LAWRENCE STEIGRAD FINE ARTS

Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits

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ADRIAEN VAN OOLEN (Active Amsterdam 1650 – 1709)

A Norwegian White Goose Surrounded by a Shelduck, Mallard, Shovelers, Teals and Long-Tailed Tits in an Italianate Landscape at Twilight

signed Adriaenus van Oolen and dated 1703 in the center left

oil on canvas

35 x 45 ½ inches (88.9 x 115.5 cm)


PROVENANCE

Cooper Family, New York, and thus by descent to

George S. Hebb, Jr., Winchester, Massachusetts, and thus by inheritance in the family

 

At twilight in the center of a pond a Norwegian White Goose is surrounded by a Shelduck, Mallard, Shovelers, Teals and Long-Tailed Tits. The pond is backed by a wooden fence and large rock outcrop. To the right of the pond an Italianate landscape is revealed, marked by a Roman bridge upon which a shepherd and his flock are crossing and a Romanesque tower embedded on a hillside. Along the bridge a pair of swans float on the river while a flock of birds flies overhead.

This work represents the continuation of Melchoir de Hondecoeter’s grand tradition of painting exotic and domesticated birds. It further represents a painted response to the new-found fortunes of a rising upper-middle class in Holland. During the second and third quarters of the seventeenth century there was an increase in the purchasing of country estates by wealthy townsmen, and with the acquisition of an estate came an elevation in social status to something akin to seminobility. Paintings and wall-hangings were needed to fill these enlarged residential dwellings, preferably ones that reflected the pleasures of country life. If an estate was beyond the means of an individual, at the very least one could project the image of class by the acquisition of such works.[1] Like game pieces that symbolized the spoils and privilege of the hunt which was still the exclusive right of the nobility, resplendent paintings of birds set in woods suggestive of private hunting domains allowed wealthy burghers to avail themselves of the pretense and served as visible proof of their change in status.[2] This painting further reflects the passion for all things French that appeared in Holland after 1680.[3] In response to this trend Dutch art became infused with the French Classical style derived from such artists as its leading exponent Nicolas Poussin. In landscapes this was characterized by the inclusion of Greek or Roman architecture and often statues, monuments, urns, etcetera. Light became golden, adding a quality of timelessness to these scenes, further suggestive of the tranquility associated with the late afternoon or early evening.[4]

Adriaen van Oolen’s biography is a bit of a mystery. Unclear is whether this was intentional or just an art historical mistake. His earliest biographer was Arnold Houbraken, compiler of the first comprehensive survey of Dutch paintings from the Golden Age in De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen. Written about twenty years after Van Oolen’s activity had ceased, Houbraken described an artist named Jan van Alen as an excellent copyist who produced paintings of birds in imitation of Hondecoeter. He further stated that these works were of such high quality that the best connoisseurs could not tell them apart. According to Houbraken, this ruined Hondecoeter’s market, becoming “a nail in his coffin” (“een nagel aan zyn Dootkist”).[5] Van Alen’s dates are given as 1651-1698 and his birthplace Amsterdam, although no archival records exist to substantiate these dates.[6] Subsequent biographers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries repeated and expanded upon Houbraken’s entry. Variously called Jan van Alen or Olen; Jan van Aalen; Jan van Oole; John van Alen, Olen or Ooolen; and Jean van Alen, such an entry as that in Matthew Pilkington’s 1857 A General Dictionary of Painters is representative. “...possessed an uncommon power of the pencil, and an extraordinary talent for imitation. In the touch, and peculiar tints of colour, he could mimic the work of any master and any style; but observing that the pictures of Melchoir Hondekoeter were in the highest request, he applied himself particularly to imitate and copy his works. This he performed to such a degree of exactness, that the most sagacious connoisseurs have found it difficult to determine whether a piece painted by Van Alen was not a genuine production of Hondekoeter. By practice he gained money and reputation; and it is owing to this that so many pictures, bearing the name of Hondekoeter, are to be met with in different collections and sales”.[7]

