THE three hundred and fifty paintings which form the Czernin collection are gathered in three large rooms and a small cabinet of the Count’s town residence in Vienna. The paintings are not hung in any logical order, although some degree of sympathetic arrangement is observed, since the room to the left of the entrance corridor is almost entirely devoted to 17th century Netherland art ; the room to the right contains a number of Spanish paintings, as well as further examples of Dutch and Flemish masters; and the room farthest from the entrance has most of the Italian paintings.
If we should wish to designate the feature of supreme excellence in the Czernin collection we would at once refer to the number of gems found here of the Dutch Little Masters. Few museums possess so many works of these bright stars of the golden age, of which each one separately must be regarded as the finest product of the artist who wrought it. When we turn into the room on our left we note at once works by Terborch, Vermeer, van Delft, Kaspar Netscher, Dou, Jacob van Ruisdael, Potter and Aelbert Cuyp, that cannot be surpassed by any examples of their work in any museum of Europe.
In the centre of the wall near the entrance hangs a magnificent ” Double Portrait ” (Plate XL), by Gerard Terborch, which until recently was kept in the private apartments of Count Czernin. This is possibly the finest piece of painting that has come down to us from Terborch’s brush. It possesses a refinement of style, a sifting and straining of all that is fittest, a vision, indeed, of rare and admirable beauty that might be called brilliantly flashing were it not softened and sobered by that most charming of qualities in painting naïveté. Who can look at this counterfeit presentment of a dignified dame and courteous gentleman but does not find in it the essence of what was pleasantest and most refined in the Dutch life of that day, the air of birth and breeding, the profound placidity of elegant manners? Even the colouring, sober to the point of severity, is harmonious with dignified reserve. The setting likewise on the terrace of a summer home, looking towards the formal grouping of the park conveys the atmosphere suggested by the patrician in black velvet, and his lady standing there so naturally in her shimmering satin.
Terborch was the keen and faithful historian of the order he presents on this canvas.
Personally I would suggest that there is great probability that we have here the likeness of the artist and his wife an observation which, strange to say, has not been made heretofore. Yet, a comparison with the features of Terborch’s self-portrait in the Mauritshuis seems to indicate that the Czernin portraits might have been painted six or ten years earlier. The three following pictures, all self-portraits of Vermeer van Delft, Netscher and Dou, point to a predilection which the founder of the collection seems to have had to acquire artists’ self-portraits.
In the centre of the opposite wall hangs another gem of the art of painting. This is a masterpiece by Jan Vermeer van Delft, and shows the ” Artist in his Studio ” (Plate XLI). It is the nearest approach to a portrait of the artist that exists and an unsatisfactory one, surely. The painter, how-ever, throws at least some light on the temporal circumstances of himself, of whom so little else is known. The room is luxuriously appointed, and the artist is richly attired, showing the prosperous circumstances to which his art have brought him. The beautiful harmony of the colours in this painting, the mellowness of its tone, and the breadth of handling which it reveals make this one of the finest works of Vermeer’s maturity. He seemed to have delighted in overcoming all kinds of technical difficulties the wonderful management of light, the texture painting of the heavy curtain, the brass chandelier, the costumes of himself and of the model who holds a yellow book. It may lack the charm of his earlier and simpler compositions, but it has a painter’s quality, unsurpassed by anything he had ever done before. This painting was formerly attributed to Pieter de Hooch. It was Bürger, the discoverer of Vermeer van Delft, who restored it to its rightful author, whose signature he discovered in the lower part of the map.
The similarity of the art of these Little Masters is seen in the beautiful portrait group by Kaspar Netscher, of himself, his wife and child, framed in an arched window. Below the sill is shown the low-relief of putti, as we notice it so frequently in the pictures of Gerard Dou.
Of the latter we find a self-portrait (Plate XLII), that must have been painted some ten years after the well-known portrait in the National Gallery. The master, still holding his palette, is leaning on the window sill, resting a while from his work on the little picture that is seen standing on the easel in the studio. The artist displays here all the perfections of portraiture: truth of likeness, dignity, naturalness of carriage, and character.
Turning to the screen the centre of the room we behold a masterful product of the brush of Jacob van Ruisdael. A wooded valley, with a foaming, dashing brook, and a heavy, storm-threatening sky, is a picture that is very rich, very vigorous, and very beautiful. The clouds are somewhat dull and heavy, but the effect of the light flashing from behind them upon the trees is fine. Everything is pitched in a key of greys, greens and browns, and nature seems to be hushed in a mystic, sad solitude that is profoundly impressive. Artistically this sombre sentiment pervades the landscape with a singleness of aim and a unity of means significant of power.
