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The Arts Voyager, 3-13: An intimate universe
In Paris, rare treasures by Brueghel, Guardi, Berchem, Tissot, Isabey, Breitner, & more from the Fondation Custodia

Louis-Gabriel-Eugene Isabey (Paris 1803-1886, Paris). "The dyeworks in the souk, Algiers." Canvas, laid down on board, 28.8 x 24.5 cm. Acquired in 2011; inv. 2011-s.10. In 1830, when he was still a young artist, Isabey took part in the French invasion of Algeria. There he made this sketch of cloth that had just been removed from a dye bath and was hanging in an alley to dry in the breeze.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Images courtesy Frits Lugt Collection - Fondation Custodia

For the intrepid arts voyager to Paris who wants to see art he or she has likely never seen before, the place to be this Spring is not the Orsay Museum, which -- quelle surprise! -- has trotted out an assortment of Degas nudes sure to please the easily titillated tourist -- but the Orsay's neighbor down the street on the rue de Lille, the Institut Neerlandais, which through May 27 is showing, for the first time anywhere in a public exhibition, 115 paintings from the Fritz Lugt Collection normally secreted away (for viewing by appointment only) by the institut's neighbor, the Fondation Custodia, a stunning panorama of pan-European art from the 16th through the 20th century, from innovative Dutch masterworks that demonstrate that nation's rich artistic heritage cannot be reduced to "Rembrandt" to the Dutch teacher of Impressionist pioneer Camille Corot to a rare depiction of an Algerian souk by a young soldier who was part of the French invading party in 1830. At a time when French president Nicolas Sarkozy is threatening to do away with 20 years of freedom of passage across European borders, "Un Univers Intime, Tableaux de la Collection Fritz Lugt" is a much-needed reminder that jobless barbarian sectarian Muslim zealots aren't the only foreign product that comes in when the walls go down.

Can't manage to get to Paris this Spring? Pas de probleme! The Fondation Custodia has set up a web site where you can not only view all 115 works in the exhibition, but zoom in on their details by simply moving your cursor / mouse to get a view of the artistic process of their creators as well. (And if you can get to Paris, on your way to the Institut at 121 rue de Lille, be sure and check the reputed one-time abodes of Richard Wright (#9), Max Ernst (#19), Karl Marx (#23), and Stendhal (#69).)

James Tissot (Nantes 1836-1902, Doubs), "Study of Kathleen Newton." Board, 31.5 x 22 cm. Acquired in 1953; inv. 6585. Newton (1854-1882) was Tissot's mistress. Although married to someone else, she shared her life with him for a number of years until her early death.

Adriaen van der Werff (Kralingen 1659-1722, Rotterdam), "Samson and Delilah" (?). Canvas, 35.7 x 28.7 cm. Acquired in 2010; inv. 2010-s.62. Van der Werff painted a picture of the same subject in 1693, but in full color. It was lost during the Second World War. It is not clear if the attractive woman is actually cutting the sleeping man's hair and it has been suggested that the characters portrayed are Mark Anthony and Cleopatra, partly in view of the colossal statue of Hercules in the background.

Nicolaes Maes (Dordrecht 1634-1693, Amsterdam), "Portrait of a girl with a deer." Canvas, 58 x 49 cm; signed. Acquired in 2011; inv. 2011-s.3. There is virtually no trace of Rembrandt's influence in this painting, a late work that dates from the period when Nicolaes Maes, who was apprenticed to Rembrandt between 1648 and 1653, was concentrating solely on portraiture. The Arcadian motif of a young girl with a deer by a spring has been handled inventively. The model, with her incredibly abundant shock of curly hair, looks away, whereas the deer, tearing a fresh leaf from a branch with its teeth, regards the viewer.

George Hendrik Breitner (Rotterdam 1857-1923, Amsterdam), "Nude with black stockings on a bed." Panel, 20.3 x 30.5 cm; signed. Acquired in 2011; inv. 2011-s.19. The artist based the subject of this loosely painted, not to say virtuoso panel on a photograph he had taken. Breitner was famous, almost notorious, for his free brushstroke and is regarded as one of the key figures in the development of modern painting in the Netherlands. According to a letter from Kees Maks, the only pupil he ever had, he showed him this painting from c. 1900, built up in glowing colors, with the words, 'This is how one should paint.'

Théophile-Narcisse Chauvel (Paris 1831-1910, Paris), "View of roofs and gardens." Paper, laid down on canvas, 23.2 x 30.3 cm. Gift of Carlos van Hasselt and Andrzej Nieweglowski, 2010; inv. 2010-s.28. The rooftops in question are most likely Parisian.

Jan Brueghel the Elder, (Brussels 1568-1625, Antwerp). The visit to the tenant farmer. Panel, 28.5 × 42.7 cm Acquired in 1920; inv. 431. This grisaille was long attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The monochromatic technique and depiction of peasant life were indeed characteristic of the famous painter. But its author is more likely to be Jan Brueghel the Elder, known as Velvet Brueghel, son of Pieter and himself painter of still lifes and landscapes that were highly prized among collectors. Jan may have produced this pastiche in response to the market: his father's paintings were exceedingly in demand among collectors.

Isaac Jansz. van Ostade (Haarlem 1621-1649 Haarlem), "Winter landscape." Panel, 40 x 48.7 cm. Acquired in 1939; inv. 5555.

Jan van de Cappelle (Amsterdam 1626-1679, Amsterdam), "Winter landscape with Kolf players." Canvas, 45.5 x 53.5 cm; monogrammed and dated 1653. Acquired in 1920; inv. 528.

Richard Parkes Bonington (Arnold near Nottingham 1802-1828, London), "The Giudecca in Venice." Oil on board, 24.8 x 31.7 cm. Acquired in 1927; inv. 2762. This extremely loose and sketchy view of Venice with the Gesuati church on the right appears to have been painted from the water. "A gloriously sunny painting" was how Frits Lugt described it. The low horizon and the superb way the water and the sky merge are quite remarkable. Bonington was in Venice from April 4 to 20 June 1826 and in this time he made a group of similar studies, all on the same English board. It is typical of Bonington that in these studies he manages to bring out the grandeur of less frequently depicted locations.

Nicolaes Berchem (Haarlem 1620-1683, Amsterdam), View of Loenen aan de Vecht, with Kronenburg castle. Canvas, 91.3 x 114.5 cm; signed. Acquired in 1956; inv. 6811. Primarily a painter of imaginary Italianate landscapes, Berchem offers here a view of the Netherlands in topographical detail: it shows the medieval castle in the small town of Loenen, near Utrecht.

Francesco Guardi (Venice 1712-1792 Venice), "San Giorgio Maggiore seen from the Giudecca," Canvas, 48 x 66.5 cm. Acquired in 1925; inv. 2389. Francesco Guardi's view of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice is one of the masterpieces in the Frits Lugt Collection. This church, designed by Palladio, was a popular subject for the artist, who belongs to the vedutisti -- painters of the highly detailed cityscapes known as vedute.

Achille-Etna Michallon (Paris 1796-1822 Paris), "View of Santa Scolastica in Subiaco." Paper, laid down on canvas, 43.2 x 29.2 cm; dated 1818. Acquired in 2011; inv. 2011-s.18. If Impressionism began with Corot, who set the example in plein air painting and, as his first teacher in Paris, taught color values to Pissarro and later taught Morisot, who taught Corot? One of his instructors was Michallon, a pioneer in landscape painting in plein air.

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