Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London

Biographies

Aelbert Cuyp

(French, 1864–1901)

Aelbert Cuyp is renowned for his peaceful landscapes of the Dutch countryside, distinguished for their use of light and atmosphere. Cuyp was born into a family of artists in Dordrecht, Netherlands, and trained with his father, a successful portrait painter. Unlike other Dutch artists of the period, Cuyp did not travel to Italy, but instead studied the effects of light in paintings of those who had. After his marriage to Cornelia Boschman in 1658, he became a deacon of the reformed church, and the number of works he produced declined almost to nothing. Cuyp’s influence in Holland during his lifetime was very minimal, and he was practically unknown until the end of the eighteenth-century when English collectors created demand for his paintings.

View of Dordrecht, ca. 1655. Dordrecht is a city in western Netherlands, located in the province of South Holland. The city was formed along the Thure River, in the midst of peat swamps, and was a major trade port for British merchants. Aelbert Cuyp lived his entire life in Dordrecht and held a variety of civic offices; he was a leading citizen of the city. Cuyp would often make drawings of the city and take them back to the studio to use as reference for his paintings. Often the same section of a sketch can be found in several pictures.

Image: Aelbert Cuyp. View of Dordrecht, ca. 1655. Oil on canvas. 39 3/8 x 53 1/4 in. Kenwood House, English Heritage; Iveagh Bequest (88028825). Photo courtesy American Federation of Arts.

Sir Anthony van Dyck

(Flemish, 1599–1641)

Anthony van Dyck was born to a prosperous family in Antwerp (modern-day Belgium). His talent was evident very early, and he was studying painting with Hendrick van Balen by the age of ten. By the time he was fifteen, he was already an accomplished artist. Within a few years, he was the chief assistant to Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Europe’s most distinguished artist. Van Dyck spent six years in Italy, studying the Italian masters and beginning his career as a successful portrait painter. From 1632 until his death, he lived in England, as a painter for King Charles I, who awarded him knighthood. His ability to flatter and raise the stature of his sitter with elegant brushwork and elaborate settings established a “grand manner” of painting that generations of artists have admired and wanted to attain.

Princess Henrietta of Lorraine Attended by a Page, 1634. In 1634, Princess Henrietta (1611–60) fled from her home in Lorraine for Brussels and was banished by the French king Louis XIII. The previous year, Henrietta’s sister, Margaret, had married the younger brother of King Louis XIII in secret. The king, who felt that this union threatened his power over France, invaded Lorraine. Van Dyck painted a pair of portraits of the exiled Lorraine princesses in Brussels (the portrait of Margaret is in the Uffizi in Florence, Italy). Recently widowed, Henrietta is shown standing proudly in front of a gold curtain in a magnificent black dress trimmed in fashionable Belgian lace.

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Thomas Gainsborough

(English, 1727–1788)

Born in Suffolk, England, Thomas Gainsborough, at the age of thirteen, persuaded his father to allow him to study art in London. He attended St. Martin’s Lane Academy in London, where he met artists such as William Hogarth. In 1757, Gainsborough, now married and a father, moved to the spa town of Bath, where he started to attract a fashionable clientele. Within a year, he was known as a first-class portrait painter. In 1774, he moved back to London, and while he had previously quarreled with the Royal Academy, he did exhibit there once more in 1777. Although Gainsborough attained both fame and fortune through his outstanding ability as a portrait painter, landscape painting was his first love.

Mary, Countess Howe, ca. 1764. Mary Hartopp was born in 1732 and married the naval officer Richard Howe in 1758. At the time of this painting, Mary Howe was still Lady Howe; she would only become a countess in 1782 when her husband was made an earl. The Howes met Gainsborough during a vacation in Bath, England. Wanting to establish himself as a portrait painter to the aristocracy, Gainsborough offered to paint their portraits. Mary, Countess Howe was only the third full-length portrait that Gainsborough had ever made and illustrates his fantastic skill and style. He depicted Mary Howe as an imposing and lavishly dressed society beauty walking in her estates. The artist was clearly influenced by the Van Dyck portrait the artist had copied earlier in his career.

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Frans Hals

(Dutch, 1582/83–1666)

Born in Antwerp, Frans Hals fled with his family during the Fall of Antwerp to Haarlem, where he lived for the remainder of his life. At the age of twenty-seven, he became a member of the Haarlem Guild of Saint Luke, the city’s painters corporation empowered to register artists as masters. Hals is known for his loose brushwork and for painting wet-in-wet. The immediacy of his technique was inspirational to later artists such as Courbet, Manet, and Van Gogh.

