National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 1 (I:1) May 1963

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A Review of Accessions since 
the Catalogues of 1957 and 1959 
European and American Painting and Sculpture

by R. H. Hubbard, Chief Curator

Résumé en français

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The current catalogues of the National Gallery of Canada's holdings in the older European and modern European schools were published in 1957 and 1959 respectively. In the interval before the publication of new editions a brief discussion of recent additions to the collection may serve as a supplement to the volumes now in print. The present article gathers up some of my contributions to several of the Gallery's annual reports and adds some new material.

The earliest work added to the older European schools since 1957 is an Italian relief, The Virgin and Child, carved about 1485 by the Master of the Marble Madonnas. The exact identity of this artist is still obscure, though his artistic personality is defined in a series of marble reliefs in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Metropolitan Museum, New York, in addition to the work in question. Though he was mainly active at Urbino he was closely related to the circles of Antonio Rossellino and Mino da Fiesole in Florence and thus finds a place in the trend leading to Michelangelo. The newly acquired relief with its original blue background and gold on the ornaments produces an effect of impressive solemnity tempered by touches of human tenderness, such as the Virgin fondling the Christ Child's foot. The coats of arms at the lower left and right have been tentatively identified (1) as those of a Dominican foundation and the Montefeltro family respectively the latter suggesting that the work was commissioned by Duke Federigo Montefeltro or another member of that illustrious family. It was once in the collection of Baron Achille Seillière at the Chateau de Mello (2) in France and later in the Heugel collection, Paris. It constitutes the first important piece of Italian Renaissance sculpture, formerly re-presented only by a single small stucco by Desiderio da Settignano, to enter the National Gallery.

The Holy Family in a Landscape,
acquired in 1961, is a work of the Venetian High Renaissance, painted about 1525 by Vincenzo Catena (c. 1480-1531). The earliest reference to this painter is in an inscription of 1506 on the back of Giorgione's Laura in the Vienna Gallery, in which Giorgione is described as a colleague of Catena. Catena's style, which confirms his relationship to the master, also suggests the influence of other Venetian painters including Giovanni Bellini and Cima da Conegliano, as well as some from northern Europe and from Raphael in Rome. The subject of the new National Gallery picture is probably a Rest on the Flight into Egypt. But Catena, true to the poetic tradition of Giorgione, has omitted the usual attributes, the toppled idol and the rest, and represented the figures as a sacra conversazione. Though Bernard Berenson early catalogued the picture as by Catena, (3) other scholars attempted to attach it to the oeuvre of Palma Vecchio. (4) But the thorough analysis given it by Mr Giles Robertson in his recent study of Catena (5) makes the original attribution certain. He points out that the same cartoon as was used here for the Virgin and Child was also employed in the Dray ton House, Prague, and Messina pictures by Catena. The new National Gallery picture has been in several well known private collections (6) and was included in the exhibition of Italian art at the Royal Academy, London, in 1930 (No. 376).

The representation of the schools of northern Europe has been enriched by the purchase of two paintings. Adam and Eve in Paradise is a characteristic work of Roeland Savery (1576-1639), the leading member of a family of artists in the Low Countries. Born at Courtrai, he was active in Amsterdam, Prague, and Vienna before going to Utrecht where he died. He was a great favourite of his time if not an innovator in art and was responsible for introducing the Flemish style into the northern Netherlands. His subject-matter included animals, flowers and (as here) the occasional religious and mythological theme set in landscape.

The Lean Kitchen (7) is an appealing subject by Ian Steen, (1626-1679) the popular Dutch painter of realistic genre interpreted in a humorous, moralizing manner. With its assemblage of half-starved peasants and animals in a hovel, the picture is a pendant to The Fat Kitchen (with well fed people and animals) in an American private collections. (8) Steen painted several versions of these contrasting subjects. This is the first example of a Dutch interior with figures to enter the National Gallery.

One of the principal purchases has been the St Jerome attributed to Georges de la Tour (1593-1652) by Dr Hermann Voss and Dr Walter Friedländer, (9) two of the scholars who helped to 'discover' this unique French painter whose work is marked by deep religious feeling and a melancholy, poetic mood. Little is known of his life, though he was born at Vic-sur-Seille in Lorraine, by 1621 was active at Luneville, and later painted for Louis XIII. In some way he became acquainted with the 'dark manner' of Caravaggio, possibly through contact with some of the latter's northern followers on a visit to the Low Countries. He painted the St Jerome theme several times. But another (and inferior) version of the new Ottawa picture, in the Galleria Nazionale, Rome, has been attributed to Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn (c. 1604-1645) by Mr J. R. Judson (10) and to the anonymous 'Candlelight Master' by Benedict Nicholson. (11) In any case, it is an arresting work by virtue of its dramatic use of colour and light and is the first example of the Candlelight School to enter the Gallery. It was included in the 'Heritage de France' exhibition shown in several cities in Canada in 1961.

The link that was forged between the European and English schools in the seventeenth century, when England under the Stuarts first entered the main stream of European art, is illustrated in the portrait of Lady Thynne by Cornelius Jonson (1593-1661). This is the gift of Miss Armide Oppé and Mr Denis Oppé of London in memory of their father, the late Paul Oppé who served as adviser to the department of prints and drawings of the National Gallery of Canada for many years before his death in 1957. Jonson (Johnson or Janssens van Ceulen) was born in London, the son of a refugee from the persecutions in Antwerp. He was probably trained under several of the English portrait and miniature artists but was certainly influenced by Van Dyck after the latter settled in England in 1632. In 1643 Jonson fled the English Civil War and practised his art in Amsterdam and in Utrecht, where he died. The Lady Thynne dates from 1642.

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