Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


LOUIS VAN KUYCK (Hoboken 1821 – Antwerp 1871) 

An Old Domicile

signed Louis van Kuyck in the lower left

oil on canvas

24 1/4 x 30 1/2 inches          (61.5 x 77.4 cm.)


Anonymous sale, Campo & Campo, Antwerp

Property of an Estate, California until 2013


Louis van Kuyck, whose full name is recorded as Jean Louis van Kuyck or Jan Lodewijk van Kuyck, was initially a watchmaker. Ill health forced him to abandon this career. While recuperating, he took up sketching for which he showed a remarkable flair. After his convalescence he entered the Academy of Antwerp under the direction of Philippe-Jacques van Bree. He later joined the atelier of Baron Gustave Wappers until 1853, when Wappers left to reside in Paris. Van Kuyck’s early works are genre pieces that reflect the Romantic principles of these two masters. According to tradition he did not find his true calling until 1852, when he finished a sketch of a stable interior begun by a friend. Van Kuyck then executed a painting based on this sketch that was purchased by what is now the Neue Pinakothek, Munich titled Ein Pferderstall (A Stable). Such remarkable success convinced him to devote his talent to similar subjects and he excelled in the depiction of stables filled with horses, cattle and dogs. He came to be nicknamed the Flemish (George) Morland.[1]

In 1852 because of the obvious predilection for such subjects Wappers recommended Van Kuyck to Queen Victoria for a series of drawings she desired to commemorate her visit to the rustic village of Terneuzen located on the banks of the Scheldt.[2] Now part of the Royal Collection of Queen Elizabeth II, such examples as the watercolor The Farm of Pieter de Feyter near Terneuzen, in which the tumble-down condition of the roof is captured, serve to reveal the artist’s fascination for exacting architectural detail.

In 1866 he was awarded a gold medal at the exhibition in Brussels and in 1864 Knighted in the Order of Leopold. He achieved considerable success throughout his career and works were acquired by the museums of Antwerp, Brussels and Hamburg. His son was the painter Frans van Kuyck and his brother the notable landscape artist François Lamorinière. Among his pupils was the American painter John Henry Dolph who would also become famous for animal subjects.[3] Most enduring was Van Kuyck’s reputation for technical proficiency, perhaps best stated in Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, “his paintings are remarkable for the beauty of their finish, the exquisiteness of their colouring, and the truth of their representations.”[4]

Evident in An Old Domicile are the artist’s mastery of technique, admiration for “quaint old buildings”[5] as well as the embracement of a humbleness of subject matter. Almost assuredly painted in the 1860s of a building in Antwerp, the scene feels exceedingly modern. Housing the poor, a dilapidated dwelling with crumbling brickwork, busted windowpanes, shuttered coal chutes, and exposed drainage pipes is depicted in bright sunshine. Within the gloom of the entranceway a rickety wooden staircase is visible. A patchwork of curtains covers the windows from which residents peer out. A painted jumble of numbers and a haphazard decoration of plaques complete the façade. A woman wearily hauls water from a pump in front of the building. A mother and son sit despondently alongside their pushcart futilely trying to sell their wares. Running out of the front door a boy brandishing a raised shoe chases a mongrel into the street near a discarded heap of mussel shells. The action of the dog in the right corner can be viewed as a summarizing commentary upon the entire scene. The only tender note is struck by the courting couple. In the midst of parting a soldier holds a stalk of flowers while tenderly touching the bow of his beloved’s dress. A departure from Van Kuyck’s usual motifs of stables and horses, An Old Domicile can be seen as a gentle rebuke, responsive to the growing importance of the doctrine of Realism and its emphasis on painting scenes of ordinary life as a direct attack upon the social and artistic hierarchies of the period.[6] The modernity of the composition lies in the stark frontality of the façade that encompasses the entire picture plane and allows for no distraction while riveting the viewer’s eye. It is a technique that foreshadows depictions of New York some fifty years later by such artists of the Ashcan School as John Sloan, Everett Shinn and George Luks who again wish to direct their audience’s attention to the realities of contemporary life.



[1] Biographical information taken from James Dafforne, “Modern Painters of Belgium” in Art Journal, volume V, Virtue & Co., London, 1866, p. 335; “A Flemish Inn Yard” in Bow Bells, A Weekly Magazine of General Literature and Art, volume V, John Dicks, London, p. 540; George C. Williamson, ed., “Jan Lodewyk van Kuyck” in Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, volume III, Kennikat Press, Inc., Port Washington, N.Y., 1903-04, p. 158; Willem G. Flippo, “Jan Lodewijk van Kuyck in Lexicon of the Belgian Romantic Painters, International Art Press, Antwerp, 1981, unpaginated; P. & V. Berko, “Louis van Kuyck” in Dictionary of Belgian Painters born between 1750 & 1875, Editions Laconti, Brussels, 1981, p. 701; and Boudewijn Goossens, “Louis van Kuyck” in Le Dictionnaire Peintres Belges du XIVe siècle à nos jours, La Renaissance du Livre, Bruxelles, 1995, p. 1087.

[2] Dafforne, op. cit., p. 335.

[3] L. Hissette, “Louis (Jean L.) van Kuyck” in Thieme-Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, volume XXII, Veb. E.A. Seemann, Leipzig, 1928, p. 147; E Benezit, “Jean-Louis van Kuyck” in Dictionnaire de Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, volume 6, Librarie Gründ, 1976, p. 342-343; and Flippo, op. cit., 1981.

[4] Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, op. cit., p. 158.

[5] Dafforne, op. cit., p. 335.

[6] Robert Rosenblum & H.W. Janson, 19th Century Art, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, New York, 1988, p. 243.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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