A splendid show opens at the Bruce Museum

Portrait of an Old Man Begging, oil on canvas, Michael Sweerts (1618-1664); Hohenbuchau Collection, on Permanent Loan to Liechtenstein, The Princely Collections, Vienna.
Portrait of an Old Man Begging, oil on canvas, Michael Sweerts (1618-1664); Hohenbuchau Collection, on Permanent Loan to Liechtenstein. The Princely Collections, Vienna.

Northern Baroque Splendor at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich is one of the largest exhibits of art to be installed there. It’s also one that should bring visitors back for multiple opportunities to savor the masterful works and gain a better understanding of the primarily Dutch and Flemish painters who created them.

The full title of the exhibition itself takes some time to digest: it’s Northern Baroque Splendor The Hohenbuchau Collection from: Liechtenstein. The Princely Collections, Vienna.

The Hohenbuchau Collection was assembled by Otto Christian and Renate Fassbender and is on permanent loan to the Prince of Liechtenstein’s collections, which are displayed at the restored Liechtenstein Summer Palace and the Liechtenstein City Palace in Vienna.

The show has been more than five years in the making, organized by the Bruce Museum’s executive director, Peter Sutton, who is a world-renowned Old Master scholar and has written a 500-page illustrated catalogue, The Hohenbuchau Collection: Dutch and Flemish Paintings from the Golden Age (2011). After it leaves the Bruce Museum next April 12, Northern Baroque Splendor will travel to the Cincinnati Museum of Art in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“With its colorful diversity, naturalism and technical brilliance, the show will appeal to the general public, but there are also surprises for the specialist and connoisseur; for example, the only known signed pictures by several artists,” Dr. Sutton said.

“This rare show affords the Bruce Museum a unique opportunity not only to share world-class masterpieces with Greenwich and surrounding towns, but also to offer a rare educational opportunity to learn from leaders in the field of 17th Century Dutch and Flemish art,” he said.

The Hohenbuchau Collection is notable for the breadth of its collectors’ interest; it includes samples of nearly all the genres produced by the Netherlandish Old Masters, from figures to landscapes to still lifes and more. It is notable, Dr. Sutton said, for its emphasis on history painting and for its genre scenes by the Leiden “fijnschilders” — Gerard Dou and Frans and Willem van Mieris.  These small-scale paintings are so finely done and their use of light so true, that the technical skill of the artists is worth several visits to appreciate.

Daniel Seghers (1603-1676), The Holy Family Surrounded by a Garland of Roses, oil on canvas; Hohenbuchau Collection, on Permanent Loan to Liechtenstein. The Princely Collections, Vienna.
Daniel Seghers (1603-1676), The Holy Family Surrounded by a Garland of Roses, oil on canvas; Hohenbuchau Collection, on Permanent Loan to Liechtenstein. The Princely Collections, Vienna.

Each painting demands close inspection, whether it is a landscape with figures or an exquisite still life. Interestingly, the 17th Century Dutch painters sometimes worked in pairs on a painting, with the skilled landscape painter stepping back to allow the figural painter to show his skill. A fine example of this is “A Hermit before a Grotto (A Mountainous Landscape with Pilgrims at a Chapel in a Grotto),” a large-scale work that was created by Joos de Momper the Younger (1564-1635) and Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625).

Befitting a collection of 17th Century Dutch and Flemish paintings, the show has one by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), “Portrait of a Capuchin Monk.” Equally arresting among the portraits are “A Laughing Bravo with his Dog (Diogenes?), 1628” by Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588-1629) and, by Paulus Moreelse (1571-1638), “Periander, The Tyrant of Corinth.”

Because the paintings were originally collected to be displayed in a grand hunting lodge, there are frequent references to the hunt, which was a nobleman’s preserve in 17th Century. From still lifes like Jan Fyt’s “A Still Life with Fruit, Dead Game and a Cat” (1642) to “Portrait of a Young Boy Holding a Plover” by Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1691), dead game is abundant.

Dr. Sutton, previewing the exhibition, allowed that perhaps his favorite painting of the show is “The Steadfast Philosopher” by Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656), a large work that depicts a scholar interrupted at his writing by an attractive young woman, nude to the hips, who is leaning in to get the scholar’s attention. The scholar is having none of it; he fixes his gaze on the hourglass that sits atop his books.

Special events

The Bruce Museum has planned a number of programs to complement Northern Baroque Splendor. A major event will be an international symposium on Oct. 25, from 10 to 4:30, which will bring scholars to Greenwich to share insights on Dutch and Flemish art. Dr. Sutton will serve as moderator as well as a panelist, along with Frederik J. Duparc, former director of the Mauritshuis at The Hague; Christopher Brown, director of the Ashmolean Museum and Fellow of Worcester College at the University of Oxford; Walter A. Liedtke, curator of European paintings for the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Arthur J. Wheelock Jr., curator of Northern Baroque painting at the National Gallery of Art and professor of art history at the University of Maryland.

“The symposium gives us an opportunity to provide our constituency with in-depth knowledge about the rare Hohenbuchau Collection,” said Dr. Sutton, “including both historical context and cultural relevance of the collection. The Dutch and Flemish masterpieces in this collection offer a glimpse of a remarkable period of artistic creativity with little-known paintings long hidden in a private collection.”

In the coming months, the Bob and Pam Goergen Lecture Series will focus on the exhibition: with Dr. Sutton speaking on Oct. 2, Rubens scholar and author Kristin Belkin speaking on Nov. 13, and Dutch genre scholar and author Wayne Franits the guest on Dec. 4.

Thanks to a grant from the Kress Foundation, Kress Interpretive Fellow Tara Contractor has been at work at the museum since July, working with Dr. Sutton and other staff members to develop educational programming, particularly to involve high school and post-secondary students. The Kress grant also supports the Oct. 25 symposium.

The Bruce Museum, at One Museum Drive in Greenwich, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 to 5, and Sunday, 1 to 5. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for students up to 22 years, $6 for seniors and free for children younger than 5 years. For more information, including additional programming related to the show, visit brucemuseum.org or call 203-869-0376.