NICOLAAS BAUR (Harlingen 1767 – Harlingen 1820)
The Women’s Speed-Skating Race on the Westersingel in Leeuwarden, January 21, 1809
signed and dated N. Baur 1810 in the lower right
oil on canvas
23 ½ x 29 ½ inches (59.7 x 74.9 cm.)
Sold to the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Jacob Scheidwimmer, Munich, by 1942 from whom acquired by
Adolf Hitler, June 11, 1942 for Schloss Possen (for 7,000 RM), and deposited at
Altaussee salt mine, Altaussee, Austria, by 1943-1944, no. 8291, where recovered by the
Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section (“The Monuments Men”) of the Allied Forces, who arrived May 16, 1945 and transferred to
Munich Central Collecting Point, October 31, 1945, no. 13471, from whom given to Republic of Austria, June 10, 1949 and sent to Salzburg,
Mauerbach Monastery, Austria by 1956
Ownership transferred to the Austrian Federation of Jewish Communities, October, 1995
Mauerbach, items seized by the Nazis to be sold for the benefit of the victims of the Holocaust, Christie’s, Vienna, October 29-30, 1996, lot 583 where acquired by
Suzanne and Norman Hascoe, Greenwich, Connecticut, until 2012
Greenwich, Connecticut, Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, Old Master Paintings from the Hascoe Collection, April 2 – May 29, 2005, no. 27
Peter C. Sutton, Old Master Paintings from the Hascoe Collection, Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences, Greenwich, Connecticut, 2005, pp. 7, 62-63, no. 27, illustrated
A compelling mix of recorded visual history with a provenance of equal fascination defines Nicolaas Baur’s The Women’s Speed-Skating Race on the Westersingel in Leeuwarden, January 21, 1809. On January 21, 1809 a speed-skating contest exclusively for women was held on the Westersingel in Leeuwarden. This type of race had occurred only once before in 1805 and both proved of great historical importance, becoming the most renowned speed skating contests of the nineteenth century. In 1809 sixty-four unmarried women competed for the traditional prize of a golden earring (“gouden oorijzer”) and a string of black stones set in a golden crown (“streng gitten in goud met kroontje”). Haukje Gerrits from Veenwouden and Mayke Meijes won the race skating the 148 meter course (38 koningsroeden) in just 12 seconds. Not without controversy these races sparked a lot of debate, evident from dozens of letters published in the Algemeene Vaderlandsche Letteroefeningen, a famous Dutch literary magazine of the period. Some supported the event while others felt these races to be immoral as they caused “famkes” (the Frisian word for women) to cast off their cloaks and don more form fitting outfits viewed as too revealing – a harbinger of moral decay. One delighted Frisian farmer unabashedly recounted how such a spectacle “shocked his cuddling rod”. For the rest of the century women’s speed-skating matches remained atypical and occasionally even forbidden by local and regional authorities. Initially speed-skating was typically a Frisian event as opposed to figure skating that was common in the coastal provinces of Holland.
Baur’s enchanting recreation of the race under pink and blue skies reveals Leeuwarden covered in snow teeming with crowds of spectators along the sides of the Westersingel. Snow capped trees, almost chorus-line like in their symmetry, flank the right side of the composition while two large frozen trees loom-up on the left, with one bearing a waving child. Snow covers the foreground except for a small path that allows the viewer to enter the composition. Seen in the distance is the Oldenhove, the tower for a late medieval church that was never completed, and the Wirdumerpoort with its twin towers and soaring white steeples, demolished in 1855. On the frozen river two tracks have been precisely designated by three nicely swept lanes of snow. The “ice master”, who was responsible for preparing and cleaning the ice, stands to the left of the finish line, broom in hand. Flanked on either side of the finish line are officials from the Leeuwarden organizing committee holding Dutch flags to mark the winner and runner-up. As the skater in blue crosses the line with upheld arms the official marks her victory with his raised flag. Several French cavaliers on horseback patrol the crowd, underlining the fact that Holland at this point was ruled by France. Napoleon’s younger brother Louis Napoleon, nicknamed the “good king” reigned from 1806-1810, and mainly due to his efforts official sponsorship for the arts and sciences occurred, including the founding of the annual Exhibition of Living Masters (Tentoonstelling van Levende Meesters). Louis Napoleon was also especially partial to Baur’s work.
An earlier view of the race by Baur dated 1809, from a slightly altered vantage point, is in the Fries Museum, Leeuwarden (inventory no. 7596). Under stormy skies, featuring somewhat different staffage and a huge Dutch flag planted at the finish line, Baur in the Fries Museum panel has chosen to present the finished race with the skater in blue having come to a halt engaged in a victory dance with her opponent trailing. In 1810, when Baur enlarges and reworks the scene under a brightened sky, by focusing on the moment of victory the drama has become palpable. Slyly, perhaps in response to the controversy stirred-up by the race, the artist in the 1810 painting added a discarded cloak to the foreground. Also in the Fries Museum are two watercolors of the race, both from 1812 by the artists Eelke Jelles Eelkema and J. van Schoonbeek, based on Baur’s compositions from 1809 and 1810.
