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Friday, March 3, 2017

Dirck van Delen

Interior with Figures before a Picture Collection,
1672-1706, Gonzales Coques and Dirck van Delen
It's a practice virtually unheard-of today. When was the last time you heard of two present-day artists collaborating on a single painting? About the only equivalent of such a "team" approach to a single work of art today occurs, by necessity, in the highly technical movie industry. However, so specialized were the artists of the Dutch "Golden Age" (17th-century) it probably happened more often than we realize. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was "common practice," but I've seen references to such collaboration between two professional painters on numerous occasions, occurring most often with the work of capriccio (the mixing of real and unreal in a single scene) artists such as the Italian painters, Giovanni Paolo Panini and Alessandro Salucci and (more often) Dutch painters, Johannes Lingelbach, Bartholomeus van Hove, and most famously, Dirck van Delen. It is in the latter case that we find the most frequent collaborative efforts with painters such as Gonzales Coques, Pieter Codde, and (younger brother of Frans Hals).
Partying Company, Renaissance Hall,
1628, Dirck van Delen and Dirck Hals,
Portrait of Elisabeth of France,
Queen of Spain as Isabella,
Dirck van Delen
In essence, Dirck van Delen either couldn't, or at least disliked, painting human figures (most likely the latter). Yet his paintings, as exemplified by his Partying Company, Renaissance Hall (above), from 1628, on which he collaborated with Dirck Hals, is chock full to the brim, and almost literally running over with partying revelers. I could find not one self-portrait (and oddity in itself for Dutch painters) and only one other portrait, that of Queen Elizabeth of France and Queen Isabella of Spain (it's a long story). It's also a rather poor portrait. Van Delen's Susanna and the two elders (below), is much more in keeping with van Delen's preference for capriccio, which in this case takes the form of an imaginary architectural setting and an apocryphal scene from the book of Daniel in the Jewish and Catholic Bibles. There's no indication in this case that van Delen invited anyone else to paint the figures, which are quite adequately rendered. This leads some experts to believe that many of van Delen's works, which were thought to have been collaborative, were, in fact, entirely painted by van Delen himself.

Susanna and the two elders, Dirck van Delen
Dirck van Delen was born around 1605 in Heusden, (southern) Netherlands. Some have suggested that he studied under Frans Hals and Hendrick Aerts, the latter of whom also specialized in architectural paintings. Other art historians believe it more likely that van Delen studied under Delft artists Pieter van Bronckhorst and/or Bartholomeus van Bassen. In any case, by around 1630, van Delen seems to have been a relatively well-established artist as evidenced by the fact that it was around this time he received a commission to paint five large canvases (four of which are about ten feet tall). They were installed in a house in The Hague owned by Count Floris II van Pallandt van Culemborg. His Elegant Figures in a Loggia (below) dates from about 1635. This work appears to also have been a solo effort.

Elegant figures in a loggia, 1635, Dirck van Delen
Although there has come down no conclusive evidence that van Delen employed a figure painter to complete his most famous work, Healing by the Pool of Bethesda (below), given the number of figures involved and the obvious expertise to be seen among them, it's likely that he did. In terms of the composition, the architectural setting, and the daring placement of the healing itself partially obscured by columns, this would seem to be van Delen at his best.

Healing by the Pool of Bethesda, Dirck van Delen
The story of Dirck van Delen does not end with his death in 1671. About three years ago (April, 2014), in a small cottage in central Wales, art expert, Allan Darwell, the head of the art department at Halls Auction House in Shrewsberry, England, discovered a long-forgotten (since the 1930s) work by van Delen titled Dives and Lazarus (below), dating from 1620s. The painting is based upon the Old Testament story of rich men (dives), and Lazarus (not the New Testament story of Christ's raising a different Lazarus from the dead). Art expert, Bernard Vermet, contends that this work is a rare case in which van Delen did not employ a figure painter but painted the whole work himself. The painting recently sold at auction for 60,000 pounds (just over $75,000).

Dives and Lazarus, 1620s, Dirck van Delen.
The rich colors are due to recent conservation work.
Tulip in a vase, 1637, Dirck van Delen.
If van Delen disliked painting figures,
he apparently had a similar disdain for
still-lifes. This is his only one.


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