We spy another bright jewel gleaming on this screen. This is the famous ” Morning ” (Plate XLIII), by Paul Potter, which in many respects surpasses his better-known ” Young Bull ” of the Mauritshuis, The Hague. A cow, just emerging from the barn, loudly bellows a morning greeting to the fresh air and rising sun. Two of the cattle, already in the road, have playfully locked horns, and the peasant is trying to separate them, causing great excitement to the youngster who is held in his mother’s arm at the cabin door. The pure bracing morning breeze fills the whole canvas like a breath of out-of-doors. There is exact truth and simplicity in the whole scene, a marvellous expressiveness of the nature of animals and men.
Of Aelbert Cuyp, that other great animal and landscape painter, we find here an excellent example that spreads an immensity of distance before our eyes. We see meadows, dunes, a stretch of water, with a sailboat lazily floating before the soft breeze. A herd of cattle is ruminating on the distant dike, and a sky studded with watery clouds looms over-head.
And as our eyes wander along these walls we note still more exquisite examples by worthy men. Philip Wouwerman shows some of his horsepainting in the ” Stirrup-cup “; Adriaen van de Velde has here a meadow with cattle; and Jan Vermeer van Haarlem a graceful, wooded landscape. A roaring waterfall, broken by jagged rocks, with a dense pine forest, is by Allert van Everdingen; and an Italian scene with ruins, of delicate brushing and harmonious colouring, is by Nicholas Berchem. Aert van der Neer is here shown in one of his favourite midnight conflagrations, shedding a lurid glow over the excited crowd of people. Cornelis Saftleven, van Goyen’s pupil, has an agreeable river view, painted with a fine brush – although conventional, it is delightful in its way. Cornelis Decker belonged to the Ruisdael studio, and has an attractive landscape, divided by a stream, in which three men in a boat are fishing.
One of the finest interiors painted by Adriaen van Ostade shows the corner of a low-roofed taproom, where three peasants are drinking in hilarious abandon. The light that streams into the dark corner through the square window on the left is brilliantly handled and centres on the figure of a whiteshirted boor on a bench, who leans” half-seas-over” against the wall, still holding the large beerpot clutched between his legs. Nearby hangs a fine example of Rembrandt’s devoted pupil, Gerbrandt van den Eeckhout, entitled ” Judith and Tamar.”
The still-life painters are as well, if not as numerously represented as in the other collections. Hondecoeter, Weenix, the de Heems, Rachel Ruysch, and van Huysum may be seen to advantage.
There are also a number of Flemish paintings in this Salon. Foremost stands a masterful work of Rubens, ” The Maries at the Sepulchre.” This must be regarded as a personal work by the great master, and one of the most reserved and impressive of his religious compositions. There is great dignity in the figure of the sorrowing mother; the women surrounding her display, without exaggeration, astonishment, fear, and then curious interest in the tidings brought them by the heavenly heralds.
Well-drawn, solidly built figures of men stand at the entrance of the open vault. Strong light emanates from their super-mundane bodies with irradiating brilliancy, which brings out the female figures in luminous chiaroscuro, although not with the learned gradations which Rembrandt would have employed.
The portrait of a young man, a three-quarter length, comes from the later period of van Dyck, and is neat but conventional. There is greater strength of portraiture in Jan van Renesse’s ” Concert,” with the members of a family performing on flute, spinet, etc. The work was formerly ascribed to Rembrandt. The younger Teniers has a guard-room, of which the group of soldiers in the back is more picturesque than the pile of accoutrements heaped around a big drum on the floor in the fore-ground. His pupil, David Ryckaert III, followed him more in his grotesques, and here we see an example. But in Teniers’ treatment of these subjects the subtleness of his humour always redeems them from vulgarity with Ryckaert these scenes from common life, ludicrously presented, are often common and coarse.
A splendid portrait of a cleric, signed with Dürer’s monogram and dated 1516, is the only German painting in this room. It is a powerful face, with keen eyes and strong, compressed lips, giving the features an expression of firmness, somewhat relieved by a kindly twitch at the corners of the mouth and around the wide nostrils.
