Reynolds & the Subject in Dutch Art
Svetlana Alpers begins her ground-breaking study of representation in 17th century Holland with reference to two very different views of the country’s art: on the one hand Fromentin was enthusiastic and saw Dutch art overall as a portrait of Holland itself; at the other extreme, Sir Joshua Reynolds in his Journey to Flanders and Holland in 1781 was critical of the country’s art and regarded most of it as vulgar. But more telling than this value judgement was Reynold’s claim that Dutch art was primarily about representation rather than narrative: there was no subject in Dutch art; one simply looked with the eye, and that was it. In order to throw some light on Reynold’s attitude, and by extension, the English attitude towards Dutch art in the eighteenth-century, it is helpful to quote Reynolds at length:
“The account which has now been given of the Dutch pictures is, I confess, more barren of entertainment, than I expected. One would wish to be able to convey to the reader some idea of that excellence, the sight of which has afforded so much pleasure: but as their merit often consists in the truth of representation alone, whatever praise they deserve, whatever pleasure they give when under the eye, they make but a poor figure in description. It is to the eye only that the works of this school are addressed; it is not therefore to be wondered at, that what was intended solely for the gratification of one sense, succeeds but ill, when applied to another.”
To Reynolds, a subject in the picture is essential because painting must be didactic and impart moral guidance to the spectator. It must have a public function, and the problem with Dutch art for Reynolds is that it is intent on conveying private experience, not civic virtue. What Reynolds calls the “republic of taste,” and the grand style in painting has been corrupted by the “pursuit of trade as an end in itself” which Reynolds detects in Venetian, and especially in Dutch art which he calls a “history piece” that shows the Dutch people “engaged in their own peculiar occupations; working or drinking, playing or fighting.” This is what we would recognise as genre: scenes of people in everyday activities.
|Sir Joshua Reynolds, Self-Portrait, 1788, oil on panel, 75.1 x 63.4 cm, Royal Collection.|
|Rembrandt van Rhyn, Anna, Tobit, and the Kid, 1626, oil on panel, 39.5 x 30 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.|
|Jan Steen, Prince’s Day, 1660-79, oil on panel, 46 x 62.5 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam|
Gerard Ter Borch, The Letter, c. 1660-5, oil on canvas, 81.9 x 68.4 x 12.0 cm, Royal Collection.
Adriaen van Ostade, The Skaters, Peasants in an Interior, 1650, oil on panel, 44 x 35.5 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
A Brief Note on Dutch Genre & Theories of Art
|Salomon de Bray, Book and Picture Shop, 1628, pen and ink and wash on paper, 7.6 x 7.6 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.|
|Jan Wouwermans, A Winter Scene with a Fair on Ice, 1657, oil on panel, 60.2 x 83.1 cm, Royal Collection.|
|Hogarth, Portrait of Six of his Servants, 1750-5, oil on canvas, 630 x 755 mm, Tate Britain, London.|
Visualising Dutch Genre.
Hollander’s view of Dutch genre owes much to Alper’s analysis of art, science and representation which has influenced a number of studies that place optics and visualisation at the centre of their investigations. For example, there have been books and articles on the use of the camera obscura and the “photographic” nature of Dutch art- especially in Vermeer; attempts to represent Dutch genre as virtual reality;  and also parallels drawn between Dutch genre and modern modes of viewing such as television and film, not to mention the absorption of these ideas into the movie biographies of artists like Vermeer. Though some of Hollander’s propositions remain speculative, her comparison between the “Hollywood realism” of Steen and the “Disneyfied” peasants of Ostade and Dou is helpful in identifying different modes of realism in seventeenth- century genre. These modulations are conspicuously absent in Reynold’s comments on Dutch genre which he generalizes to an art in which the eye is privileged over any kind of literary or narrative “meaning.” Yet we do not need to resort to the cinematic terminology of Hollander to register the different ways of portraying scenes of everyday life in the Netherlands. The genre paintings of Pieter de Hooch are completely different in composition and mood to those of Steen which depend upon a more confused and seemingly chaotic arrangement of figures to convey the Topsy-turveyness of his rambunctious world. In De Hooch’s scenes of everyday life on the other hand, paintings of the interiors of houses and buildings that are built using perspective convey the idea of an “optical” art most effectively since such perspectival spaces presuppose a spectator whose eyes can be guided by its geometry and lines of sight. De Hooch draws a grid using one-point perspective before adding his figures which are grasped in their setting almost immediately, while making sense of the “situation comedy” of a Steen demands time before things fall into place. Though every Dutch genre painter has their own style, it is possible to separate out different groups from others. Thus, mood is different in the genre of De Hooch, Terborch and Vermeer which depend upon a kind of creative ambiguity since it is up to the viewer to try to penetrate the calm passivity of these mothers, children, couples and nurses who betray little to the viewer through expression or gesture. By contrast, the group of Metsu, Steen and van Ostade relies more on a standardized repertoire of facial expressions and cultural stereotypes all easily legible to the viewer: “mothers are benign, urchins giggle, teachers and doctors look sober or affronted.”
