Oud Holland

Review of Jan Baptist and Jan Weenix (2018)

FRED G. MEIJER

Review of: Anke A. Van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven, Jan Baptist Weenix: The paintings: A story of versatility, success and bankruptcy in seventeenth century Holland (vol. 1), Jan Weenix: The paintings: Master of the Dutch hunting still life (vol. 2), Zwolle [Waanders] 2018

During a time in which it seems that artist’s monographs and, particularly, oeuvre catalogues are no longer considered as scholarly masterpieces, it is heartening to see the appearance of a stout monograph, in fact a ‘duograph’, on father and son Jan Baptist Weenix (1621-1659) and Jan Weenix (1641-1719).1 We can even speak of a ‘triograph’, as the volume on Jan Weenix also includes a catalogue of paintings by that artist’s daughter, Maria Weenix (1697-1774). It is highly commendable that the author of these two volumes, Dutch art-historian Anke van Wagenberg-ter Hoeven, starting in 2004, has devoted countless hours to the compilation of these biographies and catalogues, next to her positions in the USA as a curator, Campus Gallery director, and lecturer. Since 2011 she has been curator at the Academy Art Museum in Easton, Maryland. The information condensed within these two volumes on father and son Weenix, who were both highly important artists in their respective fields, is extremely valuable and useful. The illustrations, mostly in colour, are generally of good quality, although they are often too small to allow proper appreciation of the work in question.

Left: fig. 1 Jan Baptist Weenix, Tobit, asleep under a vine, is blinded, formerly signed and dated 1642, oil on canvas, 92.5 x 81.5 cm, Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, inv. 1204.
Middle: fig. 2 Attributed to Claes Moeyaert, Job on the dunghill, graphite, pen in brown, wash, 15 x 15.9 cm, Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, inv. PD_882-1963.
Right: fig. 3 Jan Weenix, A vase of flowers on a marble ledge, oil on canvas, 92.5 x 78 cm, present location unknown.

The two volumes are offered together in a slipcase and are not available separately, but they maintain an appearance of individuality to such a degree that both include separate – though identical – forewords, author’s biographies, and collection indexes organised by location. However, the 65-page bibliography, which concerns both books, is included in the volume on Jan Weenix only. From a practical point of view, it would have given the two books more equal weight – literally – if it had been included in the now thinner volume on Jan Baptist Weenix. The organisation of both books is simple: a biography, followed by a catalogue of the paintings. The volume on Jan Baptist includes Arnold Houbraken’s text on the artist (copied from his Groote Schouburgh, in Dutch only) as an appendix. A second, very useful and interesting appendix, also only in Dutch, is the bankruptcy file of Jan Baptist Weenix, a transcription of 175 handwritten pages, the first few of which provide lists of the goods in his estate, while the remaining pages specify the artist’s debts, accumulated over many years preceding his death. Appendices in the volume on Jan Weenix are the catalogue of Maria Weenix’s paintings and the collection index, both already mentioned above. This index, covering both books, concerns permanent collections only, which is only marginally helpful; unfortunately, there is no exhaustive index of names of persons and places, an omission which does not facilitate the user’s search for specific information.

In comparison with earlier publications on the Weenix family, the biographies present several new and corrected data.2 Jan Baptist’s ‘Bankruptcy file’, already mentioned above, offers wonderful insights into the life of Weenix senior and his family in the 1650s. Nevertheless, many details concerning the lives of the two artists are still obscure, but Van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven presents a consistent story for the both of them.3 The story of Jan Baptist Weenix, including his long sojourn in Italy, is more turbulent than that of his son, who steadily built up his career in the course of a long, laborious life. Both biographies include a section ‘A career through dated paintings: a selection’, in which the author concisely discusses the chronology of the respective oeuvres. This is very useful, since the catalogues are broken up according to subject matter, eleven categories for each artist, but not the same; the choice of subjects has been adapted to the production of the painter in question.

One of the most substantial pieces of criticism possible to have of these volumes is that the author seems to have avoided every effort to situate Jan Baptist and Jan Weenix in their art-historical context. In these books, there is barely a word on who they may have inspired, or who inspired them. This is a shame, since such a lack of context, in the eyes of many, reduces the art historian to a mere bookkeeper. To name but one example, in the volume on Jan Baptist Weenix (p. 44), it is mentioned in passing that after the death of his father, Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1636-1695) came to live with the Weenix family in 1653, and was still living with them at the time of Jan Baptist’s death. The fact that Weenix taught him and that his early game pieces have strong connections with the work of his teacher remains undiscussed. Even in the lengthy entry on cat. 142, A dog fight, there is no mention of the fact that Hondecoeter borrowed the dog to the right in a painting from the same year, 1658.4 Also, the dependence of Jan Weenix’s early still lifes on early examples by Hondecoeter is hushed, as are many other artistic interactions.5 Dirck Valkenburg 'who seems to have been Jan Weenix’s only pupil' (which is correct, but not counting Maria Weenix!) is awarded a short biographical paragraph (p. 25), but no more is said about the artistic relationship than that 'he imitated Weenix closely.'

