The Conversion of Saint Hubert
Philips Wouwerman (Haarlem 1619 - Haarlem 1688)
An unusual subject for the artist, who is known for his landscapes with horses and riders, the painting is supposed to have been painted as a gift for a Catholic priest of Haarlem, Cornelis Catsz. It shows a scene from the life of St Hubert (d.727), who as a young man leading a dissolute life, was converted by the apparition of a speaking crucifix between the antlers of a stag at bay: "Why are you pursuing me? I am Jesus, whom you honour without being aware of it". He is said to have sought advice from St Lambert and subsequently became Bishop of Tongeren/Maastricht himself, transferring later to Liège. He is now a patron saint of hunting and his relics lie in an abbey, named after him, in the forests of Ardennes. The legend is taken from that of St Eustace in the 15th century and the depiction of the hounds are borrowed from Dürer's famous engraving of the Latin saint, as well as, possibly, the vertical format. It was acquired by the great Flemish dealer Lambert Jean Nieuwenhuys (1722—1862) in 1817 who sold it to the Prince of Orange, later King Willem II of the Netherlands (1792—1849), but even though one of the more remarkable collections of the 19th century it was nevertheless dispersed as the Dutch government had to pay off the Royal debts. The painting was for a short time with the Baron von Mecklenberg, a great Dutch art collector, and, after his death in 1854, was acquired by Christian Johannes Nieuwenhuys (1799 – 1833), the first dealer’s son, who sold it to one of his preferred clients, Colonel Edward Douglas-Pennant, later 1st Lord Penhryn (1800—1886).
Oil painting on canvas. The Conversion of Saint Hubert by Philips Wouverman (Haarlem 1619 - Haarlem 1668), signed on rock, bottom right: PHILIPS (in monogram) W/ 1660. The saint, in the centre, in red, in contemporary clothing to the artist, is dismounted from his horse and kneels towards a stag on left with a crucifix in its horns. His white horse stands on three legs behind him to the right. In the background the hunt follows furiously behind.
The episode in the legend of Saint Hubert (d. 727) shown in this picture is one that was first borrowed and applied to him in the 15th century from that of Saint Eustace: a borrowing to which Wouwerman has here paid his own tribute by taking and adapting the group of dogs, and perhaps even the - for him - unwonted upright format, from Durer's celebrated engraving of the Latin saint. As told of Saint Hubert, he was a young man leading a worldly and dissolute life, in the course of which, one Good Friday morning, he was out hunting. When he had the stag at bay, a luminous cross suddenly appeared between its horns, and it turned to him and spoke: "Why are you pursuing me? I am Jesus, whom you honour without being aware of it". When the astonished Hubert asked what to do, he was told to seek instruction and guidance from Saint Lambert, Bishop of Tongeren/Maestricht (c.635-c.700). Having done so, and become a Christian priest, he ultimately succeeded Lambert as Bishop; around 715 he translated the latter's relics and his see to Liège. The reason for the transfer of this legend was that in 825 a portion of Saint Hubert's own relics had been translated to the abbey of Andage - subsequently renamed Saint-Hubert - in the forests of the Ardennes. This being great hunting-country, he became the patron saint of hunting (and also the prophylactic saint against rabies: a special bread used to be baked, called 'St Hubert's Bread', eating which was supposed to be protection against the contagion). It was thus natural that the most striking hagiographical legend associated with the chase should have been assumed into his vita. Quite why Wouwermans should have chosen Saint Hubert for the subject of the present picture is still obscure. There does not seem to have been any special devotion to him in Haarlem; nor is there anything in the story of how this picture came about to account for this particular choice of subject. The picture is first mentioned, without any story, but simply saying that it was painted for an unnamed predecessor of the then Catholic Priest of Haarlem, with his features borrowed for the Saint Hubert, by Roeland van Eynden in 1782/3 . Seven years later, Samuel Ireland, in A Picturesque Tour through Holland, Brabant, and part of France; Made in the Autumn of 1789 , had picked up a whole story about it. After saying that, early on, Wouwermans - like Berchem - had lived from hand to mouth, always in hock to the picture-dealers, who were thus able to get pictures out of him for a pittance, he goes on: "Happily, however, in his ripe years, he was relieved from his indigence and dependence on picture-dealers, by a Catholic priest (he being himself of the Romish church) [not true - it was Wouwermans's wife who was Catholic, with whom he had run away to Hamburg to marry, whilst still under age] who lent him six hundred guilders, which