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Antique Prints: Old World Etchers Claude, Van Dyke, Ostade, Hollar
( Original Published 1903 )
The old-world Etchers, and their due place in the collector's estimation-Claude-Dumesnil's list of his etched work-Principal pieces-The money value of Claude's etchings-Vandyke's etched portraits-Ostade-Richard Fisher's Ostades-Their prices-Wenceslaus Hollar-The immense volume of his work -Its character-Its appreciation by Heywood and Seymour Haden--Prices of Hollars in the print-market.
As I think that, speaking generally, the wisest collector is the collector who devotes himself to original work, we will begin the study of some various departments of the collector's pursuit by a group of chapters on work that is wholly original. And among work that is wholly original, what is there that-since chronological order cannot require to be strictly observed-deserves to take precedence of the art of Etching? Not only is the art up to a certain point popular to-day-that is a consideration which need not affect the wise collector very much-but it is, of all the arts of Black and White, the one which lends itself most readily to the expression of a mood-therefore to the expression of a personality. In Line-Engraving, of which the finest examples cannot, on many grounds, be esteemed too highly, the chef-d'ceuvre is slow of accomplishment.
In Etching, the hour may produce the masterpiece, though indeed many a masterpiece has involved something more than the labour of a day.
Of old-world etchers whose plates should occupy the collector seriously-of old-world etchers between whom he may take his choice, or, if he prefer it, divide his attention-there are, after all, but a few. To have named Claude, Vandyke, Rembrandt, Ostade, and Hollar, is to have named the chief. Other Dutch genre painters than Ostade of course etched cleverly: only one with his perfection-his perfection, I mean, when he was at his best-Bega. Behind Rembrandt was a group of men, some of whom simply imitated, others of whom followed in ways more nearly their own. Other Dutchmen, again, like Backhuysen and Adrian Van de Velde and Zeeman-whom, nearly two centuries afterwards, Meryon worshipped-did work that need not be put aside. Latterly it has not been put aside; for in a recent Portfolio Mr Binyon made it the subject of special study. But still the greater men are the few who were named first.
Of these great men, it was Claude, Vandyke, and Ostade who wrought the fewest plates. As for Vandyke, not only was his work not vast in quantity-his labour upon each particular plate stopped at an early stage. To the copper's detriment, as many think, others continued it, and Vandyke's etchings are only entirely his own in that first Stage which is the stage of the sketch. Yet are they far indeed from being worthless afterwards. A background is added. The record of character remains pretty much the same.
It was not quite thus with Claude. He, like other great masters, and like some small ones, suffers by the mischief of "re-touching"; but nothing done upon his plates, or upon any imitations of them, carries the work much further than Claude himself had carried it. With all the free and easy handling of the point, there is an obvious completeness-a completeness not only for the initiated-in some of the very best of his work. In tone, in delicacy of chiaroscuro, the plate of the Bouvier -the masterpiece for atmospheric effect-is carried as far as it could have been carried by line-engraving. It has indeed quite as much atmosphere, though not quite as much delicacy of contour, as the marvellous plates done on about the same scale by the translators of Turner, whom Turner in a measure trained-I mean especially the men who wrought upon the Southern Coast series: George Cooke with Margate, Horsburgh with Whitstable, the incomparable William Miller with Portsmouth and Clovelly. Claude's Campo Vaccino, again, is equally finished to the corners; and so, of course, in its perhaps subtler fashion, is the famous Sunset (Dumesnil, No. 15). Cattle Going Home in Stormy Weather has the appearance of more summary labour, a freedom more convincing, and more appropriate to that effect of atmosphere, which, together with the movement of beasts and herdsmen, the plate is devoted to recording. Again, complete tonality is not sought for-at all events is not obtained-in Shepherd and Shepherdess Conversing, which yet, in the rare First State of it, which alone is entirely worthy, is full from end to end of Claude's happiest and freest, anddare one say?-most playful work in the draughtsmanship of foliage. In the Second State one tall tree is deprived of its height and grace. The picture is spoilt, or, if not spoilt, marred.
