Opening September 29 at the Milwaukee Art Museum is Art, Life, Legacy: Northern European Paintings in the Collection of Isabel and Alfred Bader. The 75 paintings presented in the exhibition were assembled while the Baders, longtime Museum patrons and supporters, were living in Milwaukee. They not only gave artworks to the Museum—many of which are on view in the collection galleries—but were formative in the development of the European art program at the Museum.
In anticipation of the exhibition, today we’ll look at two paintings with the same subject that passed through Alfred Bader’s hands: one is on view in the Museum’s collection galleries and the other is in the exhibition.
Both paintings draw their subject from the successful 17th-century play Granida. Dutch playwright Pieter Cornelisz. Hooft (1581–1647) wrote this popular work by the year 1605 (when it was first available in manuscript) and then published it in 1615. One scene from the first act was popular with Dutch artists: the shepherd Daifilo is in the woods with the shepherdess Dorilea when he meets the Persian princess Granida, who is out hunting. Granida is thirsty, and Daifilo, smitten with the grand lady, gives her a shell full of water.
The painting in our collection, Daifilo the Shepherd with Dog, shows Daifilo holding his shepherd staff and accompanied by his attentive dog. We can identify him because he holds a shell full of water. It’s likely that this is a fragment of a larger painting that included Granida; a multi-figure composition would have been more typical of the time for this subject, and Daifilo looks as if he is about to hand off the shell to Granida. Even his dog looks up as if there is another person standing in front of it. Painted in 1669 by Abraham Hondius (Dutch, ca. 1625–1691), this painting entered the collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum in 1972 through the efforts of Alfred Bader. He opened a gallery, Alfred Bader Fine Arts, through which to buy and sell artwork. Some of those artworks then went on to be part of the Museum’s collection.
Robert V. Krikorian and his wife, Virginia, purchased the painting from Alfred Bader for the Museum. Krikorian was the chairman and chief executive of Rexnord, a major manufacturer of industrial components and machinery that is still located in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Art Museum (then the Milwaukee Art Center) was his main philanthropic interest, and he spearheaded the more than $7 million fund drive for the Museum’s David Kahler–designed addition in the 1970s.
Recently conserved, the painting is now on view in the collection galleries (S105) while the Museum presents Art, Life, Legacy.
The painting in the exhibition, Granida and Daifilo, was made around 1640 by Jacob Adriaensz. Backer (Dutch, 1608–1651). It not only depicts Daifilo but also includes the two other characters and more narrative details. Granida (who has clearly been hunting since she has a bow and arrow) holds the shell filled with water that Daifilo has given her. Daifilo, meanwhile, is swept away by her beauty and kneels at her feet. At the same time, shepherdess Dorilea stands between them, looking on with dismay as the princess steals the heart of her partner. Alfred Bader and his wife Isabel gave this painting to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University in 1992.
Although Granida and Daifilo do not come to us from the myths of antiquity, they are classical figures set within the idealized concept of Arcadia as understood during the 17th century. For the Dutch, attachment to the land runs deep, and the happy ending to this poetic story suggests that love conquers all.
To experience more Dutch and Flemish paintings, visit Art, Life, Legacy: Northern European Paintings in the Collection of Isabel and Alfred Bader, on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum through January 28.
1. Jacob Andriaensz. Backer (Dutch, 1608–1651), Granida and Daifilo, ca. 1640. Oil on canvas. 51 15/16 × 64 3/16 in. (132 × 163 cm). Kingston, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Gift of Alfred and Isabel Bader, 1992, acc. no. 35-008
2. Abraham Hondius (Dutch, ca. 1625–1691), Daifilo the Shepherd with Dog, 1669. Oil on canvas. 34 1/2 × 26 3/4 in. (87.63 × 67.95 cm). Gift of Mr. and Mrs. R. V. Krikorian, M1972.47. Photo credit: P. Richard Eells
Catherine Sawinski is the Assistant Curator of European Art. When not handling the day-to-day running of the European art department and the Museum’s Fine Arts Society, she researches the collection of Ancient and European artwork before 1900.