The catalogue of Jan Baptist Weenix numbers 158 paintings; that of Jan, who was active for much longer, 276. Each catalogue entry consists of a title, (approximate) date (but not consistently), measurements, transcription of the signature and date, present (not always) location, data on provenance, exhibitions, and literature.6 These last three are very extensive and provide a wealth of information. Many early provenance data have been linked to specific paintings.7 Additionally, for many paintings the author offers one or more remarks, which can be of various scopes, if not to say, random. Sometimes copies are mentioned, but many are not. Notes on condition are rare. Sometimes reference is made to other works in the oeuvre, but not extensively. Occasionally, a related drawing is mentioned and one drawing, attributed to Jan Baptist Weenix, is featured three times (JBW, pp. 126, 154 and JW, pp. 91), as ‘partial inspiration’ for a painting while the relationship remains unclear to me, and while it is not mentioned under JW, cat. 1, Merry company with the prodigal son, in which the pose of the horse in the background is virtually identical.8 A drawing of a dog in Darmstadt is illustrated twice (JBW, p. 189, and JW, p. 90), once with an attribution to Jan Baptist Weenix, and once attributed to Jan Weenix. For both related paintings we may indeed speak of ‘a similar pose’, be it in reverse, but the drawing does not appear to have been a direct model (JBW, cat. 78, Ruined landscape with figures […], and JW cat. 11, A mountainous landscape with resting cavaliers).9 The editing of the comments (and occasionally also of other texts) is occasionally careless. There are numerous typos and sentences with words missing (making them incomprehensible). Lastly, occasionally the comments contain errors or assumptions that are too optimistic or unrealistic.10

Within the subject categories, the paintings are arranged chronologically, as much as possible, according to the author. For Jan Baptist, the first category is ‘Early Work’, comprising of four paintings, the selection of which remains somewhat unclear. Several works from the following section, ‘Religious Paintings’, would appear to have deserved inclusion as early works, if only because of their date (JBW, cat. 5, Tobit, asleep under a vine, is blinded, is dated 1642) or because they are signed with the artist’s pre-Italian signature. After his Italian sojourn, he consistently signed Gio Batta (for Giovanni Battista) Weenix. I have had trouble trying to connect cat. 5 (fig. 1) with Jan Baptist Weenix’s drawing from 1641 in the Albertina in Vienna, which relationship the author suggests. A much more interesting connection, in my view, is that with a drawing attributed to Weenix’s teacher, Claes Moeyaert (1591-1661) of Job on the dunghill in Cambridge, which mirrors the composition of this painting, while the pose of the protagonist is extremely similar (fig. 2).11

The angel Raphael leaving Tobias’ family (JBW, cat. 6), in Stockholm (illustrated in reverse!), is an interesting amalgam. Although excluded from the oeuvre of Moeyaert, by Astrid Tümpel, the cattle and dog fully belong to that artist’s idiom, while the angel appears to have been inspired by Pieter Lastman (1583-1633) (rather than by Rembrandt [1606-1669]), and particularly Sara, prominently central in a bright yellow robe, is not at all reminiscent in type and handling of any other figure by Jan Baptist Weenix.12 In The holy women at the tomb (JBW, cat. 9), the treatment of the angel is strongly reminiscent of such figures from around 1640 by Willem Bartsius (1612- after 1639), by whom Weenix owned a painting at the time of his death, according to his estate (p. 320, transcription of p. 2, nr 11).

