Click on photos to enlarge.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Karel Dujardin

Allegory, 1663, Karel Dujardin
Karel Dujardin Self-portrait 1662
In choosing to write about any Dutch "Golden Age" painter, I'm especially critical of their lives as much as their work. I have to be, there were so damned many of them and they all were so damned good at what they did, if I'm not careful, I could end up writing about little else. I've never done a headcount of just how many Golden Age painters there were during the 17th century; and in any case, such a census would be largely meaningless because of the difficulty in drawing a line between the amateurs and the professionals (much the same as today). I've talked before about the extreme specialization which took place in Dutch art around the same time. There were dozens, maybe more than a hundred, content specialties. And likewise, there were dozens, maybe more than a hundred, different artists working in each specialty. Karel Dujardin was one of the many, his specialty being mostly landscapes, though he was versatile enough to also handle portraits and religious subjects (which, alone, causes him to stand apart from most Dutch landscape painters).

Italianate Landscape with Travelers on Horseback, 1675, Karel Dujardin
The Sick Kid, ca. 1650, Karel Dujardin.
Karel Dujardin, despite the rather French sounding name, was thoroughly Dutch, born in Amsterdam in 1622. Like every good Golden Age painter, Dujardin had a respectable, "Dutch Master" (a painting instructor, not the cigar). But, more important than who he studied under was where he studied. Early in his formative years as an artist he headed to Italy, Rome in particular, for an extended period. The French frequently did this, the Dutch...not so much. Also, near the end of his life, he spent several years in Venice, where he died in 1678. Italianate Landscape with Travelers on Horseback (above) is from his encore sojourn. In some cases, Dujardin's landscapes were, in fact, of the Dutch countryside painted in such a manner as to make them look and feel Italian. Paintings of the Dutch landscape were little more than a "guilder a dozen," while "Italian" (Italianate) landscapes were much more exotic and probably brought a higher price.

The Herding Boy, 1663, Karel Dujardin. His boy seems to be lying down on the job.
Though seemingly quite fascinating to Dujardin's local patrons, the artist's Italianate landscapes (he painted hundreds of them) seem only mildly interesting to us. His Allegory (top) sometimes called Boy Blowing Soap Bubbles was the first of his paintings to catch my eye. Though titled, Allegory, any high-minded, deeper symbolism is lost on me. What was the artist trying to say? The sea, the bubbles, the half-shell, the androgyny, the large bubble beneath his bare feet--all clues, but, pretty vague ones, at best. Could it be that any supposed allegorical element was merely an excuse to paint a cute kid having fun? Allegories tended to bring more money than genre paintings such as The Sick Kid (above, right). We've all had to deal with sick kids, right? In The Herding Boy (above) Dujardin combines his flair for genre with an Italianate landscape.

Calvary, 1661, Karel Dujardin
The Dutch art market during the Golden Age was very much like ours today. There was excess wealth, an excess of artists, free enterprise, a vibrant international economy, and an infrastructure of galleries efficiently marketing the work of these highly specialized, highly talented artists. In fact, the Dutch Golden Age art market could be said to have been the fore-running model of that which we have today. Dujardin seems to have known what would sell and catered to that content and those clients. He painted few portraits, though he could, when called upon (Amsterdam was awash in portrait painters at that time). A landscape (especially and Italianate landscape) could be "knocked out" in a matter of hours. Portraits took weeks. At the same time, Holland's Protestant Calvinists were violently against religious painting (in churches, at least) but wealthy merchants still found them worthwhile. Dujardin's Calvary (above), from 1661 is not as deeply emotional at Rembrandt's, but a competent attempt to compete in the religious art market. (His "crucifiers" seem a bit more hyperactive than most such scenes.) However, Dujardin's St. Paul Healing the Cripple at Lystra (below), painted in 1663, demonstrates the monumental Baroque influences from Dujardin's years studying in Rome. When in Rome...

St. Paul Healing the Cripple at Lystra, 1663, Karel Dujardin.
Starring in the role of St. Paul is Michelangelo's sculpture of Moses.


No comments:

Post a Comment