A Honthorst Masterpiece Acquired by the National Gallery in Washington

Gerrit von Honthorst (1590-1656)
The Concert, 1623
Oil on canvas - 123 x 206 cm
Washington, National Gallery of Art
Photo : National Gallery of Art

28/11/13 - Acquisition - Washington, National Gallery of Art - The National Gallery in Washington recently acquired a masterpiece by Gerrit Honthorst representing a concert. This is a daytime scene, without the lighting effects found in the chiaroscuro paintings by the artist known in Italy as Gherardo della Notte. Except for this element, all of the characteristics of a Caravaggesque work can be found in this canvas. Eight figures, both men and women, are gathered around a table playing music while reading a score which a player points to with his bow. The most striking aspect of this painting is the incredible subtlety of the warm colors of the fabrics.
The work, dating from 1623, that is following the painter’s return from Italy in 1620, was quoted in 1632 in an inventory of assets belonging to Prince Frederic Henri of Orange Nassau, until it was seized by French troops in 1795.
Although this is the first Honthorst painting to join the collections at the National Gallery, in 2009 the museum had acquired another canvas reflecting Caravaggism in Utrecht, by Hendrick ter Brugghen (see news item of 13/3/09).

We cannot end this news item without pointing out that this work came directly from France where it was held for over 200 years in the same family, via Adam Williams from whom the National Gallery in Washington purchased it. A quick search through the Journal Officiel confirmed our suspicions : this painting obtained an export certificate because no objection was lodged. Even if the export of national treasures has speeded up over the last few months given the government’s inability to provide museums with the appropriate means, we wonder how a certificate could have been issued to such a masterpiece without anyone bothering to make the slightest effort to acquire it inside France. This confirms the fact that from now on, even the greatest masterpieces are granted their passport abroad without any problem as if the curators in charge of refusing the necessary permits had given up, knowing they will not be able to make the purchase...

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Didier Rykner, jeudi 28 novembre 2013

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