Douwes Fine Art endeavours to keep a low threshold and to provide expertise to a large public. We do this while maintaining consistently high-quality works of art in our collection. Browse through a selection of our collection via the image grid upper-left or use the search function. Find many video's on a wide variety of subjects. Our unique collection of quality art is the result of over years of expertise in buying art as well as our knowledge of the conservation and restoration of important works of art. Our present selection of five centuries of well-preserved pieces of art from all over the world are mostly on view in our gallery, located close to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
On a regular basis we also give lectures and tours in our gallery. We advise private buyers with their purchases, either at auction, the art trade or from private collections. Advice can include topics such as conservation and the condition of a work of art, the value and importance of it, the art-historical meaning and other relevant matter. As a result, at this end of the art market, the investments in material and additional costs must have been relatively important components of the price.
The emphasis of these shops on contemporary and local artists suggests that the art dealers were mostly active in the firsthand market. A few exceptions show that the dealers also had contacts with painters commanding large workshops in cities where overproduction occurred, such as the 31 paintings Doeck owned that were made by pupils and assistants of the Haarlem history painter Jacob Willemsz. This number constitutes more than one fourth of all the history paintings in stock in the shop, demonstrating that the business relied to a substantial extent on the production of this one employee.
The other subjects include landscapes, sea battles, and banquets. Slordt seems to have painted everything that the art dealer thought the public demanded or that his stock was lacking. For the high end of the Amsterdam market, this practice is known from Hendrick and Gerrit Uylenburgh father and son , who contracted top painters such as Rembrandt, Govert Flinck, and Gerard de Lairesse to make portraits on commission and originals for the free market, and in addition engaged young painters to copy the famous Italian, Flemish, and French paintings present in the shop.
Nothing is known about De Laeff except for eight signed paintings surviving today and one notarial deed dated that shows him living in the Amsterdam Beulingstraat. With an oeuvre today of only one signed painting, Slordt was and is certainly a painter without reputation.
A Brief Overview of the Dutch Art Market in the 17th century
Archival research only very recently brought to light a few documents about his life. In he moved to the village of Schermerhorn, which was approximately 40 kilometers from Amsterdam and in the seventeenth century easily reachable by water transport in a couple of hours.
As a general rule, when dealers contracted with painters, the dealer provided the materials; thus, the art dealer could control the quality of the material as well as the costs. The employment of painters provided art dealers with the highest degree of control over production costs.
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Because of his lack of reputation, the cost of his labor was cheap. In addition, as an inhabitant of Schermerhorn the painter was excluded from the jurisdiction of the Amsterdam guild, so that guild regulations did not apply to him. As argued previously, the low hourly rates of painters without reputation left the material and additional expenses as a substantial part of the total cost of a painting. The amount of paint needed for a square meter of support is hard to calculate and depended on technique, but the majority of pigments were not extremely expensive and, in addition, were for sale in various price brackets.
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In-house production offered the art dealers some sort of supervision over the amount of paint and the kind of pigments used by their employees. The painting support, however, was the largest expense.
In this regard it is remarkable that the art dealers all showed a preference for the use of panel instead of canvas supports. This suggests that panel, contrary to what one may expect, was the cheaper option. One canvas, regrettably of unspecified size, was valued at 16 stuiver. It also allowed attuning production to recent fluctuations in demand, which in theory resulted in an up-to-date supply.
The works listed in the inventory as painted by Slordt are summarized in Table 6 and demonstrate that he often painted multiple versions of a scene for Meijeringh in different standard sizes and in horizontal as well as in vertical format. Of other subjects, such as Joseph being sold by his brothers, and the Gathering of Manna, Meijeringh owned as many as six versions by Slordt, both in four different sizes.
The existence of multiple paintings depicting the same scenes does not merely imply that the production of multiples was prompted by current demand and that these were popular and often requested scenes. Rather, along with the use of standard support sizes, it demonstrates that techniques and methods for serial production were in use to produce more paintings in less time.