In the introduction to the volume on Jan Weenix (p. 14) the author states: "Over the years the closeness between Jan Weenix’s early paintings and those by his father and distinguishing between them has been a challenge for many a researcher and was one of the reasons to investigate both painters for the catalogue raisonné." From the catalogues, it becomes clear that Van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven, too, has not fully succeeded to resolve this matter. Too little opening, to my mind, is given to the option that Jan Weenix finished, and later improved or enhanced, some of his father’s works. Children playing with a goat amongst ruins (JW, cat. 39), may have been started by Jan Baptist, but in its final execution, the painting seems to be by Jan Weenix and the central subject, the portrait of the three children, was certainly not planned by the father – in that sense it is correctly catalogued under Jan. An interesting work is JBW, cat. 24, After the hunt […], which will indeed have been started and elaborated upon by Jan Baptist, but the still life in the foreground is certainly not by him. It has the refinement of the work of his son, who probably also painted the boy holding the hunting equipment. JW, cats. 1, […] the prodigal son, 11, A mountainous landscape […], 12, Shepherds in an Italian landscape, and 14, A young couple with goats and sheep, for instance, seem to be excellent candidates as paintings set up by Jan Baptist, and reworked by Jan Weenix.13 The exact division of authorship between Jan Baptist and Jan Weenix will probably never be solved entirely, since there must already have been a degree of collaboration in the 1650s – clearly more so than with Hondecoeter – and because of Jan Weenix’s early ability to mimic his father’s hand.

The foreword to the respective catalogues states that the "catalogue contains the authentic paintings of" the artist in question, "and works that can be rightly attributed to him." Criteria for inclusion – or exclusion – are not provided. The author’s statement sounds very decisive and final. However, if there is one thing that oeuvre catalogues never are, it is final. In the foreword, we are promised a publication of the remaining works connected with father and son Weenix, but in the meantime we can only guess why certain paintings have not made it into the respective catalogues, such as one of Jan Weenix’s most impressive flower paintings (fig. 3) or a still life of flowers and fruit from 1678.14 At least a handful of other examples can be mentioned for both artists.

A few paintings in the catalogues should have been left out, in my view, or are doubtful. At least dubious, I believe, is a painting in Gdańsk (JBW, cat. 48, Ships at sea with a city in the background) which is included as ‘attributed to Jan Baptist Weenix’, without any further comment, but the subject matter and, particularly, the handling of the sky would appear to exclude it from the artist’s oeuvre. Dead birds with netting (JBW, cat. 131), and Dead birds on a stone table (cat. 132), despite their old – but odd – signatures, are characteristic works by William Gowe Ferguson (active 1648-1695 or later), in my opinion. I fail to see the hand of Jan Baptist Weenix as a collaborator in Jochem van Aras, his wife, Elisabeth Claes Loenen and their Daughter Maria van Aras (JBW, cat. 155). Moreover, Bartholomeus van der Helst, who signed and dated the painting, was perfectly capable of rendering the dogs and game in this family portrait. Is it possible that Adoration of the magi (JW cat. 6) is really by Jan Weenix? The weakness of the execution makes one wonder whether this is perhaps a copy after the painting previously in the Begijnhof Church in Amsterdam, and not that original. Or was it substantially repainted? I doubt that Lady playing the viola (JW, cat. 92), is a portrait, rather, as the author herself remarks, it 'could be categorized with Weenix’s decorative pieces', compare also JW, cat. 253, A musical party. Not one of Jan Weenix’s catalogue numbers 94 to 97 – three studies of dogs and a portrait of a dog – in my opinion, qualify as being by his hand. Cat. 94 appears to be primarily by Jan Baptist, finished and signed by Jan.15 A dead hare and pheasant, […] in a park (JW, cat. 122): why is the oil sketch – and why are other oil sketches, for that matter – not catalogued separately? The handling of JW cat. 186, Dead deer with dead birds, […] in a park, judging from a good photograph, does not appear to be up to the standard of Jan Weenix. Dead hanging hare, […] in a garden (JW, cat. 195), to my mind, is a copy after JW, cat. 194, and not an autograph version. Further: why are JW cat. 203, Dead birds […] 205, Dead white rooster […], and 206, Dead birds on a blue pillow, […], not included in the section ‘still lifes on a table or in a niche’? Dead partridges on a ledge, […] (JW, cat. 208): in view of the many copies of this composition, there must have been a Weenix original, but to my mind this is not it. Presumably, Dead birds with horn, […] (JW, cat. 220), was at one time (before 1817) reduced in size; compare cat. 222 of the same subject. Bouquet of flowers in a park […] (JW, cat. 243), judging from the available photo of this lost work, is rather weak for Jan, is it more likely by Maria Weenix? Finally, to the oeuvre catalogue of Maria Weenix, a few more paintings documented as by Jan Weenix (but not included in the present book) could be added, while cat. H, Peaches, grapes and other fruit […], as far as the photo allows judgment, might after all qualify as a work by Jan Weenix.16

Despite my criticism of numerous details in these two volumes, Anke van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven and her publisher must be congratulated on the wealth of information presented here, and that at such an affordable sum, which makes these volumes accessible to a larger audience than just the libraries of museums, universities, and wealthy collectors. This publication justly spotlights the oeuvres of these two artists, who made their ineffaceable mark on Dutch art of the seventeenth century, and these books will remain the standard on their oeuvres for a long time to come.

