Oud Holland

Review of: 'Master drawings from the age of Rembrandt' (2022)

April 2024


Review of: Robert Fucci, Drawn to life: Master Drawings from the age of Rembrandt in the Peck Collection at the Ackland Art Museum, Ackland Art Museum [Chapel Hill] 2022

After 19 years as the editor of an art journal, I’m aware of how difficult it is to commission reviews of exhibitions from a single private collection. Many such exhibitions feature a broad range of objects – different schools, periods and artists – making it hard to find a reviewer with the same range of expertise. (It is easier for catalogues such as the one under review, when the collection is focused on a particular artist, national school or chronological period.) However, perhaps the main reason it can be so challenging is the reluctance of scholars to risk offending curatorial colleagues or host museums dependent on the generosity of private collectors – the common motivation behind such exhibitions. In the Old Master drawings world, few recent examples of private generosity, compare to the gesture made by Drs. Sheldon and Leena Peck to the Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (an institution from which Sheldon received both his BS in dentistry and his DDS). The donation of their collection of 134 seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch and Flemish drawings was accompanied by an endowment to cover the costs of a travelling exhibition, scholarly catalogue, endowed curatorship, acquisitions fund and dedicated website.1 The Pecks chose a museum where they reckoned their $25 million gift would have the greatest impact. It certainly did.

It is no secret that single collector exhibition catalogues often are written for the collector themselves, with the collector in mind and resulting in a, ‘waltz between personal taste and art history that makes owning and studying these objects such a life-enhancing experience.’2 The same was true of the ‘enlightening conversations’ that the Pecks enjoyed with the author of the present catalogue, Rob Fucci, then an independent scholar (now a lecturer in art history at the University of Amsterdam). It remains a bittersweet tragedy that neither Leena nor Shelden lived to appreciate Ackland’s superb choice of Fucci to bring their project to fruition.

Fortunately for the readers of the catalogue, before his untimely death Sheldon had completed a draft of his foreword, which includes his choice of five drawings. ‘of special significance to [his] visual and emotional senses’: Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1691), Five studies of recumbent sheep (no. 25; see fig. 6 below); Frans van Mieris (1635-1681), Head of a woman looking downward (no. 54); two works by Rembrandt (1606-1669), Landscape with canal and boats (no. 41; fig. 1) and Studies of woman and children (no. 17); and Anthonie Waterloo’s (1609-1690) Landscape with trees by a river (no. 61). Explanations for these highly personal choices range from the ‘intimate, unpretentious tour de force’, of the Van Mieris head study; to the, ‘amazingly readable touch of brush in [Rembrandt’s canal scene, an] atmospheric masterpiece’; to the provenance journey of the Waterloo, looted by the Nazi Gestapo from the collection of Dr. Arthur Feldman, a Jewish attorney in Brno, Czechoslovakia. Sheldon’s voice comes through elsewhere: Fucci credits him, for example, for the identification of the site of the Gennep military encampment represented by Jan van Goyen (1596-1656) (no. 37).

Fucci’s meticulous research – handsomely acknowledged in the collector’s foreword – is given ample scope thanks to the catalogue’s lavish design and layout by publisher Paul Holberton. Most items are allocated two double-page spreads, which provides plenty of space for in-depth analyses, abundant comparative illustrations and some glorious, bled details.

The catalogue is organised in chronological order, not by artist life dates but by the approximate date of each individual work. This means that in the cases of Rembrandt and Thomas Wijck (1616-1677) multiple examples by the artist are split up, but it results in some happy accidents, such as an uninterrupted sequence of lush wash drawings by Jan de Bisschop (1628-1671), Constantijn Huygens II (1628-1697) and Jacob van der Ulft (1627-1689) (nos. 57–60). 