|Jan Steen, A Merry Family, 1668, oil on canvas, 110.5 x 141 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.|
Gabriel Metsu, A Musical Party, 1659, Oil on canvas, 62 x 54 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
|Johannes Vermeer, A Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman, 'The Music Lesson,' oil on canvas, Oil on canvas, Royal Collection.|
Hogarth: Genre in England without the Dutch?
As Hollander points out, Hogarth completely eliminated the Dutch element from his scenes of everyday life, or to be more accurate his vignettes of the manners and customs of his society. Though at first sight, one might be reminded of Dutch genre in Hogarth’s prints and paintings of the antics and foibles of modern life, the situation is more complex. Some scholars rightly state that Hogarth turned to Italy and France for inspiration, as for example in the Marriage à la mode, where the French and Italian paintings are included as satiric comment on the decadent continental tradition of collecting and connoisseurship. However, there were Dutch precedents in England when Hogarth was establishing himself. Hogarth may have been influenced by the Haarlem painter Egbert van Heemskerk who came to England in 1680 and may be the missing link between Brouwer’s genre scenes and Hogarth’s moral vignettes of modern life. Both Heemskerck and Hogarth painted scenes of political life, and the Dutch influence can be seen there. Yet despite his indisputable use of continental artistic sources, Hogarth was keen to distance himself from the idea of being dependent on foreign styles of art; he therefore worked hard to produce his own home-grown brand of art, which as Perry says is about midway between genre and history painting, though there is no proof he was influenced by the more elegant genre of Ter Borch as she suggests. In Hogarth’s famous Self-Portrait with his pug Trump, he shows himself as an English modern painter, his personal emblem. With books by Shakespeare, Milton, and Swift (labelled in the finished engraving), and the palette with the legend “The Line of Beauty,” Hogarth shows himself as he wishes his public to see him. Using the pseudonym “Britophil,” Hogarth used the newspapers to campaign against the overblown and effusive jargon of the Catholic painters on the continent. Cinematic parallels and comics may be appropriate here since Hogarth’s scenes from such series as the Rake’s Progress resembling the modern strip cartoon format in newspapers, or story board format used in modern film.
|William Hogarth, Gin Lane, 1751, engraving.|
|William Hogarth, The Painter and his Pug, 1745, oil on canvas, 91 x 71 cm, Tate Britain, London.|
|William Hogarth, An Election Entertainment, 1755, oil on canvas, Sir John Soane’s Museum.+ London.|
|Egbert van Heemskerck, Election in the Guildhall, Oxford, 1687, Oxford Town Hall, Oxford.|
|William Hogarth, The Rake’s Progress 8.|
William Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode; I, the Marriage Contract, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London.
1) Jan Steen, Prince’s Day, 1660-79, oil on panel, 46 x 62.5 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
2) Sir Joshua Reynolds, Self-Portrait, 1788, oil on panel, 75.1 x 63.4 cm, Royal Collection.
3) Jan Steen, Interior of a Tavern with Cardplayers & a Violin Player, 1663-70, oil on canvas, 82 x 70.4 cm.
4) Gerard Ter Borch, The Letter, c. 1660-5, oil on canvas, 81.9 x 68.4 x 12.0 cm, Royal Collection.
