Century Magazine/Volume 48/Issue 2/Old Dutch Masters. Adriaan Van Ostade

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t is said that Millet's admiration of the Dutch masters amounted to veneration. A friend who knew intimately the great peasant painter showed me an etching by Van Ostade from which it is plain to see that Millet borrowed somewhat for his famous picture of "The Angelus"; for Van Ostade, like Millet, painted scenes taken from the ordinary peasant life of his neighborhood. The etching represents a poor peasant family gathered about a frugal meal, and in the act of giving thanks; from the simple treatment, the touching sentiment, and the genuine and unaffected feeling, truly nothing could be more calculated to move one with inward meltings of humanity and compassion. Millet held this work in particular esteem, and those who know his "Angelus" will recognize in this etching the original of the young man standing in a devout attitude, holding his hat in both his hands, as well as the charming attitude of the woman, with bent head and clasped hands.

Adriaan Jansz Van Ostade was born at Haar1em in 1610, and continued to live there until his death in 1685. He was formerly supposed to be a native of Lübeck, to have painted much at Amsterdam, and to have died there; hut this is now found to be erroneous. His father, who is said to have been a weaver, was of no inconsiderable standing in his community, and had a family of eight children, whom he brought up in good circumstances. Adriaan was the third, and his brother Isack—who also became a painter of repute—was the youngest. The name Ostade was derived from a small hamlet of that name (now called Ostedt), near Eyndhoven.

Adriaan entered the school of Frans Hals when that master was in the full vigor and practice of his art. Adriaan Brouwer was then also studying under the same master. On the completion of his apprenticeship he established himself in a shop of his own in his native town, where he labored with industry and lived in good circumstances. He had several pupils, prominent among whom were his brother Isack, and, as is supposed, the more famous Jan Steen. In more than one picture Van Ostade has given us a view of an artist's workshop of the time. In the Amsterdam museum there is one before which I have often stood; the painter is seated at his easel, while his man is grinding colors in the background. One can feel the atmosphere of meditation and perfect composure that reigns there. The broad, high window, latticed with small panes ornamentally disposed, admits a soft and quiet light, giving a sense of seclusion, and the feeling of a calm and cool retreat from the bustle and glare of the outside world. Above the painter is a sheet distended against the ceiling, to prevent any particles of dust falling therefrom and settling upon his work, for the Dutch painters generally were very particular in this respect. About him are a few objects of use, such as a lay figure, a cast from an antique head, etc. His was essentially a workshop, and had not yet assumed the more dignified appellation of studio, nor, like the majority of such, was it arranged for display. This picture shows Van Ostade at work in his own shop.

In the Louvre may be seen the portrait of the painter himself, with his wife and family of six children, and his brother Isack and his wife—ten very remarkable likenesses, all full-length figures, and charmingly composed, forming a beautiful picture upon a panel 32 inches wide by 28 inches high. It is one of his largest works. I have heard artists of distinction speak of this painting as one of the rarest pieces of the Louvre. The black draperies in it are admired as being among the best instances of the rendering of this most difficult of colors. M. Charles Blanc, in his "Lives of the Dutch Painters," observes that although Van Ostade—owing probably to the taste of his patrons more than to his own inclination—painted many scenes of tavern life, his own way of life was essentially a gentle and a decent one; in which conclusion one must certainly agree on beholding this charming portrait-piece of himself and family, and especially the kind and honest face of the master, tender and refined, reverent, and more grave than gay.

"The Village Schoolmaster" of the Salon Carr is one of his most remarkable interiors. It is a little picture 13 by nearly 16 inches, and is valued at $33,000. The affinity between some of Van Ostade's interiors and those of Rembrandt have not unnaturally led some writers on Dutch art to suppose that Adriaan worked among the great master's pupils; but this was not the case. He often produces in his pictures those deep golden tones which characterize the works of Rembrandt, while in many of his interiors the lights and shadows are as subtly managed. He is an independent figure, however, and one of the exemplifiers of the most flourishing period of Dutch art.

"The Fish Market," which I have engraved, is also an admirable example, and hangs, as does the portrait group, in the long gallery of the Louvre. It measures 16¼ inches high by 13¾ inches wide. It would be impossible to describe its wondrous color—the warm, humid atmosphere and mellow golden light in which it is steeped. It is an admirable instance, also, of how well the master could bind together a mass of shadow and a mass of light, and must have been the fruit of much observation and reflection. In respect to its light and shade, everything is subservient to the man and fish, which receive the strongest lights and shadows, though they are not, like the background, in the sunlight. This is contrary to natural laws, especially out of doors; but this was the law of that lighting which was peculiar to the school, and which may be traced from the early Italians down; that is, a central point of light and of dominant interest around which are disposed minor points and planes of light, all in perfect relation of color and value to the plane or focus occupied by the object of main interest. The Dutchmen were not so very realistic in adhering to the facts of nature as many are in the habit of supposing; they studied nature, but chose to light her out of their own heads. The law of values and of chiaroscuro they made use of as an artifice; understanding its principle, they made their own application of it, and valued it as a means by which to give a touch of mystery and romance to their forms.

I once heard an art-critic object to "The Fish Market" on the score of the subject. He doubted whether any lady would care to have it in her parlor, fish being at best an unpleasant thing to have about. But to object to such a picture on the ground of its subject is by no means to show overflowing good sense, but rather a false and vitiated taste; certainly an affectation of refinement, and a want of sympathy, which is the most unpardonable of sins in the critic. The sentiment in Dutch painting is always charming and never repulsive, because it deals with light and shade and color. This is in truth its never-varying theme. In Dutch art the subject is generally its least important consideration. There is no well-determined subject, because anything would serve to illustrate what the Dutchman sought to tell. What he should paint did not concern him so much as how he should paint. He is enamored of the world in its exterior aspect, and chooses things at random, as it were, as instances in proof that we are immersed in beauty could our eyes behold it. To judge the faces of Van Ostade's men and women ugly, however, is to regard their features merely, and to fail to perceive their air, which is their essence. Often the good nature of a countenance gives it a certain air which is more amiable than beauty. The beauty of a Van Ostade face is that it is warm with expression. It is a beauty that speaks to the imagination, and conducts us from the surface to regard the soul within. Van Ostade's power of seizing character is certainly equal to Rembrandt's in its subtlety and depth of insight.

None of the Dutchmen was more skilful in composition than Van Ostade, and none of better taste in arrangement; and the action of his figures is appropriate and never overstrained. He has great deftness of touch and breadth of handling, together with a large and serious manner, qualities which, combined with his refined sense of color and his feeling for values, place him in the foremost rank of the Dutchmen.

The Fish Market. By Adriaan Van Ostade.