RKD Netherland Institute for art History
The painting was described by the Utrecht auctioneers as a nineteenth-century view of a gatehouse on the edge of a city by an unknown master of the Dutch School. It turned out to be a so-called sleeper: a special work of art that has gone undetected – in this case because neither the subject nor the maker had been identified. RKD curator of topography Laurens Schoemaker recognised the city gate. He conducted extensive research into the painting and managed to find out the name of the maker as well as its provenance. Traces of the signature in the panel's lower right corner confirmed the attribution to Christ. The scene is listed as a key work by the artist in several art-historical reference works. Having been tipped off by Schoemaker, the Trust quickly sprang into action. After a period of more than 140 years, in which the picture remained under the radar, the unveiled sleeper will hang in a museum again.
Detailed investigation conducted at the RKD brought to light the painting's history. In 1838 Johannes Franciscus Christ entered this work into the Exhibition of Living Masters in Amsterdam and The Hague. Apparently it remained unsold because the public received another chance to admire the painting in 1839 when it was included in the Exhibition of Living Masters in The Hague. It was shown under the title of View of the Rijnpoort at Rhenen (Gezigt aan de Rijnpoort te Rheenen). The picture was bought that year by the Dutch state and it was housed in the Paviljoen Welgelegen in Haarlem, which had then just opened as the Museum of Living Dutch Masters.
The painting hung on the wall of this former museum of modern art for almost forty years, when a decision was taken by the state to deaccession the view of Rhenen along with a number of other artworks. In 1878 the painting went under the hammer in a public sale at De Brakke Grond in in Amsterdam at which point it was sold to an unknown buyer for 29 guilders. More than 140 years elapsed before it resurfaced at the Utrecht auction in June 2020. As yet it has not been possible to trace the location of the painting during that period and in the meantime the name of the maker was forgotten. The fact that it represents a view of the Rijnpoort had also evaporated in the mists of time.
Johannes Franciscus Christ was one of the last artists to paint this city gate which was erected in the Middle Ages. In 1841 the Rijnpoort fell prey to the jackhammer. Since the seventeenth century the building had been a popular subject for artists passing through Rhenen, including Rembrandt. Later the gate was drawn by Jan de Beijer, Daniël Kerkhoff and the Rhenen amateur artist Gijsbert Baars.
Paintings of Rhenen's lost city gates are extremely rare. According to Kees Waiboer (Stichting Behoud Cultureel Erfgoed Rhenen) and Maike Woldring (Director of the Stadsmuseum Rhenen) the work is an important acquisition for Rhenen. The scene is enlivened with various figures and animals. All sorts of interesting details can be discovered on closer inspection. Behind the gateway, clustered together on the Rijnstraat inside the city walls, we can see three figures chatting with one another. Above the city wall, to the right of the gatehouse, is a washing line with laundry hanging to dry.
The new acquisition will be presented in a display about the Rijnpoort at the Stadsmuseum Rhenen, from September to December. Shortly the work will be cleaned by a conservator.