5) Rembrandt van Rhyn, Anna, Tobit, and the Kid, 1626, oil on panel, 39.5 x 30 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
6) Salomon de Bray, Book and Picture Shop, 1628, pen and ink and wash on paper, 7.6 x 7.6 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
7) Jan Wouwermans, A Winter Scene with a Fair on Ice, 1657, oil on panel, 60.2 x 83.1 cm, Royal Collection.
8) Sir Joshua Reynolds, Self-Portrait as a Young Man, 1753-8, oil on canvas, 737 x 616 mm, Tate Britain, London.
9) Sir Joshua Reynolds, Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy, 1761, oil on canvas, 148 x 183 cm, Private Collection.
10) Sir Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Garrick, Royal Collection, 1768, oil on canvas, 77 x 64 cm, Royal Collection.
11) William Hogarth, David Garrick as Richard III, 1745, oil on canvas, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.
12) Joshua Reynolds, Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse, 1789, oil on canvas, 240 x 148 cm, Dulwich Picture Gallery.
13) Adriaen van Ostade, The Skaters, Peasants in an Interior, 1650, oil on panel, 44 x 35.5 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
14) Adriaen van Ostade, The Painter’s Studio, 1670-75, oil on panel, 37 x 36 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
15) Gabriel Metsu, A Musical Party, 1659, Oil on canvas, 62 x 54 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
16) Jan Steen, A Merry Family, 1668, oil on canvas, 110.5 x 141 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
17) Johannes Vermeer, A Woman pouring Milk, c. 1660, oil on canvas, 45.5 x 41 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
18) Johannes Vermeer, The Love Letter, c. 1669-70, oil on canvas, 44 x 38.5 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
19) Johannes Vermeer, A Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman, 'The Music Lesson,' oil on canvas, Oil on canvas, Royal Collection.
20) Rembrandt van Rhyn, Musical Company, 1626, oil on panel, 63.5 x 48 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
21) Pieter de Hooch, Cardplayers in a Sunlit Room, 1658, oil on canvas, 77.2 x 67.4 cm, Royal Collection.
22) Samuel van Hoogstraten, Peep Show, 1655-60, oil & egg tempera on wood, 58 x 88 x 60.5 cm, National Gallery, London.
23) Pieter de Hooch, Mother Lacing Her Bodice beside a Cradle, 1659-60, Oil on canvas, 92 x 100 cm, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
24) Pieter de Hooch, At the Linen Closet, 1665, Oil on canvas, 72 x 77,5 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
25) After Frans van Mieris the Elder, A Man Pulling a Lapdog’s Ear 1660, oil on panel, 27.6 x 20.1 cm, Royal Collection.
26) Egbert van Heemskerck, Tavern Interior with Chess Players, Oil on canvas, 64 x 79 cm, Private collection.
27) Egbert van Heemskerck, Election in the Guildhall, Oxford, 1687, Oxford Town Hall, Oxford.
28) William Hogarth, An Election Entertainment, 1755, oil on canvas, Sir John Soane’s Museum.+ London.
29) William Hogarth, The Painter and his Pug, 1745, oil on canvas, 91 x 71 cm, Tate Britain, London.
30) William Hogarth, The Painter and his Pug, 1749, engraving, British Museum.
31) William Hogarth, Captain Coram, 1740, oil on canvas, 238.7 x 147.3 cm, Thomas Coram Foundation, London.
32) Hogarth, Portrait of Six of his Servants, 1750-5, oil on canvas, 630 x 755 mm, Tate Britain, London.
33) William Hogarth, Beer Street & Gin Lane, 1751, engraving.
34) William Hogarth, The Rake’s Progress 1.
35) William Hogarth, The Rake’s Progress 8.
36) William Hogarth, Gin Lane, 1750-51, Etching and line engraving, 359 x 341 mm, Various collections.
37) William Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode; I, the Marriage Contract, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London.
38) William Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode; II, after the Marriage, National Gallery, London.
 Alpers, The Art of Describing, xvii.
 Constable’s “pure apprehension of natural effect” comes to mind.