Pieter van den Broecke, 1633. Pieter van den Broecke was a great friend of Frans Hals. Young van den Broecke joined the developing Dutch East India Company and rose within the ranks of the company, eventually becoming chief tradesman and admiral. He was one of the first Europeans to describe societies in West and Central Africa and to detail trade strategies along the African coast. Upon his retirement, he was honored with a gold chain, which he wears in this portrait.

Image: Frans Hals. Pieter van den Broecke, 1633. Oil on canvas. 28 x 24 in. Kenwood House, English Heritage; Iveagh Bequest (88028830). Photo courtesy American Federation of Arts.

Sir Edwin Landseer

(English, 1802–1873)

The son of an engraver, London-born Edwin Landseer was the most famous English artist of his generation. He was considered an artistic prodigy and began exhibiting at the Royal Academy at age thirteen. At sixteen, he was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy and patronized by leading collectors. At the peak of his artistic career, at the age of thirty-eight, Landseer suffered from a severe nervous breakdown, yet he continued to produce paintings of high quality and was a favorite of the aristocracy. In 1850, he was knighted, and in 1866, he was elected President of the Royal Academy, although he declined the offer.

The Hon. Edward Southwell Russell and His Younger Brother Sydney, 1834. Landseer was most known for his paintings of animals, particularly horses, dogs, and stags. A large appeal of his work was his ability to give animal scenes a moral dimension. So influential were Landseer’s paintings of dogs that “Landseer” became the official name for a variety of Newfoundland dogs that were a mix of black and white. With this painting, Landseer combined his skillful painting of animals with a portrait of two brothers.

Image: Edwin Landseer. The Hon. E.S. Russell and His Brother, 1834. Oil on canvas. 34 3/4 x 44 1/8 in. Kenwood House, English Heritage; Iveagh Bequest (88028791). Photo courtesy American Federation of Arts.

Sir Thomas Lawrence

(English, 1796–1830)

Thomas Lawrence was born in Bristol. When Thomas was ten, his father declared bankruptcy and moved his family to Bath, where young Thomas helped the family finances by selling his pastel portraits. In 1787, Thomas Lawrence moved to London and quickly established his reputation as a portrait painter. His first royal commission was awarded in 1790 when he was asked to paint a portrait of Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III. Two years later, upon the death of his friend and mentor Joshua Reynolds, the king appointed Lawrence Principal Court Painter. Lawrence was knighted in 1815 and, five years later, became the President of the Royal Academy. When Sir Thomas Lawrence died in 1830 at the age of sixty, he was the most fashionable portrait painter in Europe.

Miss Murray, 1824–26. Sir George Murray, a Scottish soldier and politician, commissioned this portrait of his daughter Louisa Georgina Murray. Lawrence’s painting captures a moment of childlike innocence as Louisa, portrayed as Flora showing off her apron full of flower petals, dances for an audience. He commented on this to her father, writing: “All I can do will be to snatch this fleeting beauty and expression so singular in the child before the change takes place that some few months may bring.”

In 1843, at age twenty-one, Miss Murray married Captain Henry George Boyce, a grandson of the 1st Duke of Marlborough, who died only five years after they were married. She remained a widow for forty-three years, dying in 1891 in the Italian coastal town of Bordighera.

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Rembrandt van Rijn

(Dutch, 1606–1669)

Rembrandt van Rijn was born the son of a miller in Leiden on July 15, 1606. As a young man, Rembrandt left his education at the Latin School to study art under local artist Jacob van Swanenburgh and then, in Amsterdam, with Pieter Lastman. Upon his return to Leiden, twenty-two-year-old Rembrandt began taking on pupils. In 1634, Rembrandt’s career was enhanced when he married Saskia van Uylenburgh. Saskia was the cousin of a successful art dealer who introduced Rembrandt to wealthy patrons who commissioned portraits. Although Rembrandt’s career was a success, his family life was marked by misfortune, with the loss of three children at birth and the death of his wife in 1642. His financial situation, as well, became grim due to ostentatious spending, leading him to declare bankruptcy in 1656. Rembrandt died on October 4, 1669, in Amsterdam.

Portrait of the Artist, ca. 1665. Rembrandt’s over eighty self-portraits are unique in art history; no other artist before or since has done so many portraits over such a long span of time. Portrait of the Artist is one of Rembrandt’s most important self-portraits and one of the only showing the artist at work. Only four years before his death and suffering from personal and financial troubles, Rembrandt appears calm and assured. He is asserting that he is the experienced master, in full confidence of his excellence. There are many theories that attempt to explain the circles in the background. The simplest is that they balance the empty space on either side of his head. Some scholars have proposed that they reference a world map. The artist also could have been referring to a story told about the Italian Renaissance painter Giotto, who proved his skill as an artist by drawing a perfect circle for the pope.

