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Abraham Beerstraten (1643 - Amsterdam - 1665) or Anthonie Beerstraten (active mid-17th century)

A Winter Landscape with Skaters on a frozen Lake before Poelgeest Castle, near Leiden

Abraham Beerstraten (1643 - Amsterdam - 1665) or Anthonie Beerstraten (active mid-17th century)

Signed, lower right: A. Beerstraten
Oil on canvas, 33½ x 51½ ins. (85.1 x 130.8 cm)

CS301


Provenance

Sale, Palais de Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 9 March 1953, lot 4, where
Described incorrectly as the “château de Buren” (according to the RKD)
Sale, Millon & Associés, Paris, 13 December, 2013, Lot 7
With Pieter de Boer, Amsterdam, 2014
Private collection, Scotland, until 2016


Essay

A frozen waterway before an imposing castle provides the backdrop for lively diversions upon the ice.  Tall leafless trees frame the scene on either side.  In the background, a sizeable church, houses and some other buildings may be seen.  People of all types have turned out to enjoy the activities offered by the season: some gather on the ice to socialise, while others skate, or play kolf.  A small child propels itself about on a prikslee and a man takes a ride on a sledge.  On the right, townsfolk, wrapped up warmly against the cold, walk briskly along a well-worn track in the snow.  Overhead, banks of dark, blustery clouds hold the promise of further snow.  

Several members of the Beerstraten (spelt in a variety of ways) family of painters worked in Amsterdam in the middle of the seventeenth century.  The most prominent member of the family was Jan Abrahamsz. Beerstraten (1622-1666).  The son of Abraham Danielsz. Beerstraten, a cloth-weaver from Emden, he specialised in depicting winter views of towns and idealised Mediterranean seaports.  Amsterdam was his main subject, but he also depicted many smaller towns and villages nearby.  There is often a strong architectural component in his paintings.  In 1642, he married Magdalena Bronkhorst, by whom he had five children: Abraham (born in 1644), Johannes (1653), Jacobus (1658), Magdalena (1660) and Daniel (1661).  The eldest son, Abraham, and his younger brother Johannes, both followed in their father’s footsteps, becoming painters.  Like his father, Abraham specialised in marines and views of towns and villages, usually in winter.  Very little is known about his life: the last mention of his name occurs in a deed of 1665 in which the twenty-one-year old painter is cited as a beneficiary of his mother’s estate.  Abraham signed his paintings A Beerstraten, but it appears that another painter, Anthonie Beerstraten, also signed his paintings in a similar manner.  To add to the confusion Anthonie painted very much the same subjects as Abraham in a similar style.  There are no archival references regarding the life of Anthonie.  The only record of a person of that name was a son born to Jan Abrahamsz. Beerstraten and Magdalena Bronckhorst, who was baptised on 4 February 1646 in the New Church in Amsterdam, but he seems to have died at an early age.  Indeed the only indication of the existence of a painter named Anthonie Beerstraten seems to be a few fully signed paintings: some have even dubbed him the “phantom painter Beerstraten” (i).  Nothing is known of the other brother Johannes.   

Despite the difficulty in establishing the individual identities of the various members of the family, it is clear that at least two, or maybe three or more members of the Beerstraten family were involved in running a busy workshop.  When Jan Abrahamsz. died in 1666, the inventory of his estate, drawn up on 15th April 1667, lists a large collection of paintings by such artists as Jacob Esselens, Jan Porcellis, Philips Wouwerman, Jan van der Heyden and Pieter de Hooch, suggesting that he may also have been an art dealer, as well as 40 wooden panels ready for painting, “7 canvases on stretchers” and “three canvases on which he [had] started to work” (ii).  He also left a significant number of drawings, prints and books.  With this legacy, the younger generation were no doubt well placed to continue with the production of works in a similar vein to those by Jan Abrahamsz. for which there must have been a ready market.  Indeed it seems that individuality was of much less importance than consistency of style and subject matter.

Whether by Abraham Beerstraten, or the elusive Anthonie, this attractive painting exemplifies their winter scenes that feature elegant figures amusing themselves on the ice before a backdrop of buildings.  The composition shows the influence of the Flemish tradition of landscape painting on its counterpart in the Northern Netherlands.  Owing to the influx of Flemish immigrants in the late sixteenth century, this style flourished in the Dutch Republic especially in Amsterdam.  Characteristics of this style include the anecdotal nature of the scene and the tall trees that function as repoussoirs in the foreground.  

The view depicted here is of Groot Poelgeest Castle (also known as the Huis Te Horn), situated on an island in the Rhine at Koudekerk, where the Luttike Rhine flows into the Old Rhine.  Although the site of the castle remains much as it was in the seventeenth century, little remains today of the actual building: only the foundations, the small octagonal tower – visible in the present painting – that formed part of the gatehouse, and the coach house, built in 1645.   

The precise date of the original fortification is unknown, as all documentation concerning it seems to have been destroyed with the castle in 1417.  It is, however, documented in 1326, when Dirk van Poelgeest took up residence there.  Its subsequent history is particularly eventful: it was razed on two further occasions, in 1489 and a century later, when Spanish troops occupied it and then pillaged it wholesale, leaving an uninhabitable wreck.  The subsequent restoration, which added the covered gatehouse and towers, left the castle as seen in this painting.  The building appears in other works by members of the Beerstraten family: one is to be found in the National Museum in Warsaw and another, signed ‘A. Beerstraten’ and dated 1665, showing the castle from a different direction, was sold at Christies, in London, on 10 July, 1998 (iii).  Another version of the present composition, but with different staffage, was with the Van Haeften Gallery, in London, in 2014 (iv).

P.M.


 
i  G. van der Most, Jan Abrahamsz., Abraham, Anthonie Beerstraten: kunstschilders uit de zeventiende eeuw, Noorden, 2002, p. 61.  
ii Information taken form Jeroen Giltaij and Jan Kelch, Praise of Ships and the Sea: The Dutch Marine Painters of the 17th century, Rotterdam & Berlin, 1997, p. 269.
iii Jan Abrahamsz. Beerstraten, A View of Poelgeest Castle, signed and dated A. Beerstraaten fe 1665, on canvas, 94 x 128 cm, Christie’s, London, 10 July 1998, lot. 25.  
iv Abraham or Anthonie Beerstraten, A Winter Landscape with Skaters before Poelgeest Castle, near Leiden, signed A. Beerstraten, on canvas, 93 x 128.9 cm


Abraham Beerstraten (1643 - Amsterdam - 1665) or Anthonie Beerstraten (active mid-17th century)

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