A few French pictures are to be noted. A magnificent mythological painting, representing the finding of Ulysses by Nausikaa, is by Gaspar Poussin. Equally forceful is the ” Dream of Alkmene,” by Alphonse Dufresnoy, whose Italian training is apparent. The Claude Lorrain, which we see here, is not of great importance. Filippo Lauri, a Roman painter who had early emigrated to France, and is at his best in mythological subjects and bacchanals, is known from having painted the figures in Claude Lorrain’s landscapes. He is credited with a “Preaching of John the Baptist,” which is more likely a composite production whereof Claude painted the landscape part. Two pictures of beg-gars, assigned to Jacques Callot, only known as an engraver, are from the hand of his nephew Jean. A few Italian pictures have overflowed to this room, but these are of little importance. Two little heads of children are by Lelio Orsi da Novellara, a pupil of Correggio, who was highly thought of by contemporaneous writers. A rather weak self-portrait is of Frederico Barocci, who studied under Raphael, but ended in imitating Correggio, whom he could never equal either in natural grace or colouring. Examples by Annibale Carracci and Michelangelo da Caravaggio have the tendency of the decadent stage of Italian art.
Turning now to the Gallery to the right of the entrance we will first note the Spanish paintings, of which there are not many, but some of them are exceptional examples. The first picture that catches our eye on our left, at the side of the door, is a most charming little ” Sleeping Child ” (Plate XLIV), by Murillo. It is apparently an early work, possibly a study for a Christchild. A strong Spanish type is furnished by Pedro de Moya, of Granada, who exerted great influence an Murillo. He came from the school of Castillo at Seville, and is one of the great 17th century Spanish painters.
Matteo Cerezo, a pupil of Carreño de Miranda, ended in imitating the colour of van Dyck, but never with surpassing success. His best subject was the ” Penitent Magdalene,” of which there are examples in the galleries of The Hague, Madrid, Berlin, and in the Czernin. Here the saint is represented as standing in devout attitude before a crucifix.
A magnificent, realistic work is ” The Blind Musician with his Boy,” by Francisco de Herrera, el Viejo. It is a typical Spanish character, such as Velasquez and Murillo have painted, but even these never surpassed its fervour and positiveness. Herrera was the first painter of Andalusia who discarded the old, timid style of painting, and adopted that strong and bold one which his more famous successors refined. He was a man of irritable temperament who bore a bad reputation, even being accused as a false coiner. An example of Riberd need not detain us, since it is far inferior to his work in the Imperial Museum or in the Harrach collection.
The remainder of the paintings in this room are again Dutch and Flemish. The portrait of an old woman, quietly musing, with hands folded on her lap, is scarcely to be assigned to Rembrandt, whose name appears on the tablet. The carmine cap is too raw for the master’s palette. It is rather a school-picture. The same may be said of two works that go under van Dyck’s name, the one a sketch of Neptune, the other a nobleman seated in an armchair. The portrait of a man of fifty, however, bears undubitably the stamp of Rubens. It is a fine performance, broadly and floridly painted. A portrait painted by the impressionable Jan Lievens, and two presentments by Bartolomeus van der Helst, of a patrician couple, bear the stamp of Rembrandt’s school of portraiture. A small female portrait, attributed to Terborch, is not quite up to his mark, nor is it even of sufficient interest to tempt a search for the author.
One of the best of the paintings here is a small picture of a ” Smoker,” by Gabriel Metsu. It is a perfectly natural presentation of a young fellow with a broad flap-hat on his long, black curls, leaning with his left elbow on a table as he holds his Gouda pipe between his lips. He is dressed in the usual costume of a Dutch artisan of the time. This little picture is a perfect example of the only aim of the 17th century Dutch genre painters the sin-cere portrayal of life as it was. With keenness of perception, and without overloading of detail, they rendered a record of the life about them with the fidelity of the historian. Their work has become the best of chronicles, whereby the appearance of Dutch life in the 17th century is better known than that of any other country.
A typical scene of the kind is given by that other historian of the common people, Adriaen Brouwer, who depicts a barber-surgeon examining the wounded arm of a peasant-boy. The attentive, but unfeeling, half-smiling expression of the barber, who gives the pain, and the distorted features of the yelling youth who feels it, form a capital, comical contrast. A few characteristic portrayals of a miser, a bag-pipe player, and a gypsy telling for-tunes to a young swain, are by Teniers. An interesting little genre, by Cornelis Dusart, showing a group of country folk before a cottage, although less fine or forceful than the work of his master van Ostade, is still full of homely beauty and charm.