It is now four-and-twenty years since, at the Burlington Fine Arts Club, there was held a well-chosen and perhaps the first and last important exhibition of the etchings of Claude. Dumesnil's list of all Claude's work in aquafortis includes forty-two prints-some of them unimportant; and of the forty-two, the Burlington Club, with access to the best collections everywhere (whatever modest things may have been said on this occasion to the contrary), managed to show twenty-six. Besides the plates mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the Dance by the Waterside, the Dance under the Trees, and the Wooden Bridge are amongst the things one would covet. In the Wooden Bridqe there is the whole spirit of the broad Italian land. A fine Second State, from the cabinet of some good collectormy own is from John Barnard's-represents the plate perfectly. Of the Bouvier you are lucky if you can get a Second State.Sir Seymour Iiaden, who would never tolerate a bad impression, long contented himself with a Third, though some years before he parted with his things he managed to acquire a First. That delightful collector, Richard Fisher, had a First State of the Cattle Going Home in Stormy Weather, and a noble little print it was. Mr Julian Marshall, who bought rare things in his youth, and keenly appreciates them (though, while in his youth still, he sold many), had, and doubtless retains, a First State of the Rape o, f Europa, which, in an impression like his own-" early, undescribed, before the plate was cleaned," says the Burlington Club Catalogue-is indeed most desirable.
As to the money value of Claude's etchings, in the "States" and the conditions in which they are alone desirable, the prices that were reached at the Seymour Haden sale in 1891 are as good an indication as one can well obtain. Sir Seymour's beautiful and silvery First State of Le Bouvier was knocked down at ;L42; his Dance under the Trees-a First State too-at L110; his Sunrise (but it was a Fourth State) at £o, 12s. 6d.; his Shepherd and Shepherdess Conversing, in the First State, at £7 (and this was cheap); his Campo Vaccino, in the First State, at £6, 6s. He had no Wooden Bridge. At Richard Fisher's sale, in 1892, the Bouvier, in a Second or Third State, fetched £15, and a good impression of the Dance under the Trees, £12. It will be seen that, rare though Claude's etchings are, in good condition, they do not, in England at least, when they appear in the auction-room, command prices that can be called excessive.
The etchings of Vandyke, at all events the best of them, have fetched more. It must be that their rarity, in the most desired condition, is even greater. Sir Seymour Haden had a few superb ones. Vandyke's own portrait (Dutuit, No. 3) sold in the Haden sale for £60; the pure etching of the Snyders for £44; the Suttermans for L30; the Lucas Vosterman, L50; the masterly De Wael-which, even in an early, well-chosen impression of a later State, one finds an enviable possession-£17, 10s. The touch of Vandyke has nothing that is comparable with Rembrandt's subtlety, yet is it decisive and immediate, and so far excellent. And Vandyke, however inclined he may have been to undue elegance-an elegance trop voulue-in certain painted portraits, seized firmly and nobly in his etched portraits of men (and practically his etchings are only portraits of men) the masculine character and the marked individuality of his models.