To have arranged 67 works in a plausible chronological order must have posed challenges, and it elicited some of the author’s most sophisticated art-historical analyses. Some observations address general issues of supply and demand. The Treaty of Munster and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 brought an end to warfare and opened up trade routes, leading to peak levels of productivity by some artists in the 1650s (e.g. Pieter Molijn (1595-1661), Nicolaes Berchem (1620-1683) and Jan van Goyen), a phenomenon that might, according to Fucci, have had more to do with the availability of paper than demand by collectors.3 Before that period, notes Fucci, not much paper suitable for drawing was made in the Netherlands; even paper with an Arms of Amsterdam watermark was made in Germany, Switzerland and France rather than in the Dutch Republic.

Cover of: Drawn to life: Master drawings from the age of Rembrandt in the Peck Collection at the Ackland Art Museum
Middle: fig. 1. Rembrandt, Landscape with canal and boats, c. 1652-1655, pen and brown ink, with brown wash, 103 x 203 mm., Ackland Art Museum, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Peck Collection, inv. 2017.1.67
Right: fig. 2. Andries Both, Crowd outside an inn with an art-seller, c. 1630-1632, pen and brown ink, with grey and brown washes, over traces of black chalk, 262 x 371 mm., Ackland Art Museum, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Peck Collection, inv. 2017.1.12 

Other dating debates involve more detailed arguments. Bartholomeus Breenbergh’s View from inside a vaulted chamber, possibly the Villa of Maecenas in Tivoli is assigned to 1627, even though the sheet is trimmed through the inscribed date and the last digit could be read as either 1627 or 1657. Fucci opted for the earlier date, based mainly on the sheet’s full signature (rather than a monogram or abbreviated form), which appears on only four other drawings, all of them dated 1627. In accepting the authenticity of the date 1645 inscribed on the verso of Doomer’s Village scene with houses and a bridge (no. 20), he uses subtle stylistic criteria and the evidence of stepped-gable architecture to conclude that it must represent a Dutch site sketched shortly before the artist arrived in Nantes, even though most drawings with that date are later replicas of French views. As a depiction of a Dutch village, it becomes a crucial early work by Doomer, like the drawing by Andries Both (1612-1642), Crowd outside an inn with an art-seller (no. 14; fig. 2). Again based on architecture, Fucci convincingly identifies the subject as Northern rather than a scene in Italy, where the artist apparently arrived by at least 1632 and spent the rest of his career until he drowned in a Venetian canal on the night of 23-24 March 1642.4

Despite whispers rejecting this attribution at the time of the Peck symposium in Amsterdam organised jointly by the Ackland, Rembrandthuis, and Rijksmuseum (1-2 June 2023), and others questioning Fucci’s interpretation of the subject-matter,5 I am on public record as fully endorsing his acceptance of the recently revealed old attribution inscribed on the verso.6 This, too, in my opinion is a truly pivotal piece, uniquely illustrating the transition from Both’s early, abstractly linear topographical studies in the Netherlands to the kind of brush-and-wash genre studies for which the bamboccianteartist became best known in Italy. I would even go so far as to reduce the possible date span to c. 1630-1632, that is, in the three-year period immediately before the artist arrived in Italy at the age of 20 or 21.

Unlike Andries Both’s documented activities and death in Italy, the evidence is uncertain when it comes to other Dutch Italianates. Fucci argues the pros and cons of journeys to Italy by Nicolaes Berchem (no. 44), Jan de Bisshop (no. 57), and Jacob van der Ulft (nos. 59–60), ultimately concurring with scholars who reject such travels for those three. By contrast, he assumes that the Courtyard in Italy (c. 1640–50) by Thomas Wijck, despite its Northern watermark, was drawn on the spot, presumably relying on a stock of paper that the artist brought with him. Bolstering such a conclusion – and the statement by biographer Arnold Houbraken that Wijck’s drawings were ‘drawn from life by himself in Italy’ – is a drawing on a sheet of paper with the same watermark, the View of the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, Venice (c. 1645-1650), formerly in the collection of I.Q. van Regteren Altena, Amsterdam,7 and now in that of Clement C. Moore, New York (fig. 3). In an entry for a forthcoming exhibition of drawings in the Moore collection, Maud van Suylen, on the basis of Google Maps, has cleverly established the exact spot where Wijck was seated, right in the middle of the Corte Coppo, near the alley Ramo Coppo. As Fucci observed of the Peck drawing, Wijck tended to choose subjects of a prosaic nature rather than the majestic ancient Roman or Italian architecture depicted by most Dutch Italianates.8 This is equally true of the Moore composition: it does not focus on the distinguished Palazzo Contarini in the background but on a flooded backstreet courtyard. Had Wijck not sat near the puddle himself, what possible earlier prototype of such a nondescript setting could he have copied?