Nicolaas Baur was the eldest child of the portraitist and art dealer Henricus Antonius Baur, a German who had settled in Harlingen. Initially he trained with his father painting mainly city views and landscapes as well as a number of historical events. He was a member of the academies of Amsterdam and Brussels. His fame grew especially after he added marine subjects to his repertoire. In 1808 when Louis Napoleon was unable to decide on a suitable candidate to be awarded the prize for sculpture at the Exhibition of Living Masters, the honor was given instead to a seascape by Baur. National fame was thus achieved and the time between 1810-1818 is considered his golden period. In the wake of the 1808 award, the majority of Baur’s output were seascapes, and ultimately he came to be regarded as one of the best marine painters of his time. Besides Leeuwarden paintings by the artist can be found in the Amsterdam Historisch Museum, Rijksmuseum, Rijksmuseum Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum, and the Rijksprentenkabinet all in Amsterdam; Rijksmuseum Zuiderzeemuseum, Enkhuizen; Haags Historisch Museum, The Hague; numerous works in the Gemeentemuseum het Hannemahuis, Harlingen; Prentenkabinet Rijks Universiteit, Leiden; Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen and Maritiem Museum “Prins Hendrik” both in Rotterdam; as well as the Fries Scheepvaart Museum, Sneek.
Destined for Schloss Possen, a palace in Poznań, Poland, which was intended to be transformed into a residence for Adolf Hitler, Baur’s 1810 painting of The Women’s Speed-Skating Race was purchased in 1942 from the Munich art dealer Jacob Scheidwimmer. For safekeeping it came to be stored in the salt mine at Altaussee, Austria. The Viennese museums had been first to store their treasures in the mine, but after the increase of allied air raids Hitler requisitioned the mine for his own use during the winter of 1943-1944. The most valued treasures of the regime were kept in Altaussee including Hubert and Jan Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna as well as Vermeer’s The Art of Painting and The Astronomer, in all a total of 6,577 paintings. The village of Altaussee was held by a handful of American infantry soldiers when the Monuments Men (The Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of the Allied Forces) arrived on May 16, 1945 just eight days after the official ending of the war in Europe. What they discovered when they reached the mine was that as a result of76 bomb blasts all 137 tunnels of the mine had been sealed by the retreating Nazi troops. It took until June 14th to clear all the passageways to find miraculously that not one piece of artwork had been irretrievably damaged. Packing began ten days later when news was received that the mine would fall into the Soviet Zone of Occupation. Anything left in the mine would be handed over to Stalin. In all 80 truckloads left Altaussee. The removed works were taken to the Munich Central Collecting Point which was housed in the former Nazi headquarters, one of the largest buildings left standing after the war, and it is there that Baur’s Speed-Skating Race arrival was recorded on a restitution card dated October 31, 1945. Eventually categorized under the Minister President File, which dealt with all objects that had been “legally” acquired by the German Reich, the decision was made on June 10, 1949 to transfer ownership of the painting to the Republic of Austria and it was sent to Salzburg. By 1956 along with more than 1,000 other works of art it was next moved to the Mauerbach Monastery located in the northern outskirts of Vienna. There it remained for the next 44 years all but forgotten until a 1984 article in ARTnews revealed the existence of the unclaimed holdings and stirred a world outcry. Eventually forced to take action in the light of public opinion the Republic of Austria transferred the title of ownership of the Mauerbach holdings in October, 1995 to the Austrian Federation of Jewish Communities. In tangent with Christie’s the Jewish Community arranged the first auction of property confiscated by the Nazis to be sold for the benefit of their victims and families. It took place on October 29-30, 1996, titled Mauerbach, items seized by the Nazis to be sold for the benefit of the victims of the Holocaust, and marked a historical turning point. The Baur was purchased at the sale by Suzanne and Norman Hascoe of Greenwich, Connecticut, a wonderful addition to their important collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings, which in 2005 would be showcased in an exhibition at the Bruce Museum.
History is not only recorded by Nicolaas Baur’s The Women’s Speed-Skating Race on the Westersingel in Leeuwarden on January 21, 1809 it is embodied. The miracle is that the painting still survives to relay these stories.
 Written communication from Pieter Roelofs, curator of Seventeenth Century Dutch Art, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam dated September 27, 2010.
 Jan Hein, “The Thrill of Frozen Water” in Susan C. Anderson & Bruce H. Tabb, eds., Water, Leisure and Culture, Berg, Oxford, 2002, pp. 60-61.
 Roelofs, op. cit..
 Wiepke Loos, Waterloo, before and after: paintings from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, 1800-1830, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Waanders, Zwolle, c. 1997, pp. 7-10.
 Written communication from Marlies Stoter, Curator of Paintings of the Fries Museum, Leeuwarden dated May 2, 2012.
 Biographical information taken from A. van den Berge-Dijkstra, Woelend water: leven en werk van de zeeschilder Nicolaas Baur (1767-1820), Gemeentemuseum Het Hannemahuis, Harlingen, c. 1993, p. 97; Loos, “Nicolaas Baur” op. cit. pp. 7-10; and Sutton, op. cit., p. 62.
 Robert M. Edsel, The Monuments Men, Center Street, New York, 2009, pp. 303-305, 374, 381-382, 387.
 Monuments Men Newsletter, Third Quarter, number XXIV, 2011, p. 2.
 Information taken from the Bundesarhiv records, no. B323/667.
 Information taken from the Mauerbach sale, Christie’s, Vienna, October 29-30, 1996, n.p..
 Ibid and see Andrew Decker, “A Legacy of Shame”, ARTnews, 83, December, 1984, pp. 55-75.
 Mauerbach sale, op. cit..