Of the etchings of Adrian van Ostade, Mr Fisher had what was practically a complete collection-he had fifty plates; and as he was a great admirer of this unquestioned master of technique, this penetrating even if pessimistic observer of Life, he had taken care to have impressions of good character: in some cases, as good as it is ever possible to get. Inequality of course there was; and whilst here and there an indifferent impression fell for a few shillings, sums as important as have been paid for Ostades were realised for the rarest and the best chosen things. We will consider the prices of the most desirable. For a First State of the Man and Woman Conversing, £l3 was the ransom. £14 was paid for even the Fourth State of that rarity, The Empty Pitcher. Herr Meder gave £63 for the Second State of a piece which some call spirited and some call savage, Me Quarrel with Drawn Knives, and £26, 10s. for the First State of A Woman Sitting on a Doorstep. £80 was paid by the same buyer for the First State of the Woman Singing, and Mr Gutekunst gave £37 for a Fourth State of The Painter. Could I become the owner of two masterpieces of Ostade, the pieces which I should think worthy to be dignified with that name, and which I should consequently proceed to possess, would be The Family and the Peasant Paying his Reckoning. The first-not less excellent than any other in technique-is full of homely piety and truth to common things. It is one of Ostade's larger pieces; and at the Fisher sale, the First State, which had been in the Hawkins collection, passed into the hands of Mr Deprez for £23. The Peasant Paying his Reckoning is one of the smaller plates. As the title goes far to imply, it represents a tavern visitor making ready to leave the cosy interior; the landlady looking out with keenness for the sum that is due.The piece teems with delicate observation, not only of character, but of picturesque detail, and with light and airy touch. It was a wonderful Fourth State that was in the Fisher collection; and £42 was the price that Herr Meder, the most enterprising buyer of Ostades that day, had to pay to call it his.An excellent connoisseur tells us that the earliest impressions of Ostades are generally light in tone-that good impressions are also often printed in a brownish ink, and that they are without the thick line which invariably surrounds the later ones.
Wenceslaus Hollar, born at Prague in 1607, and working a long while in London, under the patronage of Charles the First's Lord Arundel, and dying here amongst us, in Gardiner Street, Westminster, in 1677, was a far more prolific etcher than either Claude, Vandyke, or Adrian Van Ostade. In fact, that is not the way to put it at all; for whilst the plates of each of these are to be counted at the most by scores, the plates of Hollar mount to the number of two thousand seven hundred. He was a craftsman of great variety and ingenuity of method. But it has, of course, to be remembered of him that in certain figure-pieces and mythological subjects at least, he was interpreter and populariser of the inventions of another, and that in most of his interesting little views he was a dainty but unmoved chronicler of pure fact. An individual note -a wholly individual note-scarcely belongs to his rendering of landscape or to his vision of the town. Yet he is a most sterling artist-not a mere monument of industry-and his quaintness, only a part of which he derives from his theme, is undoubtedly attractive. The collector who collects his work has what is a faithful record of some of the individuals and of many of the types of Hollar's time, and a fair vision of the ordinary aspect of the outward world of Hollar's day. The man's industry was, as we have seen, colossal, and even at the best he was but ill-rewarded. Fourpcnce per hour was, says Mr Heywood, the price paid to him by the booksellers.
At present it may be that there is keener relish for his work in Germany than here with us in England; but one great connoisseur, as well as fine practitioner of Etching, of a generation not yet wholly vanished, has extolled and collected him, praising him lately, it is true, in terms more measured than those he had at first employed; and another connoisseur, not born in earlier years than Sir Seymour Haden, but earlier cut off, not living indeed to be old-I mean the Rev. J. J. Heywood, who has been named already -was a devoted student of Hollar's endless labours. He prepared in great degree the Burlington Club's Exhibition of a large fine representative collection of Hollar's works, in 1875, and wrote the sympathetic preface to the Catalogue. On Hollar, Parthey has long been the chief German authority; and with Parthey Mr Heywood was familiar. But his own loving observation of the unremitting work of the great Bohemian engraver of the Seventeenth Century-a wanderer in Antwerp and in Strasburg, as well as a long resident in London-furnished him with some material of his own, and the Burlington Club Catalogue of such portion as was exhibited of Hollar's great volume of production, should be, wherever it is possible, in the hands of the Hollar collector. It will acquaint him with very many of the most desirable pieces, and will tell him, in a form more compact and serviceable than Parthey's, much about the recent resting-places of the rarer Hollar prints. There are a few of these, of course, which cannot pass into the hands of any private person. Of the large plate of Edinburgh, for example, a thing Parthey had never seen, and which was wrought in Hollar's later time (in 1670), there exist in all the world but two impressions. One is at Windsor, the other at the British Museum.