Fucci’s remarkable observational skills are on full display throughout the entries. No detail, however minor, escapes his notice and thoughtful examination: the outmoded clothing worn by youths in two drawings by Jacob Backer (1608-1651) (no. 21 and fig. 21.3, also in the Peck collection); the architectural element in the background of the male nude study by Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1678) (no. 22; fig. 4), which implies it was drawn in one of the partitioned attic rooms of Rembrandt’s studio, now the Rembrandthuis Museum; Rembrandt’s use of gypsum (white chalk) rather than lead white for his corrections (no. 38),9 which means they subsequently wear away rather than oxidise, tellingly revealing stages in the artist’s thought processes; and a quill pen held in the left hand of a bare-breasted woman by Jacques de Gheyn II (1565-1629) (no. 4), which prompts a lengthy discussion of the artist’s involvement with the topic of witchcraft for an image that, were it not for the left-handedness, might otherwise represent the prostitute-turned-saint Mary Magdalene.

Left: fig. 3. Thomas Wijck, View of the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, Venice, c. 1645–50, point of brush and grey wash, over black chalk, 371 x 286 mm., Chestertown, Maryland, Collection of Clement C. Moore
Middle left: fig. 4. Samuel van Hoogstraten, Study of a male nude holding a staff, c. 1643-1647, pen and brown ink, with brown wash and opaque white highlights, 300 x 200 mm., Ackland Art Museum, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Peck Collection, inv. 2017.1.43
Middle right: fig. 5. Gerard ter Borch II, digital reconstruction of hypothetical sheet with Ice scene with kolf players, 1634, pen and brown ink, with brown wash, 139 x 103 mm., London, British Museum, inv. 1989,0513.82, and Ice scene with two men pushing a sled, 1634, pen and brown ink, with brown wash, 93 x 68 mm., Ackland Art Museum, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Peck Collection, inv. 2017.1.9
Right: fig. 6. Here attributed to an imitator of Aelbert Cuyp, Five studies of recumbent sheep, eighteenth century, black and oiled black chalk, with grey wash, 158 x 200 mm., Ackland Art Museum, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Peck Collection, inv. 2017.1.18

Other convincing iconographical reinterpretations include the drawing by Nicolaes Maes (1634-1693) (no. 40), which Fucci, based on its resemblance to paintings by Rembrandt and his school, proposes to identify as a Sketch of St. Matthew and the Angel, rejecting Sumowski’s traditional title of Elijah and the Angel. This sheet is one of two instances in the catalogue where a new verso was revealed through conservation work or as a result of the museum’s decision to submit each Peck drawing to digital imaging with a Video Spectral Comparator workstation.10 The other new verso is on a sheet by Abraham Bloemaert (1564-1651), no. 2, importantly revealing flying putti holding a diamond-shaped coat of arms, which was ultimately used as the frontispiece for one part of the artist’s tekenboek 

There are useful discussions of function, from autograph replicas (e.g., Cornelis Saftleven (1607-1681), no. 27) to the role of counterproofing (Berchem, no. 44). Especially amusing are the unexpected fun facts peppered throughout the lengthy, but never verbose texts,11 from the social history of the dovecote (Jan van Goyen, no. 36: who knew they were subject to regulations according to wealth and status?); to the equal role played by women in the game of pulling-the-goose (Allaert van Everdingen (1621-1675), no. 46);12 to the fact that bedrooms (slaapkamers) were still relatively rare in Dutch houses at the time and bedsteads could be found in any room, even the kitchen (Thomas Wijck, no. 49).

