JOHANNES HENDRIK WEISSENBRUCH (The Hague 1824 – The Hague 1903)
Farmers Conversing on a Towpath Near Noorden
signed J. H. Weissenbruch in the lower left
oil on canvas laid down on a paperboard panel
15 ¾ x 12 ¾ inches (40 x 32.3 cm.)
Peter A. Schemm, Philadelphia
The Valuable Modern Paintings and Watercolors Collected by the Late Peter A. Schemm of Philadelphia, American Art Association, New York, March 14-17, 1911, lot 180 where purchased by
Charles.W. Kraushaar, New York
Anonymous sale, Christie’s, London, March 22, 1963, lot 76 where purchased by
Private Collection, New York, until 2014
The New York Times, New York, March 10, 1911, pp. 5, 9, in an advertisement for the American Art Galleries of the American Art Association, New York
“Schemm Pictures Sold for $46,290” in The New York Times, New York, March 17, 1911 (article on the results of the third night of the sale)
“Peter Schemm Picture Sale” in American Art News, volume 9, no. 24, New York, March 25, 1911, p. 5
Florence N. Levy, ed., American Art Annual, New York, 1911, p. 96
Johannes Hendrik Weissenbruch Archives, O/40-2
Johannes Hendrik Weissenbruch spent his entire career in The Hague mainly painting landscapes engaged in a constant battle as he described it “to have nature itself on the canvas”. In Dr. Jos. De Gruyter’s 1968 standard setting two volume work De Haagse School, he characterized Weissenbruch as “the greatest of the Hague School painters ... a landscapist par excellence with powers of suggestion beyond anything the 17th century has ever known. In him the development of the Hague School reached its culmination”.
Born into an artistic family, Weissenbruch’s father a chef and restaurateur, was an amateur artist as well as a collector of Romantic School paintings. His cousin Johannes (Jan) Weissenbruch was a well-known painter of town and river scenes. Four other cousins Frederik Hendrik, Frederik Johann, Daniel and Isaac all with the surname Weissenbruch worked as printmakers. His son Willem Johannes painted landscapes and still lifes. Weissenbruch’s formal training started at sixteen with drawing lessons from J. J. Löw as well as evening classes at the Haagse Academie from 1843-1850 under Bartholomeus Johannes van Hove. It is also possible that he worked in Van Hove’s studio. Weissenbruch’s early landscapes further reflect the influence of Andreas Schelfhout but it is unclear whether he had direct contact with the painter. His first exhibition was in 1847 at the Tentoonstelling van Levende Meesters (Exhibition of Living Masters). In 1849 the Teylers Museum, Haarlem purchased his View from Dekkersduin. During this period Weissenbruch also spent a great deal of time in the Mauritshuis studying and copying the works of Jacob van Ruisdael, Paulus Potter and Vermeer. In 1863 he married Susanna Petronella Geertruida Schouw. In 1866 he joined the Société Belge des Aquarellistes in Brussels. In 1870 his View of the Trekvliet was acquired by the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague and in 1873 Landscape with Windmill near Schiedam entered the collection of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. In 1874 he received a gold medal at the Internationale Tentoonstelling (International Exhibition), Amsterdam. In 1899 for his seventy-fifth birthday Weissenbruch was honored by members of the Pulchri Studio as well as given a solo exhibition in Amsterdam by Frans Buffa & Sons. The show not only boosted his reputation and popularity but was a financial success which afforded him the opportunity to travel. His only trip abroad was in 1900 to Fontainebleau and Barbizon in France.
In this work on a towpath near Noorden alongside a row of willow trees two farmers are talking. One clad in a dark blue jacket, black trousers and cap stands on a muddy footpath. The other seated in a docked rowboat, wears a black cap and peacock blue coat of such striking color that it serves as the focal point of the composition. The passages of thick leaves in the trees, dense grass, and sluggish water of the canal along with the overcast clouds converge to give a realistic rendering to the overall feeling of dampness. Outbuildings of a farm are visible in the distance.
Vincent van Gogh first became aware of works by Weissenbruch in 1872 and met him in 1873. Most admired by Van Gogh was Weissenbruch’s play of light and shadow as well as his vigorous brushwork. Van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo, dated September 7th or 8, 1889 wrote of such scenes, “and that Weissenbruch knows & does the muddy towpaths, the stunted willows, the foreshortenings & the skillful & strange perspectives of the canals, as Daumier does the lawyers, I think that’s perfect”.