The third or rear Room is principally devoted to Italian painters. The greatest name among these is Titian, but of the three paintings that bear this name here only one can be considered genuine. This is the superb, heroic-size portrait of Doge Andrea Gritti, in his official robes, wearing the conical shaped Doge cap. It is a broadly painted, vigorous work, with a luminous golden tone.
Of special interest is a Giottesque altarpiece, which came from a cloister near Padua. The life of Christ and scenes from the legends of Mary are depicted on twenty-four panels and eight small medallions. This Trecento fresco is an apt illustration of the revival of art after the dark, mediaeval struggles. Although bound by Gothic conventionalities it displays already imaginative force and invention.
Another Doge portrait is variously ascribed to Tintoretto, Moroni, and Veronese. The fact that each one of these masters has been recognised speaks for the excellence of the work, the true author of which is still unknown. It well serves as a pendant to the Titian. The other Italian paintings have no great names inscribed on the tablets. They furnish, however, creditable examples of the lesser men. Thus we find a good head of Christ from the Leonardo school, that belongs to the master’s closest imitator Andrea Salaino, called Andrea da Milano. It is the only Quattrocento work.
To the High Renaissance belong a few Venetians. Two pupils of Giovanni Bellini show their training. By Rocco Marconi we find a Madonna similar to his Madonnas in Breslau and Strassburg, although our panel is falsely signed with Bellini’s name. Of Marco Marziale, whose works are extremely rare, there is a ” Circumcision of Christ,” in half-figures, which is exceedingly rich in colour. Jacopo’s son, Francesco Bassano, has a characteristic work, ” The Israelites in the Desert.” A ” Cleopatra,” by Alessandro Varotari, called il Padovanino, and a knight’s portrait by his pupil Pietro della Vecchio, show plainly their slavish, sometimes shameless imitation of Giorgione and Tintoretto.
The ” Three Graces,” by the Bolognese Francesco Primaticcio, is an attractive attempt at nude painting, in which we may detect the Raphaelesque in-influence of grace and delicacy, which the artist acquired through Giulio Romano. Primaticcio is, however, best known as the founder of the 16th century Fontainebleau school, after he had emigrated to France, where he died.
A few North Italians still remain to be considered. The Veronese Domenico Riccio, called Brusasorci, or the rat-burner the name is difficult to explain –was the first purely pictorial artist in Italy, not so much in excellence as in point of time. We often find in his work a way of handling contour, mass, and surface, of grouping and co-ordinating, even a dependence upon effects by brush manipulations, that is as modern as the later works of Tiepolo, or of some artists of to-day. This is seen in a ” Christ crowned with Thorns,” in this room.
The sketchy ” Adoration of the Shepherds,” by Bernardino Campi, of Cremona, and ” Abraham’s Sacrifice,” by Cesare Procaccini, are fair examples of second rate artists. The same may be said of a ” John the Baptist,” by Bartolomeo Schedone, whose pictures are very rare, his best work being in portraiture.. We note also a ” St. Sebastian,” by Guercino da Cento, an ” Esther before Ahasuerus,” by Domenichino Zampieri, and an ” Adoration of the Christchild,” by Battista Dosso, in which Titian’s influence is paramount.
The remainder of the space in this room is taken by a few pictures of other schools. A scene depicting the ” Horrors of the Plague ” is by Nicolas Poussin, and is somewhat florid in colouring. Sebastian Bourdon, of whom we have two Biblical subjects, followed in his landscape work more the heavier style of Salvator Rosa. A small triptychon, with the “Birth of Christ,” ascribed to Lucas Cranach, is more likely by an imitator. An ” Adoration of the Christchild” is an exquisite product of the charming Adam Elsheimer.
A variant of Rogier van der Weyden’s ” Presentation in the Temple,” now in the Munich Pinakothek, is unduly marked with the great name of Jan van Eyck. An attractive ” Girl Reading ” is by the unknown artist who goes under the name of the Master of the Female Half-figures. The ” Ecce Homo,” by van Dyck, dates from his Italian journey and Titian’s overwhelming influence. A
Betrothal of Tobith,” by Gaspar de Crayer, is an excellent performance by a man who may well be ranked near to Rubens and Jordaens. He ex-celled in the correctness of his drawing, while his colouring is refined and tender. He avoided the suspicion of superfluity and ostentation which sometimes adheres to the work of Rubens.
The last picture that attracts our attention is by Cornelis Schut, a bright star who shone in the Rubens constellation. His ” Holy Family ” in a wooded landscape is a vigorous, forceful present-ment, although the figures do not possess the grace and unction, nor any of the spiritual feeling which we would associate with the subject.