CASPAR NETSCHER and Late Seventeenth-century Dutch painting
aetas aurea xvi
Marjorie E. Wieseman
2002. 4to., 542 pp. text, 378 ill. (33 full-page colourplts). Cloth bound with dustjacket
ISBN 90 70288 37 0
Caspar Netscher (1635/6-1684) was one of the most acomplished and successful artists active in the Netherlands during the latter part of the seventeenth century. Paradoxically, however, the same factors that made him so successful during his lifetime and into the eighteenth century also occasioned his exclusion from the modern canon of seventeenth-century Dutch painting, for his art represents a decisive move away from the hearty egalitarian aesthetic that prevailed during the earlier part of the century. Responding to (and helping define) his patrons' desire for international style and sophistication, Netscher's exquisite portraits and subject pieces are unmistakably Dutch, yet are imbued with an elegance more in keeping with progressive pan-European tastes.
This is the first full-length study to examine the work of this important Dutch artist and to specifically refute the commonly held notion of the "decline" of Dutch art at the end of the seventeenth century. The book contains much new and previously unpublished information. It begins with a biography of the artist and a concise analysis of three centuries of critical appraisal of his work. Creating a context for understanding Netscher's unique contribution to Dutch painting are a reassessment of artistic developments during the second half of the seventeenth century and a thorough investigation of the external factors which shaped them: it becomes apparent that the so-called "decline" of Dutch art is based largely on a misunderstanding of artistic intent.
Subsequent chapters offer a detailed analysis of Netscher's genre scenes and history paintings, highlighting a trend towards shared formal and iconographic conventions. A key portion of the book focuses on Netscher's innovations in the field of portraiture, the largest and (until now) the most neglected portion of his oeuvre. Issues of patronage and the nature of Dutch society in the latter part of the seventeenth century are examined in detail. During this time, The Netherlands witnessed a significant economic, social and cultural transformation best characterized as a conscious progression towards international sophistication. The social stratum which gained prominence during the period - largely composed of affluent rentiers and haute bourgeoisie - sought a corresponding gentility in their art and culture, and Netscher was the first artist to create likenesses so perfectly attuned to the needs of this elite clientele. The final chapter discusses Netscher's drawings and the operations of his extensive atelier, citing pupils and followers who continued a tradition in portrait painting that lasted through the eighteenth century.
The text is complemented by an appendix of documents relevant to the artist (most previously unpublished), and concludes with an exhaustive catalogue raisonné of the paintings. The latter contains detailed information on 220 accepted paintings by the artist, 44 problematic attributions (including some compositions known only through copies and works that involve a significant amount of studio assistance); 470 rejected works; and 388 paintings mentioned in the literature prior to 1800 but presently untraced.