When, however, the collector has got more than two thousand plates to choose from, and to watch and wait for, he need not, save in sheer "cussedness," and because Humanity is built that way, trouble very much about what is for ever inaccessible. I do not think that even a colonial millionaire will set himself the task of collecting Hollar en masse. Life is not long enough. The task would fall more properly to a German student, since patience would be wanted yet more than money; but, after half a century of work, the student would pass from us with his self-set task still uncompleted. No: the sensible collector wants of Hollar a compact selecttion. Such a group as Sir Seymour Haden exhibited at the Fine Art Society's-along with many other plates, representing the masters of original etching-would form a nucleus, at all events. Divided into classes in the following way - Topography, Portraiture, Costume, Natural History, and History, that small exhibited group included the Antwerp Cathedral, the Royal Exchange, the Nave of St George's Chapel, Charles the First, Charles the Second, one of the plates of the Muffs trust it was the wonderful study of five muffs alone, with the wearer's wrists and arms just lightly indicated-and two of the rare set of Shells, which are as wonderful as the muffs for texture, but somehow a little drier. Of the plate of the Nave of St George's Chapel, Sir Seymour says that it is the most amazing piece of " biting " that he knows, as to gradation and finesse. Along with these plates-if he is fortunate enough to get them-or even in place of some of them, as his taste prompts him, let the collector appropriate the sets of the Seasons and the Butterflies, the little Islington set, known sometimes as Six Views in the North, of London, and the exquisite single plate (these topographical plates that I am recommending are all small ones) known as London from the Top of Arundel House. Of the " simple probity" of Hollar's work, and of its rightful charm, there will then be ample evidence.
The prices of good Hollars have not of late years risen much: certainly not much in comparison with those of other prints holding positions of about the like honour. Much of his work, therefore, is quite within the reach of modest and intelligent buyers. The latest really remarkable collection sold was that of Seymour Haden, who had long possessed many more of Hollar's prints than he found room to exhibit, with other men's work in Bond Street. His greatest rarities-perhaps even his best impressions-fetched good prices, but they were never sensational: indeed, in several instances they did not substantially exceed those realised twenty-three years earlier (in 1868), at Julian Marshall's sale. Thus, at the Julian Marshall sale, the Long View of Greenwich passed under the hammer at £l, 15s., and at the Haden sale it sold for £2, 5s. London from the Top of Arundel House, an impression of singular excellence, fetched :C6 in the Marshall sale; it fetched at the Seymour Haden £9 12s.; but in this case there is reason to suppose that Sir Seymour's impression, though certainly good, was not equal to Mr Marshall's. Sir T3comas Challoner (after Holbein) fetched £31, 10s at the Marshall sale, and I am not sure that it was not the very same impression that afterwards, at Sir Seymour's, fetched only £20. Each is described as a "First State," and each had belonged in the last century to one of the greatest collectors of his time, John Barnard, whose initials, written in a slow round hand, °° J. B.," delight the collector, often, at the back of a fine print. The two impressions of Sir Thomas Challoner were surely really one. The portrait of Hollar, holding his portrait of St Catherine, reached £6 at the Marshall sale; only £5 at the Haden. On the other hand, the Chalice, which is said, generally, to be from a design by Mantegna, was sold for £3, 10s with Mr Marshall's things; for £5, 5s. with Sir Seymour's. We need not make further comparisons; but it will be well to end these comments upon Hollar's money value by some little additional quotation from the priced catalogues of the later and larger sale of his prints. The Bake's Lament fetched in 1891 Y,22; the Antwerp Cathedral, in the First State, £8 ; that neat little set of six Views about Islington, £2, 10s. (which, if the impressions were all good, was unquestionably cheap); the Royal Exchange, in the First State, £116 The Winter Habit of an English Gentleman, £8, 10s; the set of Sea Shells, or, rather, thirty-four out of the thirty-eight numbers that the set contains, £67. Hollar, with such a mass of work to choose from, and with the interest and excellence of much of it, appeals to the collector who can dispense, at times, with vehemence and passion, and who finds in quaintness and exactness, in steady technical achievement, some compensation for the absence of a vision of exalted beauty.