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Art Curatorial Exhibitions

From the Collection: The Annuciation by Hendrick Goltzius

The current exhibition in the European works on paper rotation space (on view until July 30) is Alluring Artifice: Mannerism in the Sixteenth Century. The show features 30 prints that explore Mannerism, a movement that emerged in European art around 1510–20 and lasted until about 1600. Characterized by densely packed compositions and a focus on the human form, the style resulted in images that are deliberately challenging in both design and technique. One of the prints featured in the show is The Annunciation, an engraving by the Dutch master printmaker Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617).

Hendrick Goltzius (Dutch, 1558–1617), The Annunciation, from the series The Life of the Virgin, 1594. Engraving. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Christopher Graf M1980.233. Photo credit: John R. Glembin.
Hendrick Goltzius (Dutch, 1558–1617), The Annunciation, from the series The Life of the Virgin, 1594. Engraving. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Christopher Graf M1980.233. Photo credit: John R. Glembin.

Over the years, people that I meet have asked me what I am working on, and I usually reply that I was reading a book on art history. At one point I said that to my mathematics teacher from high school. He turned his head quickly and said confidently, “Like about Da Vinci?”

“Yes,” I replied. “More or less.”

“Do you know what drives me nuts about those guys?”

“No, what drives a math teacher nuts about the Renaissance?”

“Why would anyone attempt to make art after the Renaissance?”

What he meant, of course, was that the Renaissance solved many of the technical difficulties of capturing reality in art. The artistic drive to find ways to show human anatomy, depth of space, and emotional expression had resulted in masterful paintings and sculpture.

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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

Questions of Provenance—The Marriage Trap by Jan Victors, Part 4

Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.
Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.

With The Marriage Trap as an example, we have seen that it is an immense task to do provenance research for all paintings that were probably in Europe from 1933 through 1945! Museums, however, have accepted this ongoing project as an important part of the stewardship of their collections.

In this particular instance, at least we know that our painting was processed through the appropriate channels after World War II. It was returned to Austria for restitution to its owner; we do not know who ended up with the painting. All we can do is be transparent about the provenance and hope more information comes to light in the future.

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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

Questions of Provenance—The Marriage Trap by Jan Victors, Part 3

Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.
Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.

In the last two posts we’ve looked at the earliest known and most recent provenance of our painting The Marriage Trap.

We also know that in 1947 the painting was processed at the Munich Central Collecting Point, or MCCP.

This means that the painting was looted by the Nazis during World War II.

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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

Questions of Provenance—The Marriage Trap by Jan Victors, Part 2

This post is part of a series that that will highlight some of the interesting provenance cases in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Collection. 

Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.
Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.

Last time we looked at The Marriage Trap’s provenance and attribution just before and since its acquisition by the Milwaukee Art Museum. That’s usually the easiest part.

In this post, we’ll see how piecing together the ownership of a painting requires pulling information from a number of sources, thinking critically about what we find, and then sometimes making an educated guess (noted as such, of course).

Categories
Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

Questions of Provenance—The Marriage Trap by Jan Victors, Part 1

Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.
Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.

Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676) was probably a student of the famous Dutch Golden Age artist Rembrandt (Dutch, 1606–1669). Just like his contemporaries, Victors created works with various popular subjects, including religious scenes, portraits, and genre paintings.

The Milwaukee Art Museum has a market scene in its collection which falls into this last category. The Marriage Trap is set along the familiar canals of Holland. A peasant wedding party is purchasing a fish for the ensuing celebration.

But the Dutch loved layering painting with many layers of symbolism–often for a humorous result.  Victor’s ability in combining realism with humor is illustrated by the context and placement of the fish.  It is most likely intended as a sexual metaphor!