Réalités d’un monde. Peintures flamandes et hollandaises du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg

Flemish and Dutch paintings at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg

Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts, from 13 February to 12 July 2009

1. Thomas de Keyser (1596-1667)
The Bankers of Amsterdam
Oil on canvas - 118 x 195 cm
Detroyed in 1947
Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : All Rights Reserved

More and more provincial museums are focusing on their collections and publishing catalogues raisonnés often with an accompanying exhibition. The Italian paintings at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg had already been the subject of several publications. Today, the important Northern school holdings are spotlighted after benefiting from an extensive restoration effort.

In the Heiz gallery, a part of the collection is presented in a very compact hang, mixing masterpieces with less important works. Although this type of presentation can be worthwhile for permanent collections, clearly preferable to keeping pieces in storage for lack of space, the choice is more debatable in the case of a temporary exhibition. The absence of labels, replaced by a leaflet which is particularly difficult to use, makes the visit slightly confusing, especially since the paintings are not grouped together by school or theme. This layout detracts from the major works, leaving them a bit lost among the minor offerings.
The other paintings are quite simply displayed along with the permanent collection, this time with specific labels, thus making their viewing clearer and more enjoyable to visitors.

Still, we will not discourse further on the hang as this is not our purpose here but rather to point out that the accompanying catalogue is a model of its genre in every sense of the word. The Strasbourg museums edited the work themselves responding to the criteria established by the most demanding specialists : photographs with colours which respect exactly the originals, numerous comparative illustrations, detailed entries with all the technical, bibliographical and historical information required… A truly remarkable work, particularly since the authors had the excellent idea of also including entries for two works which disappeared – but known through reproductions – one in a fire in 1947, the other in a robbery in 1977 [1]. There is often a tendency to forget destroyed works thus eventually ceasing to exist in art history. This would indeed be unfortunate in the case of the large group portrait, The Bankers of Amsterdam, by Thomas de Kayser (ill. 1 ; cat. 156), “one of the major disappearances of the 20th century in the field of Dutch painting”, an immense loss for French patrimony as this type of painting is rare in our country.

The history of the museums in Strasbourg is in fact full of dramatic incidents and the regrettable fire, which destroyed thirty paintings and damaged another sixty or so, followed upon the bombings of 1870 which deprived the Musée des Beaux-Arts of practically its whole first collection then housed in the Aubette building, and those of 1944 which luckily did little harm to the holdings as they had been evacuated to a safe place. The catalogue includes an introductory essay on the history of the museum ; we would also direct our readers to the excellent work by Bernadette Schnitzler, which just appeared, and which recounts in detail the many events leading to the constitution of the present collection.

2. Pieter de Hooch (1629-1677)
Departure for the promenade
Oil on canva - 72 x 85 cm
Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Matthieu Bertola / Museum of Strasbourg

3. Reyer Jacobsz. van Blommendael (1628-1675)
Socrates, his two Wives and Alcibiades
Oil on canvas - 210 x 198 cm
Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Matthieu Bertola /
Museum of Strasbourg

Despite the losses, the Northern collection at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg remains truly exceptional. Gérard David, Hans Memling, Van Dyck, Rubens, Michael Sweerts, Jan van Goyen, Pieter de Hooch (ill. 2), Jacob van Ruysdael…, the greatest artists will be found alongside less famous masters, though at times these are represented by a masterpiece. This is the case for Socrates, his two Wives and Alcibiades (cat. 111) by Reyer Jacobsz. Van Blommendael, acquired in 1934 by Hans Haug who attributed it at the time to Cesar van Everdingen (ill. 3), an identity which was maintained until recently ; and as is the case for Saint Lawrence Crowned by the Child Jesus by Claude de Jongh and a Vanitas by Sébastien Bonnecroy (ill. 4).

4. Sébastien Bonnecroy (active between 1650 and 1673)
Vanity, 1641
Oil on canvas - 50 x 40 cm
Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Matthieu Bertola /
Museum of Strasbourg

5. Atelier de Pierre-Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
Saint Francis of Assissi
Oil on canvas - 203 x 85 cm
Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Matthieu Bertola /
Museum of Strasbourg

Some paintings, though they have already been published, are veritable discoveries as they had not been exhibited for a long time. They underwent a thorough restoration. There is the very beautiful Saint Francis of Assissi by Rubens’ workshop (ill. 5), a replica of an oil on panel held at the National Gallery in Ireland ; its quality would indicate that the master may have collaborated on it. On the other hand, the Man Eating Porridge, although signed by Jacob Jordaens, was probably entirely painted by his workshop : it returned to the museum in 2008 after having been on deposit for over half a century at the Hospices civils de Strasbourg. Also of interest is a beautiful Bouquet of Flowers by Jan van Huysum (cat. 150) which, after the elimination of old touch-ups, can now be exhibited once again.

An immense painting by Corenelisz Engelsz (178 x 510 cm) could not be displayed in the exhibition as the restoration is not yet finished. This is the only example in France of a collective portrait of civic guards, those of Saint-Adrien. To view the highlight of the exhibition then, visitors will have to return to Strasbourg another time, a rather pleasant task [2].

local/cache-vignettes/L114xH134/Couverture_Nordiques_Strasbourg-9e352.jpgJoël Hubrecht, Sandrine Le Bideau-Vincent, David Mandrella, Marie Monfort, Michère Lavallée, Peinture flamande et hollandaise. XVe-XVIIIe siècle, Musées de la Ville de Strasbourg, 319 p., 35 €. ISBN : 978-2-35125-030-3.

Also worth reading :

Bernadette Schnitzler, Histoire des musées de Strasbourg. Des collections entre France et Allemagne, Musées de la Ville de Strasbourg, 2009, 256 p., 28 €. ISBN :978-2-35125-041-9.

This book could be bought soon through the site.

Visitor Information : Musée des Beaux-Arts, Palais Rohan, 2, place du Château. Phone : + 33 (0)3 88 52 50 00. Open daily except Tuesday, from 12.00 to 18.00, the week-end from 10.00 to 18.00. Rates : 6 € and 3 €.

Website of the Musées de la Ville de Strasbourg

Version française

Didier Rykner, lundi 20 avril 2009


[1] This painting was then on deposit at the Cercle européen de Strasbourg ! We reproduce it here (ill. 6) in the hopes this will help in tracing it.


6. Gerrit Willemsz. Horst (vers 1612/1613-1652)
Soldiers Playing Dice
Oil on canvas - 89 x 122 cm
Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts, painting stolen in 1977
Photo : Matthieu Bertola /
Museum of Strasbourg

However, we would like to point out the inconvenient opening hours for the visit.

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