one, of Bellerophon, from John Smith’s collection.

Adriaen van Ostade (1610-1685), Interior of an Inn with Three Men and a Boy, 1656
Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio

Among the other Dutch and Flemish paintings of note it is worth highlighting the following:

  • The central panel of a triptych of The Adoration of the Kings by the Workshop or School of Joos van Cleve, probably Antwerp, ca. 1525-50, from William Beckford’s collection (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).
  • The oil-on-panel painting of Christ Preaching in the Wilderness attributed to Augustin Hirschvogel during the nineteenth century and now to Herri met de Bles (ca. 1510 – after 1550), from Beckford’s collection (Private Collection).
  • Diana and her Nymphs bathing, with Actaeon running away in the background, by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Johann Rottenhammer or another artist, ca. 1595, possibly recorded in the 1759 Hamilton Palace inventory (Arnot Art Gallery, Elmira, New York State, USA).
  • Venus and Apollo, with Putti Dancing, by Jan Breughel the Elder and Johann Rottenhammer, ca. 1595, from Beckford’s collection (also Arnot Art Gallery, Elmira).
  • Croesus and Solon by Hendrick van Steenwyck the Younger and a follower of Jan Brueghel the Elder, ca. 1610 (National Gallery, London).
  • The two paintings of The Elements of Water and The Elements of Air by Jan Breughel, dated 1610 and 1611 respectively, from Beckford’s collection (Private Collection).
  • The Flight into Egypt by Paulus Potter, signed and dated 1644, which was in Hamilton Palace in 1811 (with Kunsthandel P. De Boer, Amsterdam, in 2017-18).
  • Dune Landscape by Philips Wouwerman, signed and painted ca. 1652/1654, which was also recorded in the 1811 Hamilton Palace inventory (Private Collection).
  • Interior of an Inn with Three Men and a Boy by Adriaen van Ostade, signed and dated 1656. This depicts a large ugly man quite obviously urinating almost in the center of the composition, and came from Beckford’s collection (Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio).
  • Interior of a Church by Anthonie de Lorme, signed and dated 1667, from Beckford’s collection (Arnot Art Museum, Elmira).
  • Garden Scene with Dead Game by Jan Weenix, signed and dated 1705, from Beckford’s collection (Christie’s London, 8 December 1995, lot 47).
  • Still Life with Flowers by Jan van Huysum, signed and dated 1724, from Beckford’s collection (Private Collection, on loan to Dulwich Picture Gallery, London).

The 11th Duke of Hamilton was an antiquarian collector, who formed exceptional collections of Jacobite relics and of Continental silver made between 1400 and 1750. Some of these items had certainly belonged to his grandfather, William Beckford. However, bills in the Hamilton archive reveal that the 11th Duke was buying a lot of silver from a variety of sources between about 1840 and his death in 1863.

Among the items in the 11th Duke’s collection were some of the finest works by the principal seventeenth-century Dutch goldsmiths Adam and Christiaen van Vianen, Thomas Bogaert and Andries Grill. They included the following pieces that were dispersed at Christie, Manson and Woods’ famous Hamilton Palace sale in 1882 and at a Sotheby’s auction of Hamilton items in June 1977:

Adam van Vianen (1569-1627), Tazza representing summer, 1627
Centraal Museum, Utrecht

The pair of silver tazze by the leading Utrecht silversmith Adam van Vianen, signed and dated 1627, with bowls decorated with scenes representing summer and winter and with the stems in the form of figures of a girl carrying a basket of flowers and a man with a faggot on his back, leaning on a golf club and with a dog at his feet (Centraal Museum, Utrecht).

The pair of silver salt cellars, with stems formed as a satyr and Venus removing a thorn from her foot, by Thomas Bogaert, Utrecht, 1624. These are exceptionally rare examples of Bogaert’s early work. He only became a master of the Utrecht Silversmiths’ Guild in 1622 and moved to Amsterdam sometime before 1629, where he rose to become alderman of the Amsterdam Silversmiths’ Guild in 1635 and its dean in 1640. They reflect the profound influence of Adam van Vianen upon the young Bogaert and are only matched by a similar pair of salts by him in the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch. Both Hamilton salts were in the celebrated collection of Dr Anton Dreesmann between 1995 and 2002, when they sold for 391,750 Euros, and were with Christie’s in 2020.

The silver tazza by Christiaen van Vianen (the son of Adam van Vianen), Utrecht, 1628, with the bowl formed in the shape of a shell and decorated with a youthful Bacchus leaning on a barrel, holding a cup and with his arm thrown around the neck of a goat.

The partly gilt silver glass holder with the figure of Bacchus seated on a barrel, holding a cup. Although regarded as an important work by Adam van Vianen in the nineteenth century, this was actually made by The Hague goldsmith Andries Grill in 1642. It was purchased by the Kunstmuseum Den Haag in Berlin in 1937, but was ordered to be ‘restituted’ to the legal heirs of its later Jewish owner in 2022.

The 11th Duke’s elder son, William, the 12th Duke of Hamilton, also collected old silver and assembled an extremely good collection of Dutch silver tobacco boxes. Some of these were sold off after his death in 1895, but the very best are preserved at Brodick Castle, the Hamiltons’ former main residence on the Isle of Arran (now owned by the National Trust for Scotland). They include excellent examples by the eighteenth-century Amsterdam silversmiths Leendert Beekhuis, Frans Morellon la Cave, Nicolaas Hooft and Johannes Pauli. Some of these are beautifully engraved with copies after Pieter Schut’s etched illustrations of the Bible. Only two can be mentioned here. First, the box by Johannes Pauli (b. 1695, master 1728, d. 1744), made in Amsterdam in 1739, is engraved on the lid with Simeon and Levi, two of the sons of Jacob, killing Shechem and all the males in his city for defiling their sister Dinah (Genesis, 34), while the scenes on the base show the flight of Zedekiah, king of Judah, from Jerusalem and his capture by the army of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (Jeremiah, 39, 4-5). The scene on the lid is a copy of Schut’s Old Testament illustration 34 in the 1659 edition, whilst that on the base is a reproduction of his Old Testament illustration 140 in the same edition. Secondly, the box by Leendert Beekhuis (b. 1708, master 1731, d. after 1762), made in Amsterdam in 1753, is engraved on the lid with Christ’s parable about the importance of the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew, 13 (‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field’), while the base shows Namaan bathing seven times in the river Jordan. The engraving on the lid is after Schut’s New Testament illustration number 29 in the 1659 edition, whilst that on the base is after his Old Testament illustration number 119 in the same edition.

This is obviously just to scratch the surface of what was unquestionably the grandest collection in the history of Scotland. Other Dutch and Flemish works will also be included in Godfrey Evans’ forthcoming book.

It must be emphasized, though, that these two hefty volumes will not be confined to Dutch and Flemish art. They will examine all aspects of the collecting, patronage and other activities of the Lords, Earls, Marquises and Dukes of Hamilton over 500 years; the dispersal of their collections; the beneficiaries in Britain, Continental Europe and north America; and the demolition of Hamilton Palace itself in the 1920s and ’30s.

 – Dr. Godfrey Evans is the Principal Curator of European Decorative Arts at National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh. He is also a Director of the Virtual Hamilton Palace Trust and an Advisor to the National Trust for Scotland on Brodick Castle.