NOTES:

1 I am not in favour of the author’s use of the epithets Weenix I and Weenix II which are totally unnecessary and, in fact, incorrect, since the artists used different first names (even though Jan Baptist was baptized as Jan Weenix). Also, I am not charmed by the author’s use of the term ‘hunting still life’, already in the title of the volume on Jan Weenix. This improper term has crept into art-historical literature recently. In his excellent study The Dutch gamepiece (1984), also praised by Anke van Wagenberg (JW, p. 17), Scott Sullivan wrote on 'jachtstilleven' (p. 2): "Translated as 'hunting still-life', the word does not correspond exactly with the English gamepiece [...] the broader English meaning […]  encompasses all still-lifes with game regardless of their specific reference to hunting." Throughout his book, he consistently, and in my view correctly, uses ‘gamepiece’. ‘Hunting’ suggests an activity, which in the majority of such still lifes, is not depicted. What is shown is the game, small and large spoils of the hunt. Also, another term that has recently popped up in the literature every now and then, ‘hunt still life’, is also to be discarded, in my view.

2 For much archival research, the author acknowledges the assistance of Marten Jan Bok. Van Wagenberg also acknowledges that in the early stages of her research, she depended much on Rebecca Jean Ginnigs’ unpublished dissertation on the same two artists, from 1970, as well as on several other previous publications.

3 Although personally I do not like the use of the present tense for such texts.

4 Signed and dated 1658, oil on canvas, 137 x 171 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Le Havre, inv. 82. In the literature references, the author includes my article in the exhibition catalogue Von Schönheid und Tod, Karlsruhe 2011, where I signalled and illustrated this relationship (figs. 28 and 29, on p. 63), so this omission must have been a deliberate choice.

5 As a matter of fact, some of Jan Weenix’s early still lifes that show a connection with the work of Hondecoeter from the 1660s have been omitted from the catalogue, such as A still life with a dead hare and a pheasant on a table, oil on canvas, 112.4 x 100.8 cm, signed, Amsterdam (Sotheby's), 16-12-1999, lot 42. Several of the young Hondecoeter’s paintings are mentioned in Jan Baptist Weenix’s estate (pp. 320-321). In JW, cat. 203, Dead birds in a niche […] Van Wagenberg suggests a similarity to Hondecoeter’s still life of dead birds in the Wallace collection, a comparison that makes little sense, in my view. If anything, it will have been still lifes by Willem van Aelst that inspired Weenix here, for instance one from 1671, now in the Mauritshuis (RKDimages, nr 7698). The Hondecoeter she illustrates is not an early work, but more likely one from c. 1670. My attribution from 1984 of that still life to Hondecoeter (conveyed to the museum in 1985) was confirmed by the revealing of the signature in cleaning in 1991; it was not the cleaning that prompted the change of attribution, as Van Wagenberg suggests, but the change of attribution that prompted the cleaning.

6 Only very rarely, signatures are illustrated.

7 The entries from unillustrated catalogues have been copied out in full (as well as several from more recent, illustrated ones, which does not make much sense). Occasionally, particularly when a version exists, identification may have been too optimistic. For instance, of Jan Weenix’s, cat. 143, Hunting still life with a dead boar […], in Warsaw, an almost identical, signed and dated, very close variant exists in Reims (RKDimages, nr 113660), which the author did not include or mention. Whether or not she considers that version as autograph, the description in the 1758 Amsterdam auction catalogue she quotes may just as well concern the Reims picture. The latter is dated 1701. Interestingly, Van Wagenberg gives 1701 as the date for cat. 143, but just below that transcribes the date correctly as 1705. I have not made a point of checking the correctness of the provenance dates the author has compiled, but noticed that in the case of JW, cat. 224, Peacock, hunting trophy, […] a view to a park with statues, which I recently researched extensively, she mixed up some of the provenance of the original with its two copies, which copies she does not mention.