Those illuminating dives into social history testify to Fucci’s excellent storytelling skills. He is keenly aware that the audience for an exhibition catalogue is not limited to fellow scholars. Not everyone visiting the exhibition will know Houbraken’s compelling story of the young Govert Flinck (1615-1680), forbidden by his father to become an artist, using his spare pocket money to buy drawing materials and a lamp in order to copy prints after the rest of the household had gone to bed (p. 19), or the same early writer’s account of Philips Wouwerman (1619-1668) on his deathbed burning his collection of figure studies by Pieter van Laer to conceal fact that he had cribbed from them (p. 21). Even when recounting what may well be apocryphal stories, Fucci makes them resonate with today’s audience. What parent frustrated by their child’s indolence will not appreciate the following (no. 3, p. 37)?:

"[Constantijn] Huygens’s notion that Jacques de Gheyn III was a spoiled child should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt, but, whatever the case, his interest in making art indeed dropped precipitously after the death of his father in 1629. He ultimately left behind only a small handful of paintings, drawings, and prints."

The sense of humanity and humour of Dutch drawings that appeals to so many of us – and certainly to Sheldon and Leena Peck (e.g., the tiny defecating figure in the lower corner of the drawing by Esaias van de Velde (1587-1630), no. 10, apparently unable to make it up the hill to the outhouse on the horizon) – is celebrated in the literary style of this catalogue. The readable prose is coupled with the author’s erudition, evident in his proposed identification of the sitter in Constantijn Huygens II’s Study of a seated woman, no. 58, as possibly representing Catharina Suerius or Zuerius (c. 1590/1600–1680), a maternal cousin who raised him after the untimely death of his mother. Constantijn’s father complained that Catharina was something of a ‘nag’, which leads Fucci to wonder rhetorically whether the equivalent Dutch word zeur may, in fact, have been a witty play on her name.

Other, more academic discoveries include the tentative identification of the sitter in the portrait by Ferdinand Bol (no. 18) and the recognition that a sheet in the British Museum is probably the missing left half of the trimmed Ice scene with two men pushing a sled by Gerard ter Borch II (1617-1681) (no. 15), of which a hypothetical reconstruction is illustrated here (fig. 5).13 Some proposals are more cautious, such as a possible link between the Peck black chalk study of a Man with a walking stick wearing a fur cap (no. 24) and the widely recognised pen-and-ink studies for Rembrandt’s famous Hundred guilder print; the text is nuanced, hinging on the semantics of the term ‘preparatory.’14

Fucci uses the same nuanced language to tackle a few challenging attributional problems, among them, a drawing of Figures dancing around a fire attributed to Pieter van Laer (no. 13), which, if right, must have escaped the Wouwerman bonfire. His rejection of the attribution to Willem Drost (1633-1659) of the Noli me tangere (no. 39) is endorsed by Rembrandt specialists who accept it as autograph, notwithstanding its resemblance to Drost’s painting at Kassel, doubtless inspired by the influence of his master. The author is duly cautious in repeating the attribution to Herman Naiwincx of the Knoll above a pond (no. 34), first proposed at the time of the 1992 Hans van Leeuwen sale.

Left: fig. 7. Here attributed to an imitator of Aelbert Cuyp, Group of seven sheep, eighteenth century, black and oiled black chalk, with grey wash, 154 x 203 mm., Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, inv. KdZ 5314
Right: fig. 8. Imitator of Aelbert Cuyp, Study of milk cans, cows and a milkmaid, eighteenth century, black and oiled black chalk, with grey wash, 142 x 190 mm., Morgan Library & Museum, New York, inv. I, 123