 Joshua Reynolds, Discourses, ed. Pat Rogers, (Penguin, 1992), Discourse IV 129-130. « The painters of the Dutch school have still more locality. With them, a history-piece is properly a portrait of themselves; whether they describe the inside or outside of their houses, we have their own people engaged in their own peculiar occupations; working or drinking, playing or fighting. The circumstances that enter into a picture of this kind, are so far from giving a general view of human life, that they exhibit all the minute particularities of a nation differing in several respects from the rest of mankind.” This passage is discussed in John Barrell’s The Political Theory of Painting from Reynolds to Hazlitt: The Body of the Public (Yale University Press, 1985, rep. 1995), 74-75.
 Westermann, Art of the Dutch Republic, 40.
 Linda Walsh, “Charles Le Brun: Art Dictator of France” in Academies, Museums and Canons of Art, ed. Gill Perry and Colin Cunningham, (Yale University Press, Open University, 1999), 86-123, 93). History painting (including literary, historical, mythological narratives, sometimes of an allegorical nature, as well as studies of individual saints, like the Virgin); portraiture (the higher the status of the person, the higher its position); genre (in the sense of scenes from everyday life); landscape; still-life.
 Anne Hollander, Moving Pictures (Harvard University Press, 1991), 241.
 Gill Perry, “’Mere Face Painters’? Hogarth, Reynolds and ideas of academic art in eighteenth-century Britain” in Academies, 124-168, 126f.
 For Vermeer and the camera obscura, Philip Steadman, Vermeer’s Camera: Uncovering the Truth behind the Masterpieces (Oxford, 2002); on photography and Vermeer, Ivan Gaskell, Vermeer’s Wager: Speculations on Art History, Theory and Museums (Reaktion, 2000).
 Mariët Westermann, The Art of the Dutch Republic 1585-1718 (Everyman Art, 1996).
 Anne Hollander, Moving Pictures (Harvard University Press, 1991), 119- 195.
 Hollander, Moving Pictures, 126.
 Alpers…difference between Italian perspective and Dutch art of describing.
 Hollander, Moving Pictures, 127. But note that early De Hooch from his Rotterdam period resemble more of the Steen disorder.
 Hollander, Moving Pictures, 130.
 Hollander claims that far from the modern narrative with its “cameralike, subjective expressiveness,” Hogarth’s sources go back to “medieval carvings or the earliest danse macabre prints, before Holbein where form imparts “moral meaning” just as much as the subject matter, Moving Pictures, 244.
 See the analysis of Hogarth and artistic xenophobia which is used strategically in Matthew Craske, Art in Europe 1700-1830, (OUP, 1997), 109. Elis Waterhouse (Painting in Britain, 164) quotes Fielding’s introduction to Tom Jones which Fielding describes as his bill of fare to human nature which he will “has and ragoo…with all the high French and Italian seasoning of affectation.”
 For van Heemskerck and the painting of “common life” in late 17th century, Waterhouse, Painting in Britain, 161-162.
 Perry, “’Mere Face Painters’?, 156.
 Crask, Art in Europe, 109: “By choosing this aggressive little English dog as his personal emblem Hogarth created his own image as an iconic symbol of a certain thoroughly British quality of pugnacious independence of mind.”
 From the Rijk’s web site: “Prince’s Day! This popular feast-day celebrated the birthday (14 November 1650) of Prince William III of Orange-Nassau. How this was done is explained on the piece of paper on the floor in the middle foreground. This translates as: ‘To the health of the Nassau laddie, in one hand a rapier, and in the other a glass raised gladly.’ This is sure to boost spirits; the revellers take no notice of the portrait of the prince ‘overlooking’ the scene.”
 From Tate website: “This unusual group portrait originally hung in Hogarth’s studio where it must have served as an advertisement for the artist’s unrivalled skill in characterisation. The picture consists of a series of unrelated studies. Hogarth has achieved a unified composition through a symmetrical arrangement of the heads and a consistent light source coming from the upper left. Hogarth’s decision to paint his own servants together, outside the confines of their daily routine is quite unique. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this picture is the collective sense of dignity and humanity displayed by this assemblage of unassuming individuals.” Link