sum, though but small, enabled him to increase his price to double what he had been usually paid, and he became soon after possessed of sufficient wealth to give his daughter, as a portion in marriage, twenty thousand guilders. In return for his confessor's liberality, he painted his portrait in small, kneeling before his horse, in the character of Saint Hubert, which he presented to him, and with it the sum so graciously lent. The picture should be noticed by every Connoisseur who passes through this city: the drawing and colouring are in his best stile, and the picture is exquisitely finished: it may be termed a chef d'oeuvre, where the superiority of the work vies with the gratitude of the artist, and may be found in a chapel near the house where Wouwermans resided, situated in the Bakenessegragt". In 1782/3 Roeland van Eynden either did not know, or in the context of his essay did not think it worth mentioning, the name of the priest in question. By 1816, when he (who had by then reverted to the more Dutch spelling of his name as van Eijnden) and Adriaan van der Willigen published the first of their four-volume history of later Dutch painting, he may have been better informed, and gives his name as Cornelis Catsz. . He does not mention the probable secularisation of the chapel after the French Revolutionary invasion of Holland in, which probably led to the sale of the picture, but does say that, by the time that he wrote, it had passed into the hands of the Amsterdam dealer Cornelis Sebille Roos (1754-1820) . It may be no coincidence that, a year after the publication of van Eijnden & van der Willigen's Geschiedenis, which perhaps alerted him to the picture's existence, the great Flemish dealer Lambert Jean Nieuwenhuys (1722-1862) acquired it. Yet it was not until 1823 that he was able to include it in one of his very first sales to the young Prince of Orange, later King Willem II of the Netherlands (1792-1849), who put together one of the more remarkable collections of the 19th century, amounting almost to a representative history of art . Very regrettably, however, the Dutch state was not prepared, and his successor and heirs were unable, to acquire or keep his collection, and it was sold at successive auctions to pay off his great debts. This was one of the pictures whose fate revealed the folly of recourse to auction, rather than to the various possibilities of sale by private treaty (notably to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, to whom the collection had anyway already been pawned by Willem II): it was sold at the first auction, precisely for its modest reserve of 3,000 florins, once more to L.J. Nieuwenhuys. It was sold by Nieuwenhuys to the Baron von Mecklenburg, who had a fine collection of Dutch pictures. Three of these are now in the Wallace Collection - one of them a Wouwermans Horse Fair of such covetable quality that, on the baron's sudden death in the rooms that he had taken in the 4th Marquess of Hertford's hôtel in the rue Laffitte in June 1854, the latter immediately adverted to the likelihood of his pictures coming onto the market, since he had died intestate . At his sale it was again bought by a Nieuwenhuys, but this time by the son, Christianus Johannes (1799-1883), who sold it to one of his preferred clients, Colonel Edward Douglas-Pennant, later 1st Lord Penhryn. Wouwermans is commonly, and not inaccurately, thought of as a painter of landscapes peopled by horses and riders, often in the form of hunts, skirmishes, fairs, riding-schools and -parties, halts at an inn, &c. Although the old bit of dealers' patter that his 'signature' is a white horse is untrue, there is generally one forming a focal point in his pictures. His subject-matter, combined with his exquisite finish, contrived to make him one of the most popular artists with aristocratic collectors in the 18th and 19th centuries - a taste that his prolific output also made it feasible to gratify. So thoroughly have his paintings fallen out of fashion in our own time, however, that - despite the fact that there are more pictures in Great Britain by or ascribed to him than there are by any other Dutch artist save Willem van de Velde the Younger - not one painting by him was included in the survey of Dutch 17th-century pictures in British Collections held at Birmingham in 1989 . Wouwermans scarcely ever painted portraits, and it may be doubted whether the present picture really contains one. He did, however, paint a number of paintings of religious subjects like the Conversion of Saul, in which horses were a necessary part of the scenario. Many - such as the Preaching of Saint John the Baptist in the Gemäldegalerie at Dresden, or his favourite subject, The Annunciation to the Shepherds, of which at least half-a-dozen authentic versions exist - have horses rather unwontedly introduced into them; whilst one - God sending bears to devour the children who mock the prophet Elisha (Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Geneva) - offered