8 The attribution of this drawing to Jan Baptist Weenix needs further research, in my view.

9 In her foreword, the author states that, "The research resulted in over two thousand artworks, including an extensive list of paintings that were in the past incorrectly ascribed to either painter […]. These will be published separately. The research on paintings and also on works on paper by the masters is ongoing and will be published in the foreseeable future." Several drawings were included in the biographies and catalogues as references, and as by Jan Baptist or Jan Weenix. Their attribution is not always certain, however: JBW, p. 149 (and 194), p. 170 (probably by a different hand), p. 191 (and JW, p. 191, more likely a later copy, also JBW, p. 153), p. 280 (if by Weenix this drawing must have been inspired by the work of his teacher, Claes Moeyaert, in whose oeuvre such bound sheep can be found in several depictions of offerings), p. 286 (probably by a different hand), JW, p. 44 (fig. 40, and p. 244, more likely a copy by a different hand), p. 48 (fig. 51 and p. 275, eighteenth century copy), p. 103 (Ecole Nationale, probably a later copy), p. 105 (a later copy), p. 110 (follower of Aert Schouman), p. 118 (more likely from the circle of Peeter Boel), p. 269 (more likely a later copy), p. 334 (a copy). With thanks to Charles Dumas, email to author, 09-07-2018, for confirming my suspicions concerning these drawings (including the one mentioned in note 8). For JBW, cat. 62, Fanciful Italian seaport, Van Wagenberg states that the fact that this painting belonged to Johannes Verkolje proves that Weenix was a ‘painter’s painter’. This Johannes Verkolje (1683-1755), however, was the son of the well-known painter Johannes Verkolje (1650-1693) and there is no evidence that the Weenix came to him from his father. Verkolje II, although said to have painted, was not a painter of any significance, judging from the complete absence of any known paintings by his hand.

10 For instance, JBW, cat. 1: "The cat other Weenix’s cats." (resembles? or does not resemble?), cat. 9 "...can now with attributed to.." (with confidence be?), JW, p. 51 "This large-scale composition..." does not refer to a previous sentence, which may thus be missing; p. 54 "buying his father’s house in 1636" (instead of 1736); p. 135: "…the garden beyond the couple indicates a non-existent garden and may have been a backdrop in the painter’s studio." This makes it sound like Jan Weenix was a photographer; JW, cat. 55, ‘Margaretha is seated in a garden vase with rose bush […]’ (in a garden next to a vase?), and so on.

11 The first, see RKDimages, nr 118928. The second, see RKDimages, nr 107302.

12 For Moeyaert’s animals, compare, for instance RKDimages, nr 1473. For Lastman’s angel, compare RKDimages, nr 215270.

13 I have inspected JW, cat. 1 in Paris in 2018, and in any case, the initial is not characteristic of Jan Weenix, but there can be no doubt that Jan had a substantial part in the execution of the work, but so did Jan Baptist, in my opinion.

14 The first, I published in my catalogue of the Ward Bequest in the Ashmolean Museum Oxford: F.G. Meijer, The collection of Dutch and Flemish still-life paintings bequeathed by Daisy Linda Ward, London 2003, p. 323, fig. 92.1. The second was illustrated by Gregor Weber in the exhibition catalogue Vom Adel der Malerei, Holland um 1700, Cologne/Dordrecht/Kassel 2006, p. 58, fig. 8 (signed and dated 1678, oil on canvas, 70 x 56 cm, private collection). The latter was already known from an illustration in the catalogue of the auction of the Clavé-Bouhaben collection in Cologne: Heberle, 05-04-1894, lot 322. In my 2003 Oxford catalogue, I also illustrated an early game piece with a hare and a white chicken: oil on canvas, 102 x 96 cm, which also has not made it into Van Wagenberg’s catalogue. (p. 323, fig. 92.2).

15 But the W of Weenix, with double curls, is uncharacteristic for both artists.

16 Included might be a pair of flower paintings in the collection of the Museum der bildenden Künste in Leipzig, inv. 822 and 1071, as well as a flower painting with Gallery Lasson, London, advertised in The Connoisseur, April 1969, p. XXXVI. In the 2012 catalogue of the Leipzig collection (J. Nicolaisen and R. Beck [eds.], Niederländische malerei 1430-1800 im Museum der bildende Künste Leipzig, Leipzig 2012), in which the two flower paintings are included as cat. 358 and 359, as circle of Jan Weenix, my suggestion that they may be by Maria Weenix, is acknowledged in the catalogue entry.

CITE AS:
F.G. Meijer, ‘Review of: A.A. Van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven, Jan Baptist Weenix and Jan Weenix: The paintings, 2018’, Oud Holland Reviews, September 2019.