I would quibble only with the attribution of one sheet that does not seem ever to have raised doubts, Sheldon’s first choice, Five studies of recumbent sheep (no. 25; fig. 6). The drawing – always given in full to Aelbert Cuyp, including when it was in the collection of Van Regteren Altena – is rightly compared with a nearly identical ‘study sheet’ with six sheep in the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin (fig. 7); that the two works are even more closely aligned is proved by the overlooked fact that the unfinished sketch at the upper right of the Peck drawing is fully rendered in the motif at upper right of the Berlin companion. Jan Leja, completing a catalogue raisonné of the artist’s drawings begun by the late Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, is quoted as confirming that these are the only two studies of sheep, but we are given no hint of her or Egbert’s opinion concerning their autograph status. A comparable drawing of isolated motifs in the Morgan Library & Museum, New York (fig. 8), was dismissed by Egbert as a pastiche of conflated motifs from various paintings by Cuyp. As he remarked, ‘the ‘sketchbook page’ approach reflects an early nineteenth-century aesthetic rather than a seventeenth-century tradition.’15 There are indeed no truly comparable examples of this kind of mis-en-page among the artist’s accepted cattle and horse studies.

Haverkamp-Begemann further noted that Cuyp’s many later admirers used his signature technique of moistened, sooty black chalk. This was presumably in an effort to fool prospective buyers, especially the British Grand Tourists who flocked to Dordrecht to pick up an example by their favourite Dutch artist, a phenomenon that spawned a veritable cottage industry of Cuyp imitators in the city.16 Although it is possible that Cuyp himself kept a stock of animal study drawings for future reference, the fact that the sheep in the Peck drawing appear in two paintings of different dates (1641 and 1645-1655) – and the same is probably true of the six sheep in the Berlin sheet (which can be linked to at least two paintings, one datable c. 1639-1640, the other from the mid-1650s)17 – raises suspicions for me. Unfortunately, in this case the indistinct coat of arms watermark on the Peck sheet (not illustrated) offers no help in dating the paper. 

If it is something of a personal relief that the Pecks are not here to read of my doubts concerning a particular favourite, they would surely be glad to learn that I, like Fucci and Holm Bevers, part ways with Peter Schatborn’s rejection of the autograph status of the Rembrandt brush landscape (no. 41; see fig. 1). When I visited the Pecks in Boston in 2016, Sheldon sent me home with a copy of their 1999 exhibition catalogue with a detail of this drawing gracing the cover. As Sheldon movingly wrote of this sheet in the present catalogue (p. 29), a drawing that so clearly exemplified for him the love and passion of a private collector (p. 12):

"Rembrandt was often melancholy in the 1650s. His wife Saskia and all their children but one had died. His commissions were dwindling. He was on the verge of bankruptcy. He was aging. To boost his spirits, he took therapeutic walks in the countryside around Amsterdam and stopped occasionally to create a drawing or two."

The Pecks would surely have been proud that their generosity resulted in a catalogue whose compelling objects combined with stimulating texts feels like a therapeutic walk in the countryside for all us lovers and students of Dutch drawings. 

Jane Shoaf Turner
Editor, Master Drawings
Emerita head of the Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam (2012-2020)


1 The exhibition was held first at the Ackland Art Museum (23 September–31 December 2022), and subsequently at the Rembrandthuis Museum in Amsterdam (18 March–11 June 2023). Dana Cowen, the Ackland’s first appointed Sheldon Peck Curator for European and American Art before 1950, was responsible for producing the website, https://peck.ackland.org, in collaboration with UK digital agency Cogapp; this was launched during the Ackland showing of the exhibition.

2 Turner 2012 (note 2), p. 5.

3 How might this account for Van Goyen’s obsessive production of drawings in 1653, usually assumed to compensate for his financial losses from the tulip crash?

4 The accuracy of the date in an inscription, ABoth / Rouen 1633, on a drawing in the Klassik Stiftung Weimar (inv. KK 4803), assumed by Peter Schatborn (Drawn to warmth: 17th-century Dutch artists in Italy, Amsterdam 2001, p. 89.) to be in a different shade of ink and a later addition, has recently been validated by an investigation of the ink (T. Ketelsen and O. Hahn (eds.), Die Sammlung der niederländischen Zeichnungen in Weimar: Ein Handbuch, Dresden 2022, pp. 1401-145. [text by Carsten Wintermann and Christien Melzer]); it is now hoped that a similar analysis can be undertaken of the inscription associated with a drawing in the Special Collections, Leiden University Library (inv. PK-1900-T-1), which reads Andrea Bot fe / Venetzia 1632.

