Dutch Old Masters at Waddesdon

Jan van der Heyden, A Canal Junction, near a Church, c 1670; oil on panel

Did you know that Waddesdon Manor houses an outstanding collection of Dutch paintings?

Among Waddesdon’s treasures are French paintings by Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779) and François Boucher (1703-1770), and English portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) and George Romney (1734-1802), line its walls.

In light of the upcoming exhibition Prized Possessions: Dutch Paintings from National Trust Houses at the Holburne Museum in Bath, which brings together over 20 masterpieces of Dutch art from across the country, visitors to Waddesdon may be interested to discover its outstanding collection of Dutch Old Masters. This includes works by Gerrit Dou (1613-1675), Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1691), Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667) and Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684). In 2016, the collection was further enriched by Isack Van Ostade’s magnificent Figures outside an Inn, allocated to the National Trust for Waddesdon by Lord Rothschild under the Cultural Gifts Scheme.

The 17th century was a Golden Age for Dutch art. A growing middle class commissioned portraits of themselves while the shifting Dutch landscape captured artists’ imagination. Genre painting focused upon scenes of everyday life – often conveying a moralising theme.

Dutch art shaped Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild’s life from an early age. Long before he embarked upon creating his French château in the Buckinghamshire hills, Ferdinand recalled ‘…learning under my mother’s tuition to distinguish a Teniers from an Ostade or a Wouvermans from a Both.’ Today, much of Ferdinand’s treasured collection still hangs in Waddesdon’s Morning Room, where it can be appreciated as he intended.

Detail from Pieter de Hooch, A Game of Ninepins, c 1665
Pieter de Hooch, A Game of Ninepins, c 1665; oil on canvas
Detail from Pieter de Hooch, A Game of Ninepins, c 1665

The Game of Love

Courting couples gather under the evening sky to play skittles. The central figures, dressed in shimmering gold satin, converse, as a bystander, removing his hat, attempts to join the conversation. Behind, a man prepares to bowl, watched by a man and a woman. The drama of people watching each other encourages the spectator of the painting to wonder who is interested in whom. The ‘Garden of Love’ theme is emphasised by the statue of Cupid and flowering red roses nearby.

Detail from Gerrit Dou, A Girl with a Basket of Fruit at a Window, 1657
Gerrit Dou, A Girl with a Basket of Fruit at a Window, 1657; oil on panel
Detail from Gerrit Dou, A Girl with a Basket of Fruit at a Window, 1657

Fruits of innocence?

What appears to be a scene of innocent domesticity may mask a more salacious truth. The maid looks suggestively, out at the viewer, offering the fruits of her basket. She draws back the curtain revealing a genteel couple making music together. The empty perch and birdcage in the background allude to a loss of virtue, while the dead fowl acts as a double entendre – the Dutch word vogel (bird) being a slang term for ‘copulation’. Gerrit Dou (1613-1675) favoured this type of moralising theme. The distorted reflection in the glass hanging from the perch may be a self-portrait.

Detail from Isack van Ostade, Figures outside an inn, 1647
Isack van Ostade, Figures outside an inn, 1647
Detail from Isack van Ostade, Figures outside an inn, 1647

Figures outside an Inn was allocated to Waddesdon in 2016 under the governments Cultural Gifts Scheme. Long recognised as one of Isack van Ostade’s finest works, this cheerful view of peasant life demonstrates the influence of Isack’s tutor, and elder brother, Adriaen, as well as conveying the artist’s love for landscape. In the foreground a group of men drink and smoke pipes. They fail to notice the arrival of the travellers, dismounting from their carriage. A woman, with child in arms, watches from the entrance to the inn – as denoted by the jug hanging above the door.

Detail of Gabriel Metsu, The Tête-à-Tête: A Lady Playing a Lute, and a Cavalier, 1662-1665
Gabriel Metsu, The Tête-à-Tête: A Lady Playing a Lute, and a Cavalier, 1662-1665; oil on panel
Detail of Gabriel Metsu, The Tête-à-Tête: A Lady Playing a Lute, and a Cavalier, 1662-1665

Indecent proposal?

