RKD Netherland Institute for art History
The Dutch and Flemish paintings described in the catalogue were mostly collected by the art dealer Noel Desenfans (1744-1807) and the painter Sir Francis Bourgeois (1753-1811). Altogether they collected 370 paintings, which they bequeathed to Dulwich College, a boys' school to the south of London. The collection was opened to the public in 1817, in a building designed by the celebrated architect Sir John Soane, as the first purpose-built art gallery in Britain. Despite its remote location, Dulwich Picture Gallery attracted many visitors because so few paintings could be seen in public collections elsewhere in London: the National Gallery was established in 1824 and initially only housed 38 paintings. The connection with Dulwich College remained in place until 1994, since when Dulwich Picture Gallery has been an independent museum. The collection currently contains more than 600 paintings, including works by French, Italian and Spanish old masters.
The quality of the paintings brought together by Desenfans and Bourgeois is high. Of the 370 works 170 were by Dutch and Flemish artists. It is striking that most of the paintings did not come directly from the Netherlands, but from French collections. These were dispersed in the aftermath of the French Revolution of 1789 and came onto the art market in London. The Dulwich Picture Gallery collection gives a good indication of what French aristocrats of the time most valued in Dutch and Flemish painting, for example the Italianate landscapes of Nicolaes Berchem, Jan Both, Aelbert Cuyp, Karel du Jardin and Adam Pijnacker. The Dutch Italianates feature prominently in the collection. In addition there are important works by Rembrandt, most notably Girl at a window, as well as a large number of oil sketches by Rubens, and Samson and Delilah by Van Dyck.
In addition to the 170 paintings from the Desenfans and Bourgeois bequest, the Catalogue of Dulwich Picture Gallery. Dutch, Flemish and German Schools, with addenda to the British School I & II describes Dutch and Flemish (as well as a few British and German) works from the bequests of other collectors. The catalogue is preceded by an essay outlining the evolution of the Gallery's impressive collection, which discusses private donors including the actor William Cartwright (1606-1686). This is followed by detailed entries about all the artists and paintings featured in the collection. The RKD Study was compiled and written by Michiel Jonker (1947-2014), former Head of Collections at the Mauritshuis, and Ellinoor Bergvelt (1947), now guest researcher at the University of Amsterdam, associate researcher for the RKD and Research Fellow at Dulwich Picture Gallery.
The RKD Study Dulwich Picture Gallery I & II is part of the RKD's Gerson Digital project. Both part I and part II of this RKD Study can be found on the recently renewed website www.rkdstudies.nl.