Oil on panel: 32,5 x 36 cm;
signed with monogram ‘PHILS. W.’ (l.l.)
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On a sand dune stand two horses with their riders, one of whom is mounted with a gun. At their feet are two fishermen and a woman preparing fish. Beyond, figures cavort in the shallows of the sea. Above, an azure, cloud flecked sky crowns the scene.
This fine beach scene, formerly in the collection of Lucien Bonaparte, has only recently re-emerged, having been hidden from view in a private collection for over half a century. Formerly hindered by dirt and discoloured retouchings, recent cleaning has revealed a well preserved painting of splendid quality, which may be compared with A Beach with Fisherwives and a Horseman (National Gallery, London).
As with the latter work, our painting may be dated stylistically to the mid-1650s. This was Wouwerman’ finest period, characterised by a silvery tone enlivened by bright, delicate highlights of colour, refined staffage, and masterful azure skies.
Philips Wouwerman was one of the most successful and sought after masters of the Dutch Golden Age. His pictures were greatly in demand during his lifetime, but even more sought after in the 18th century among aristocratic collectors, when Wouwerman’s fame reached its zenith.
The work of Philips Wouwerman is represented in many of the world’s great museums, including the Hermitage, the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum, the National Gallery (London), the Prado, the Royal Collection, and the Rijksmuseum.
A note on the provenance:
Our painting is noted by Hofstede de Groot to have been in the collection of Lucien Bonaparte, Prince of Canino (1775-1841) (i). The rebellious younger brother of Napolean Bonaparte, Lucien was one of the most important collectors of his time. His collection of Old Master paintings included works by masters such as Titian, Reni, Rubens, Velázquez and Murillo.
Philips Wouwerman was born in Haarlem in 1619, the eldest son of the painter Pauwels Joostens Wouwerman from Alkmaar (d.1642); his brothers Pieter (1623-1682) and Jan (1629-1666) were also painters. Little is known about the training of Wouwerman. According to Cornelis de Bie, he studied with Frans Hals (1581/85-1666), but the particular style of Hals didn’t leave a footmark on his oeuvre. By 1638, Wouwerman had married Anna Pietersz. van Broeckhoff with whom he would have ten children. Wouwerman’ family objected to him marrying a catholic, which obliged the couple to move away to Hamburg for a time. However, by 1640 Wouwerman had returned to Haarlem and had entered the Guild of Saint Luke, becoming a vinder in 1646.
Wouwerman started his artistic career with simple depictions of everyday life in the tradition of the bamboccianti by Pieter van Laer (1592/99-1642). Over the next thirty years he developed an individual style, treating a wide range of subjects from genre and landscape to military and religious scenes. He also painted the staffage in the landscapes of Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682), Jan Wijnants (1632-1684) and Cornelis Decker (1618-1678). Wouwerman had numerous pupils, and his considerable influence on Adriaen van de Velde (1636-1672) is recognised.
Wouwerman was one of the most versatile and prolific artists of the Dutch Golden Age. Embedded in the artistic environment and tradition of his home town of Haarlem, he made an important and highly influential contribution to the canon of seventeenth-century Dutch painting.