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Sir Joshua Reynolds

(English, 1723–1792)

Joshua Reynolds was the son of a grammar school headmaster who wanted him to become an apothecary. Reynolds instead sought fame as an artist. At age seventeen, he went to London to study painting. In 1749, he took a long trip abroad, traveling on a ship captained by his friend Augustus Keppel. He spent two years in Rome, studying antique and Renaissance art. In 1753, Reynolds returned to London, where he became the preeminent portrait painter in Britain. As a founding member of the Society of Artists in the 1760s, Reynolds participated in the society’s yearly public exhibitions. In 1769, George III knighted him, and for the next twenty years, Reynolds’s authority in art was indisputable. Reynolds was forced to discontinue his work three years before his death due to blindness.

Mrs. Musters as “Hebe”, 1782. Sophia Catherine Musters was twenty-four years old when she sat for this fabulous portrait by Joshua Reynolds. In her portrayal as Hebe, the beautiful goddess of youth and handmaiden of the gods, Mrs. Musters is given the ultimate compliment to her elegant beauty. Her hair loosened by the breeze, she gazes directly at the viewer as if she were looking at the awaited Herakles himself. Although her husband commissioned the painting, Mrs. Musters’s marriage was not a happy one. Her father refused her first suitor due to his unimpressive financial situation, and her husband kept her in the countryside rather than the city; she attempted to make life more interesting by entertaining many admirers. She died in 1819 at age sixty-one.

Image: Joshua Reynolds. Mrs. Musters as “Hebe,” 1782. Oil on canvas. 94 x 58 1/4 in. Kenwood House, English Heritage; Iveagh Bequest (88028806). Photo courtesy American Federation of Arts.

George Romney

(English, 1734–1802)

George Romney was the son of a cabinet-maker and joined the business at a young age. In 1755, he apprenticed to become a painter and eventually set up practice in Kendal. In 1762, Romney left for London, whereupon he found success as a portrait painter. Later, Romney spent a considerable amount of time traveling and studying the great artists of the past, including an intense study of the frescoes of Raphael. In 1782, Romney discovered his muse in Emma Hart, of whom he painted over sixty portraits. Despite his experience and talents, Romney was never invited to join the Royal Academy, nor did he ever apply to join, gaining career success without becoming a member.

Emma Hart as “The Spinstress”, ca. 1784—85. Amy Lyon, or better known as Emma Hart, is remembered as the muse of George Romney and as the mistress of Lord Nelson. Born the daughter of a blacksmith and receiving no formal education, Emma came into contact with the aristocratic circle as a mistress of a few rich men. Romney was commissioned to paint Emma when she was the mistress of Charles Greville of Warwick. This began his lifelong obsession with her. Through the success and popularity of Romney’s portraits of Emma, the witty and striking young woman became well known in society. Although many of the paintings portray Emma as a mythological deity or literary heroine, in The Spintress, she is shown demure and contented in a domestic setting, an idealization in stark contrast to her dramatic and inspiring personality.

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Joseph Mallord William Turner

(English, 1734–1802)

Joseph Mallord William Turner is renowned for his mastery of landscape painting and considered a forerunner of modern abstraction. The London-born artist entered the Royal Academy of Art schools at the young age of fourteen. In addition to his studies at the Royal Academy, he copied from prints, watercolors, and topographical drawings at the home of physician Dr. Thomas Monro. Turner traveled the world over the course of more than fifty years, filling hundreds of sketchbooks with drafts of landscapes, from which he developed his paintings. At age twenty-six, he became a full member of the Royal Academy, for which he was elected the Professor of Perspective for five years and president in 1845. Upon his death in 1851, Turner left a portion of his wealth to the Royal Academy of the Arts and willed his collection of paintings to the British nation.

A Coast Scene with Fishermen Hauling a Boat Ashore (“The Iveagh Sea-Piece”), ca. 1803–04. A Coast Scene with Fishermen Hauling a Boat Ashore, also referred to as “The Iveagh Sea-Piece,” is a prime example of J. M. W. Turner’s distinctive style. Turner used a chromatic palette and watercolor-inspired washes of oil paints. Many of his works are of natural catastrophes and phenomenon, such as a raging storm, as in this piece.

Image: Joseph Mallord William Turner. A Coast Scene with Fishermen Hauling a Boat Ashore ("The Iveagh Sea-Piece"), ca. 1803-04. Oil on canvas. 36 1/8 x 48 1/4 in. Kenwood House, English Heritage; Iveagh Bequest (88028820). Photo courtesy American Federation of Arts.