The Dutch Art Market in the Seventeenth Century
The unsigned panel does not show traces of cropping and its measurements are original. The similar size of the human figures suggests that for both paintings the same template was used—for the larger piece the background landscape was simply extended in all four directions. This standardized mode of production recalls fifteenth-century commercial workshops, in which a limited number of well-chosen compositions with a simplified design was endlessly repeated in standard sizes with the use of patterns and models.
The comparison of the two paintings demonstrates that exactly the same depictions were produced in different sizes, as has already been made clear from the inventory of Meijeringh. Attributing the unsigned work to Slordt is somewhat problematic because of some differences in execution. Such differences may be explained by former restorations. With an efficient use of support and paint, costs were cut on the quantity of the materials used, rather than on their quality.
It also shows the pitfalls of focusing on the oeuvres of painters with a high reputation and on the ownership of paintings as apparent in samples from wealthy households and the more upscale probate inventories. This approach has presented us with a historically incorrect image of the paintings circulating in the seventeenth-century art market. As this study has shown, there existed a large market for cheap history paintings, traded by art dealers with enormous stocks of over paintings, with an average estimated value of 4 guilders and less, at least some of whom specialized in religious, mostly Old Testament subjects.
The low-quality paintings, mainly executed by painters with little or no reputation, were appealing because of their subjects; biblical narratives, with an emphasis on violent and spectacular scenes, were apparently recognizable and attractive for a broad audience. In the primary market, prices for paintings were calculated by multiplying the hourly rate of a specific painter by the time spent on labor and adding additional costs for the materials. The history paintings in the stock of Dammeroen, Doeck, and Meijeringh could be sold cheaply by regulating production costs.
The art dealers employed painters without reputation, such as Barend Jansz. Slordt, and therefore could pay low hourly rates for in-house production. Employing painters directly made it possible to adjust production to current demand. Material costs were kept low by an efficient use of the materials, rather than saving on quality.
Cheap on spec-production of depictions that were in demand, and therefore easily marketable, signified limited financial risks for the art dealers. The comparison of the two paintings of Pharaoh and His Army Engulfed in the Red Sea , one signed by Slordt and one unsigned, demonstrates that this type of production fundamentally differs from the cheap workshop copies and imitations that also flooded the seventeenth-century art market. Although the standardized mode of production and the repetition of the central motif recalls fifteenth-century commercial workshops, this type of serial production was, surprisingly, often not anonymous.
In contrast with Antwerp mass production or the anonymous assistants of painters, a few surviving panels demonstrate that works by such painters as De Laeff and Slordt were signed with the name of the artist. Less wealthy art buyers in the second half of the seventeenth century could therefore, in a time in which authenticity of a painting became more and more important, acquire an original work of art, albeit one signed by a painter without a high reputation.
The mainly religious subject matter of these paintings lacked complicated or obscure iconography and could therefore be appealing to a myriad of buyers. Although this study has contributed to a new understanding of the low-end market, further questions arise. Additional research by the author, conducted as part of a dissertation, will address the motivation of the painters for involvement in this type of production.
Moreover, the expanded scope of the dissertation will allow exploration of the question of an export option for this type of work. I would like to use this opportunity to thank each of them for their endless encouragement and support, and the many valuable suggestions and corrections to previous versions of this article.
Also, I want to show my appreciation to the two anonymous JHNA readers for their very helpful reviews of this article. Furthermore, I am grateful to Alison Kettering for encouraging me to rework the paper for publication, and for kindly providing me with the contact of Kate Wiener, who has provided helpful line-editing of the first draft.
Capoen, inv. SAA, , Registers van inventarissen van roerende goederen, inv. Unfortunately, the inventory is unappraised. SAA , Notulenboek, inv. SAA , Grootboek, inv. SAA, Archief van de Schepenen: kwijtscheldingsregisters, , Registers van kwijtschelding [transport] van onroerend goed binnen de jurisdictie van de stad Amsterdam, inv.