no occasion for any at all. In his Saint Martin dividing his cloak with the beggar of 1652 (whereabouts unknown) , a horse traditionally plays a central role in the composition, as it does in two uncharacteristic - but seemingly very personal - representations, of The Christian Knight with Time and Death of 1655 (formerly on the art market. N.B. again the inspiration from a print by Dürer), and the Saint Michael triumphing over Evil and Death of 1662 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) . It is surely significant that these last two pictures, both of them very personal representations, should date - like the present picture - from relatively late in the artist's career. They tend to suggest that - very possibly under his wife's influence - Wouwermans had turned to a Catholic-influenced religiosity. By contrast with those depictions, however, in the present picture the artist maintains his traditional balance between the scale of the landscape and the figural elements - and includes a characteristically con brio passage of the hunt following furiously behind, in the background. The result is at once a harmonious whole, and a painting of unique character within the artist's oeuvre. Notes: (i) Roeland van Eijnden, Verhandeling over den Nationaalen Smaak der Hollandse School in de Teken - en Schilder-Kunst, Haarlem, 1787, p.133. (ii) Samuel Ireland, A Picturesque Tour through Holland, Brabant, and part of France:Made in the Autumn of 1789, London, 1790, vol.I, pp.114-15. (iii) Roeland van Eijnden & Adriaan van der Willigen, Geschiedenis der Vaderlandsche Schilderkunst sedert de Helft der XVIII Eeuw, Haarlam, vol.I (1816), pp.404-5. (iv) Frits Lugt, Les marques de collections de dessins & d'estampes, Amsterdam, 1921, p.400, no.2145. (v) Erik Hinterding & Femy Horsch, "A small but choice collection", the art gallery of King Willem II of the Netherlands (1792-1849)', Simiolus, vol.XIX (1989), nos. 1/2. (vi) See The Hertford Mawson Letters, ed. John Ingamells, The Wallace Collection, London, 1981, no.44 (letter of 27 June 1854), p.58. (vii) See Christopher Wright, Dutch Painting in the Seventeenth Century:Images of a Golden Age in British Collections, London & Birmingham, 1989, checklist on pp.267-69. With extreme perversity, however, a painting by his minor pupil, Barend Gael, was included (no.74). (viii) Hofstede de Groot, Catalogue Raisonné, vol.II (1909), p.262, no.22 records a panel of this subject that passed through an Amsterdam sale in 1804. (ix) Hofstede de Groot, op.cit., vol.II (1909), pp.258-61, nos.10-18. (x) See F.J. Duparc, 'Philips Wouwerman, 1619-1668', Oud Holland, vol. 107/3 (1993), p.271 & fig.20. (xi) Duparc, art.cit., pp.275-76 & fig. 29. (xii) Duparc, art.cit., pp.278-79, fig. 35, & cover. (adapted from author's version/pre-publication, Alastair Laing, In Trust for the Nation, exh. cat., 1995)
Reputedly painted in gratitude for a timely loan from Cornelis Catsz., priest of the Catholic chapel (over the Kwakebrug on the Bakenessegracht), Haarlem; with his successor, J. B. Schuyt, in 1782/3; sold to the dealer Cornelis Sebille Roos (1754 - 1820), Amsterdam, in 1804; acquired by the dealer L. J. Nieuwenhuys in 1817; sold by him in May 1823 to Prince Willem of Orange, subsequently King Willem II of the Netherlands (1792-1849), in Brussels, with a Seascape by Ludolf Bakhuysen, for 26, 000 francs; his posthumous sale, Gothic Hall, The Hague, 12 Aug ff. 1850, lot 92, bought back by L. J. Nieuwenhuys for 3,000 florins;sold to Freiderich, Baron Von Mecklenberg; his posthumous sale, 11 December 1854, lot 30, bought by C. J. Nieuwenhuys for 7, 200 francs; sold to Colonel the Hon. Edward Douglas-Pennant, 1st Baron Penrhyn of Llandegai (1800 – 1886) for £6,000 in 1855; accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the National Trust in 2017.
Marks and inscriptions
'1660' (signed and dated)
Makers and roles
Philips Wouwerman (Haarlem 1619 - Haarlem 1688), artist
In Trust for the Nation, National Gallery, London, 1995 - 1996, no.67
Hofstede de Groot 1907-28 Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und Kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten Holländischen Maler des XVII Jahrhunderts,1907-28, H.de G vol II no.27, p 263 Smith 1829-42 John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters, 8 vols and supplement, London, 1829-42, Smith vol i, p 289, no 323. Hinterding and Horsch 1989 Erik Hinteding and Femy Horsch, '"A Small but Choice Collection": The Art Gallery of King Willem II of the Netherlands (1792 - 1849)', Simiolus, XIX, no.1/2, 1989, pp. 4-122 Duparc 1993 F. J. Duparc, 'Philips Wouverman, 1619 - 1668', Oud Holland, cvii/3, 1993, pp.257-86 Willem II & Anna Pavlovna: Royal Splendour at the Dutch Court, State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 24 Sept 2013 -19 Jan 2014, Dordrechts Museum, Dordrecht, 5 Mar-16 June 2014 & Villa Vauban, Musée d'Art de la Ville de Luxembourg, 12 July-12 Oct 2014