Here Metsu focuses upon the turning point in this encounter. The man, dressed in military uniform, gazes, self-assuredly at the lady, offering her a drink. The women, evading his stare, contemplates the proposition put before her. The scene is filled with sexual innuendo. In Dutch genre painting, military men often carry dishonorable undertones. The couple dine on oysters, a well-known aphrodisiac, while the bright light in the room behind lends prominence to the bed. The details of the encounter, however, are left open, leaving the viewer to contemplate the final outcome…

Detail of Aelbert Cuyp, A Landing Party on the Maas at Dordrecht
Aelbert Cuyp, A Landing Party on the Maas at Dordrecht, 1655-1660
Detail of Aelbert Cuyp, A Landing Party on the Maas at Dordrecht

Aelbert Cuyp’s native Dordrecht serves as a backdrop to this historic gathering. A rowing boat, crowded with city dignitaries, heads into the morning mist, welcoming the return of the fleet. The flat sea and still pennants underline the sense of calm. Bugles signal their arrival and canon fire a salute from the city walls behind. This event marks the closing stages of the Eighty Years’ War – the conflict that culminated in the establishment of the Dutch Republic. The figure in the rowing boat, staring out at the viewer, may have commissioned Cuyp to record the occasion.

Detail from Gerard Ter Borch, The Duet, 1675; oil on canvas
Gerard Ter Borch, The Duet, 1675; oil on canvas
Detail from Gerard Ter Borch, The Duet, 1675; oil on canvas

‘If music be the food of love…’

Gerard Ter Borch produced many paintings of ambiguous love encounters. The man playing the lute may be a client, a musical-partner, or perhaps a suitor… In Dutch genre painting, music making was often laden with associations of love. The man’s foot points firmly towards the woman’s foot warmer – suggestive of sexual desire. The woman’s white dress is depicted with the meticulous care – Ter Borch was famous for his virtuosic depiction of satin.

Detail from Jan van der Heyden, A Canal Junction, near a Church, c 1670
Jan van der Heyden, A Canal Junction, near a Church, c 1670; oil on panel
Detail from Jan van der Heyden, A Canal Junction, near a Church, c 1670

The buildings in this scene, depicting a tranquil backwater, are probably imaginary. The church combines Gothic and Baroque elements and the artist may have intended a subtle comment on the Protestant-inspired idolatory of the previous century. The scars on the façade are perhaps where religious sculptures were torn down. Jan van der Heyden specialised in townscapes. Less accomplished a figure painter, he often collaborated with other artists, including Adriaen van de Velde, who may have painted the washerwomen and passers-by.

Detail from Philips Wouwerman, A Hawking Party Resting outside an Inn, 1655-1657
Philips Wouwerman, A Hawking Party Resting outside an Inn, 1655-1657; oil on panel
Detail from Philips Wouwerman, A Hawking Party Resting outside an Inn, 1655-1657

Philips Wouwermans excelled in the depiction of horses. The subject of travellers resting by an inn was one to which the artist returned on many occasions. The theme allowed Wouwermans to explore interactions between different members of society. The maid, emerging from the inn, pours a drink for the well-dressed couple who have just arrived. From her high vantage point the women observes a beggar, holding out his hat, pressing the huntsmen for alms. This is one of a few paintings that Ferdinand de Rothschild inherited from his father, Anselm.

Read more about Isack Van Ostade’s masterpiece>

Prized Possessions: Dutch Paintings from National Trust Houses >

Find out more about the Cultural Gifts Scheme >

A Magus at a Table by Jan Lievens

Celebrating Dutch painting 

Dutch masterpieces from our places will go on show in a major new exhibition, Prized Possessions, opening on 25 May at the Holburne Museum in Bath, exploring the 'Golden Age' of Dutch Art.