De Gruyter wrote “in 1875 he (Weissenbruch) found his El Dorado in the water, space and sky around Nieuwkoop and Noorden”. Willem Laanstra, the author of the catalogue raisonné on the painter noted in his research report on this work, “During his artistic career Weissenbruch travelled a lot of times to the region of Noorden and Nieuwkoop, small villages not far from The Hague, where he lived. It was a region with waterways, towpaths, willow trees and a high sky above. Weissenbruch was particularly fascinated with the permanently changing sky. He found it an important work of art... He painted this impression on the spot. In his equipment he always took a sketchbook, a few little panels or layers, like canvas laid down on panel or cardboard, the so called marouflés, with him”. As evidenced by Farmers Conversing on a Towpath Near Noorden what differentiated Weissenbruch from his contemporaries was the evocation of the coastal area’s light in which haziness alternated with clarity captured in spontaneously rendered impressions of landscape caught in ever-shifting atmospheric conditions.
Peter A. Schemm (1853-1909) was a Philadelphia brewer as well as a collector of modern art. In an article for The Booklovers Magazine S. Decatur Smith, Jr. described a visit to his home. “Beautifully housed in a commodious gallery adjoining his private apartments, the very fine collection of paintings belonging to Mr. Peter A Schemm, of Philadelphia, is a delight to those who have the privilege of examining it. There is not an inch of room to spare on the walls of this gallery. They are covered to the skyline with pictures of all sizes and subjects representing the most prominent modern artists – this collection represents fairly and fully what is best in the art of today”. Located at Twenty-Fifth and Poplar Streets in Philadelphia, Schemm opened his gallery every Thursday night to friends and fellow art-lovers always combined with a musical soirée. Two years after his death the executors of his estate sold his collection at the American Art Association in New York. The auction was held over four consecutive evenings from March 14-17, 1911, and judging by the results had been highly anticipated by private collectors and art dealers alike.
On the third night of the sale Charles W. Kraushaar (1864-1917) bought Weissenbruch’s panel, at that point innocuously titled Holland Landscape. Kraushaar was a New York art dealer who specialized in modern Dutch and French artists, and had long been a champion of Weissenbruch. In 1906 he had loaned twenty-seven oil paintings by the artist to the Rhode Island School of Design for a special exhibition. Kraushaar began his career under the tutelage of the famed art dealer William Schaus in the 1870s. By 1885 he had opened a small gallery on Broadway, and by 1910 moved to grander premises on Fifth Avenue. In a life devoted to art, his final day was spent at his gallery making arrangements for the exhibition of James Abbott McNeil Whistler’s White Girl.
We are grateful to Willem Laanstra for confirming Farmers Conversing on a Towpath Near Noorden as an autograph work by Johannes Hendrik Weissenbruch.
 Dr. Jos. De Gruyter, “J. H. Weissenbruch” in De Haagse School, volume I, Lemniscaat, Rotterdam, 1968, pp. 74. The artist was also called Hendrik Johannes, Johan Hendrik or Jan Hendrik.
 Ibid, pp. 14, 74.
 Biographical information taken from Dr. Jos. De Gruyter, op. cit., p. 74; John Sillevis, “Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch” in The Hague School, Dutch Masters of the 19th Century, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London & traveling, 1983, p. 275.; and Pieter A. Scheen, “Hendrik Johannes Weissenbruch” in Lexicon Nederlandse Beeldende Kunstenaars 1750-1880, Uitgeverij Pieter A. Scheen BV, ’s-Gravenhage, 1981, pp. 574-575.
 Ronald de Leeuw, The Van Gogh Museum: paintings and pastels, Waanders, 1994, p. 45.
 Dr. Jos. De Gruyter, op. cit., p. 75.
 Written communication from Willem Laanstra, dated Mechelen, October 22, 2014.
 Ronald de Leeuw, op. cit., p. 278.
 S. Decatur Smith, Jr., “A Gallery of Modern Art” in The Booklovers Magazine, volume II, The Library Publishing Co., Philadelphia, July-December, 1903, p. 256.
 “The Collection of Mr. Peter A. Schemm of Philadelphia, PA.” in The Collector and Art Critic, volume 2, no. 10, March 15, 1900, p. 168.
 American Art News, op. cit., pp. 4-5.
 “Charles W. Kraushaar” in American Art News, volume 15, no. 14, January 13, 1917, p. 4.
 Year book of the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 1906, p. 57.
 American Art News, 1917, op. cit. p. 4.