PAULUS POTTER (Enkhuizen 1625 – Amsterdam 1654)
The Flight into Egypt
signed and dated Paulus. Potter. f a° 1644 in the lower left
oil on panel
18 ½ x 24 ⅔ inches (47 x 63 cm.)
(presumably) by descent in the family of the Dukes of Hamilton to William Alexander Louis Stephen Douglas-Hamilton, 12th Duke of Hamilton (1845–1895), Hamilton Palace, Lanarkshire, Scotland
The Hamilton Palace Collection, Christie’s, London, June 17–July 20, 1882, lot 1011, where purchased by
L. M. Casela
Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London, 1944
Newhouse Galleries, Inc., New York, 1948
Galerie Fischer, Lucerne, June 13–17, 1950, lot 2460
Newhouse Galleries, Inc., New York, 1968, from whom acquired by
Thomas Mellon Evans, New York, New York, & Greenwich, Connecticut
Thomas Mellon Evans sale, Christie’s, New York, May 22, 1998, lot 9, illustrated
The Burlington Magazine, volume 85, July 1944, p. 178, fig. B, in an advertisement for Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London, reproduced
Newhouse Galleries, Inc., New York, published 1948 as the firm’s Christmas card
The Connoisseur, volume 168, June 1968, p. CXXXIX, in an advertisement for Newhouse Galleries, Inc., New York, reproduced
John Walsh, Jr. & Cynthia P. Schneider, “Aelbert Cuyp, The Flight into Egypt” in A Mirror of Nature, Dutch Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Edward William Canter, Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibition catalogue, October 13, 1981 – January 3, 1982, and traveling to Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, pp. 43-44, fig. 5, illustrated
Amy Walsh, Edwin Buijsen, & Ben Broos, Paulus Potter: Paintings, Drawings and Etchings, Mauritshuis, The Hague exhibition catalogue, November 8, 1994 – February 5, 1995, pp. 25-26, no. 12, illustrated, p. 60, fn. 1
Charles Dumas and Michiel C. Plomp, “Karel la Fargue (1738–1793) as a Forger of seventeenth-century Dutch Drawings / Catalogue of forgeries by Karel la Fargue” in Oud Holland, volume 112, 1998, p. 53, no. 111
Frauke Laarmann, “Herman Meindertsz. Doncker–Ein origineller künstler zweiten Ranges” in Oud Holland, volume 114.1, 2000, p. 19, no. 10, illustrated
Walter Liedtke, “Aelbert Cuyp, Landscape with the Flight into Egypt” in Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, volume I, 2007, p. 142
As summarized by the expert on the artist, Amy Walsh, “Paulus (Potter) was one of the foremost 17th-century artists to depict animals. His detailed images of cattle, horses and other farm animals in landscape settings are presented in highly accomplished paintings, drawings and etchings and offer a striking, artfully naturalistic vision of the Dutch rural scene.” Equally impressive is the fact that this level of artistic perfection was achieved during a brief lifespan of 29 years.
Paulus was the son of Pieter Symonsz. Potter, who painted historical subjects, still lifes, landscapes, portraits, and genre works. Revelatory is the fact that the father’s later works attest to the influence of his former student and son, Paulus. Paulus began his training in his father’s studio in Amsterdam during the 1630s. In 1641, Paulus studied with Jacob de Wet. Wedded to landscapes from the start, his compositions are marked by the realistic rendering of the animals that inhabit them, who simultaneously serve to demarcate its compositional space.
The subject of this painting, The Flight into Egypt, was particularly popular in The Netherlands, as many of its citizens had similarly fled persecution. It allowed for the storyline to unfold in a spectacular setting. Yet, Potter has also placed his scene within the confines of a contemporary landscape. Golden light invades the entire work, creating elongated shadows in the foreground, and imbuing such passages as the foliage in the right foreground with an iridescent glow. As evidenced by this panel, and noted in general by Walsh, “His detailed description of the flowers, butterflies and insects as well as of Dutch farming practices documents his careful observation of reality.” The overall brown tonality that infuses the parts of the scene here in shadow emphasizes “the close connection of his subjects (farmers, labourers, milkmaid and animals) to the earth.”
When discussing this work in the landmark exhibition on Potter held at the Mauritshuis in The Hague from 1994–1995, Walsh wrote, “In The Flight into Egypt, light also shines from behind the hill, casting softer shadows of the cow and trees standing on it. Backlighting diffuses the light, creating a remarkable atmosphere. Potter probably borrowed this technique from the work of Jan Both, who was known for the effects he created with his backlighting.”
Soon after the execution of The Flight into Egypt, Potter’s works turned in a slightly different direction with an increased focus on animals and farmers in which the animals kept gaining in monumentality. The culmination of this is The Young Bull in Mauritshuis, which is life-size. Potter was dubbed the “Raphael of Cows,” and in the 19th century the painting rivaled the fame of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. Today, The Young Bull is among the Mauritshuis’ most popular works.
The earliest known provenance for The Flight into Egypt is the Hamilton Palace Collection. The house was 10 miles south of Glasgow and was demolished in the 1920s. The Hamiltons were the premier peers of Scotland, and the palace regarded as the greatest treasure house in Scotland. It was felt to be the Scottish equivalent of the British Royal Collection. The 1882 Christie’s auction of its contents, in which the Potter was sold, is still regarded as one of the most amazing single collection sales to ever take place. Further highlights in The Flight into Egypt’s history are its subsequent sales by two of the most important art dealers of the 20th century: Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London, and Newhouse Galleries, Inc., New York. Its continuous publication in scholarly articles and museum catalogues since the 1990s reveal its ongoing importance as a touchstone in the history of Dutch painting of the Golden Age.
 Amy L. Walsh, “Paulus (Pietersz.) Potter” in From Rembrandt to Vermeer, 17th-century Dutch Artists, The Grove Dictionary of Art, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2000, p. 257.
 Ibid, pp. 256-257.
 Walter Liedtke, op. cit., p. 40.
 John Walsh, Jr., op. cit., p. 43.
 Amy L. Walsh, Grove Dictionary of Art, op. cit., p. 257.
 Amy Walsh, Mauritshuis exhibition, op. cit., p. 26.
 Amy L. Walsh, Grove Dictionary of Art, op. cit., p. 257.
 “Ten new Galleries for the National Museum of Scotland’s treasures,” in Apollo, July 4, 2016