Thursday, 28 October 2010

Dutch masterpiece acquired by Fitzwilliam Museum

Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588-1629), Young woman tuning a lute
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge has enriched its world-class collection with a Caravaggio-inspired Dutch oil on canvas. Young woman tuning a lute (1626-7) by Hendrick ter Brugghen, is now on public display within the Fitzwilliam’s fine collection of Dutch paintings thanks to a £225,000 donation by UK charity The Art Fund. The work was previously on loan to the Museum.

This is the Museum’s first acquisition of a work by ter Brugghen, one of the leading painters amongst the Utrecht followers of Caravaggio. It is one of only a handful of works by this artist in the UK. Ter Brugghen, who died at a young age, was an important innovator for later Dutch 17th century genre paintings. More recently he has been recognised as an unorthodox but significant influence on the work of artists such as Vermeer.

Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588-1629), The Lute Player
National Gallery, London
Little is known of the early life of ter Brugghen; he could have been born in The Hague, but his family seems to have moved to the strongly Catholic Utrecht in the early 1590s. Here he started painting at the age of thirteen, studying with Abraham Bloemaert. From Bloemaert, a Mannerist history painter, he learned the basics of the art. Around 1604, however, ter Brugghen travelled to Italy to expand his skills, a rather unusual move for Dutch painters at the time. He was in Rome in 1604, and could therefore have been in direct contact with Caravaggio (who fled the city in 1606 on a murder charge). He certainly studied his work, as well as that of his followers – the Italian Caravaggisti – such as Orazio Gentileschi. Caravaggio's work had caused quite a sensation in Italy. His paintings were characteristic for their bold chiaroscuro technique – the contrast produced by clear, bright surfaces alongside sombre, dark sections – but also for the social realism of the subjects, sometimes charming, sometimes shocking or downright vulgar.
Michelangelo da Caravaggio (1571-1610), The Lute Player
Wildenstein Collection (Private)

Upon returning to Utrecht, he worked with Gerard van Honthorst, another of the Dutch Caravaggisti. Ter Brugghen's favourite subjects were half-length figures of drinkers or musicians, but he also produced larger-scale religious images and group portraits. He carried with him Caravaggio's influence, and his paintings have a strong dramatic use of light and shadow, as well as emotionally charged subjects. Even though he died young, his work was well received and had great influence on others. His treatment of religious subjects can be seen reflected in the work of Rembrandt, and elements of his style can also be found in the paintings of Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer. Peter Paul Rubens described ter Brugghen's work as "...above that of all the other Utrecht artists."

Hendrick ter Brugghen at Web Gallery of Art
The Fitzwilliam Museum's collection of Dutch paintings
Did Hendrick ter Brugghen revisit Italy? Notes from an unknown manuscript by Cornelis de Bie

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