The 1932 Thieme-Becker entry on Adriaen van Oolen (Olen) in Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler stated that Houbraken had falsely called the painter Jan van Alen.[8] What is now known is that Adriaen was the son of the Rotterdam painter Jacob van Oolen (1631/1636-1694). In all probability Adriaen was trained by Jacob, although it is unknown what type of art the father generally painted. The only painting firmly attributed to Jacob appeared at Sotheby’s, New York, on January 8, 1981, lot 109. It was A Trompe l’Oeil Still Life with Game and Hunting Implements, signed Jacob Van Oolen f.. Sometime after 1676 Jacob and Adriaen settled in Amsterdam. It is there that they became successful copyists of other masters. Paintings in the style of Hondecoeter given to J. Van Oolen or Olen in the past are now believed to be the work of Adriaen. [9] As in this canvas there are also a number of paintings signed by Adriaen featuring avian scenes. Two signed poultry paintings by Adriaen were in the Städt Galerie, Bamberg.[10] Yet the name of Jan van Oolen persisted well into the twentieth century at times described as Adriaen’s brother.[11] As no supporting documentation of his existence has ever been found, the name is now thought to have been invented.[12] What remains unanswered is why. Did Adriaen put forth copies under an assumed name in order not to damage his reputation, or did Houbraken simply record the wrong name with all succeeding biographers, dealers and auctioneers following suit? The answer remains unknown.

Clear is what inspired Houbraken’s praise. In A Norwegian White Goose Surrounded by a Shelduck, Mallard, Shovelers, Teals and Long-Tailed Tits in an Italianate Landscape at Twilight, we are presented with a charming and accurate life-size rendering of a teeming duck pond. One can almost hear the quacking. It is so precisely painted that each species is immediately identifiable and all possess affable countenances that project an inordinate amount of good humor. Van Oolen’s strong coloristic sense is conveyed in a symphonic rendering of a landscape composed of browns, whites and deep blues. A patterning of black and orange accents serves to lead one’s eye through the harmonic cacophony that defines this canvas.

Fred G. Meijer of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague, after first hand inspection, has confirmed the painting to be by Adriaen van Oolen executed in 1703.

 

 

[1] Allison McNeil Kettering, The Dutch Arcadia and its Audience in the Golden Age, Allenheld-Schram, Totowa, New Jersey, 1983, pp. 10-11, 18.

[2] Christine E. Jackson, Dictionary of Bird Artists of the World, Antique Collectors’ Club, Woodbridge, 1999, p. 12.

[3] Scott A. Sullivan, The Dutch Gamepiece, Rowman & Allenheld Publishers, Totowa, New Jersey, 1984, pp. 61, 92, fns. 1 & 2.  Wars fought intermittently between France and Holland from 1672-1713, as well as numerous French Protestants who immigrated to the Netherlands after 1685 fleeing the terrible persecutions brought about by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, caused a heightened awareness of French life and culture.

[4] Ibid, pp. 62-63.

[5] Arnold Houbraken, De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen, (1718-1721), volume III, Wilhelm Baumüller, Wien, 1888, p. 320.

[6] Fred G. Meijer, “Adriaen van Oolen” in RKD, Netherlands Institute of Art History website.

[7] Matthew Pilkington, “John Van Alen or Oolen” in A General Dictionary of Painters, William Tegg & Co., London, 1857, p. 7.

[8] Thieme-Becker, “Adriaen van Oolen (Olen)” in Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, volume XXVI, Veb. E. A. Seemann, Verlag, Leipzig, 1932, p. 23.

[9] Adriaan van der Willigen & Fred G. Meijer, “Jacob van Oolen” in A Dictionary of Dutch Flemish Still-Life Painters Working in Oils, 1525-1725, Primavera Press, Leiden, 2003, p.154; and Fred G. Meijer, “Adriaen van Oolen” & “Jacob van Oolen”, RKD, website, op. cit..

[10] Walther Bernt, “Adriaen van Oolen” in The Netherlandish Painters of the Seventeenth Century, volume II, Phaidon, London, 1970, p. 89.

[11] Christine E. Jackson, “Jan van Oolen, 1651-1698” in Dictionary of Bird Artists of the World, op. cit., p. 381.

[12] M. de Kinkelder, “Jacob van Oolen”, May, 2014, RKD website, op. cit..

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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