5 G. S. Keyes (‘Review of Robert Fucci, Drawn to life: Master drawings from the age of Rembrandt in the Peck Collection at Ackland Art Museum’, Historians of Netherlandish art reviews, Feb. 2023; https://hnanews.org/hnar/reviews/drawn-to-life-master-drawings-from-the-age-of-rembrandt-in-the-peck-collection-at-the-ackland-art-museum/), noting that the figures in the crowd remain oblivious to the so-called art-seller, wondered whether the figure was not a charlatan or quack peddling his wares. It nonetheless seems to me the figure is holding up a rectangular work of art.

6 J. S. Turner, ‘The less well-known side of Andries Both as a draughtsman’, Peck drawings symposium, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1-2 June 2023.

7 Sale heirs of I.Q. van Regteren Altena, London (Christie’s), 10-07-2014, nr. 64.

8 In a recently submitted review of Fucci’s publication in Master Drawings (forthcoming, 2024), Michiel Plomp, I believe correctly, attributed to the staffage in this drawing to another hand, specifically Isaac de Moucheron (1667–1744), though I am less inclined to accept his dismissal of the rest of the drawing as by Wijck, for which he cautiously proposed instead the name of Jacob de Heusch (1656–1701).

9 Research carried out at the Rijksmuseum by paper conservator and technical art historian Birgit Reissland (Cultural Heritage Agency/RCE), in connection with the Drawing out Rembrandt project, has shown that the white often contains calcium sulphate, the inorganic compound of which the mineral gypsum is composed; we know gypsum today as the main constituent of blackboard chalk.

10 This equipment used multiwavelength LED technology to examine the sheets under infrared, ultraviolet, transmitted, and transmitted infrared light.

11 Fucci’s language is consistently articulate and clear. Only one passage puzzled me (Samuel van Hoogstraten, no. 23): ‘Though the three full-length figures appear to have been drawn separately, he placed them in relative diminishing scale on the sheet. This arrangement creates a mis-en-page suggestive of a cohesive composition (perhaps reflexively) despite the figures’ obvious mental and conceptual isolation from each other.’ This seems to ignore the disproportionately larger detail of a head in a broad-brimmed hat at upper left.

12 Fucci quotes Alice Davies’s speculation that the drawing was part of an incomplete series of the Twelve Months, but since only three others are known, he suggested they might instead have comprised a set of the Four Seasons. The two hypotheses are not mutually exclusive, as is known from half a series of the Months by Esaias van de Velde in the Moore collection (Turner 2012, nos. 18a-f). At some point, four of the original twelve sheets were extracted and presented as the Four Seasons. The drawing for the month of May, formerly in a private collection, Amsterdam, was recently acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (inv. 2020.13; see https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/object/109Q62).

13 The British Museum website has already been updated to incorporate Fucci’s hypothesis; https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1989-0513-82.

14 The drawing is not included in the ‘core list’ of connected works compiled by M. Royalton-Kisch and P. Schatborn, ‘The core group of Rembrandt drawings, II: The list’, Master Drawings 49, no. 3 (2011), pp. 323-346, and does not usually feature in the accounts of the drawings definitively associated with the print.

15 Turner 2012, p. 53, under no. 55.

16 On Cuyp’s popularity with British collectors, see Alan Chong, ‘Aristocratic Imaginings: Aelbert Cuyp’s patrons and collectors’, in Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., ed., Aelbert Cuyp, Washington, National Gallery of Art and elsewhere, 2001-2002, pp. 34-51.

17 Landscape with cattle, c. 1639–40, oil on panel, 65 x 90.8 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, inv. 4664-3 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aelbert_Cuyp_-_Landscape_with_cattle_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg) and Ubbergen Castle, mid-1650s, oil on panel, 32.1 x 54.5 cm, National Gallery, London, inv. NG824 (https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/aelbert-cuyp-ubbergen-castle).

J. S. Turner, ‘Review of: Drawn to life: Master drawings from the age of Rembrandt in the Peck Collection at the Ackland Art Museum’, Oud Holland Reviews, April 2024.