A Landscape in Brazil
Frans Jansz. Post
Signed, lower left: F. POST
On panel, 8 x 10½ ins. (20.3 x 26.6 cm)
European private collection
By descent within the family since the eighteenth century
Q. Buvelot, ‘Review of P. and B. Correa do Lago, Frans Post, 1612-1680: catalogue raisonné', in The Burlington Magazine, vol. CL, no. 1259, February 2008, p. 117, n. 2
The Haarlem painter Frans Post occupies a unique position in Dutch seventeenth-century art. The first professionally trained European artist to paint the landscape of the New World, as far as we know, he devoted his entire production to views of Brazil.
In 1630, the Dutch seized control of the Portuguese settlement in north-eastern Brazil. The young Prince Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen (1604-1679) was appointed Governor General of the new territory and charged with establishing a secure footing for the Dutch West India Company. On 25 October 1636, he set sail for South America accompanied by a team of artists and scientists, including the landscapist Frans Post and the figure painter Albert Eckhout (c. 1610-1665). The expedition arrived at Recife in January the following year. Post remained there for seven years, during which time he made a visual record of the flora and fauna, as well as the topography of the region, before returning to the Netherlands in 1644. Yet of the many paintings and drawings made during his South American sojourn, only seven paintings and a sketchbook, preserved in the Scheepvaart Museum, in Amsterdam, survive today.
Back in Haarlem, Post continued painting views of Brazil, based on the material he had amassed during his time abroad, as well as his recollections of the exotic scenery. Apparently there was an enthusiastic market for his works and his prices were relatively high. Among the admirers of his Brazilian landscapes was the Stadholder Frederik Hendrik, who in 1644 and 1650 paid handsomely for paintings by Post.
The paintings which survive from Post’s period in Brazil can be distinguished from his later paintings by their topographical fidelity and somewhat primitive character. After his return to Holland, the simplicity and directness of these early works gradually made way for a more elaborately contrived approach and a reliance upon traditional compositional formulae. In his later paintings, Post frequently took liberties with the topography of the region, reusing and adapting motifs to suit his picture-making, while focusing his attention on capturing the exotic flavour of the tropical terrain and its inhabitants. Post’s Brazilian views evidently satisfied a demand for depictions of faraway lands, populated by exotic natives, animals and plants. His pictures may also have aroused patriotic sentiments in Dutchmen who liked to be reminded of their nation’s imperial triumphs overseas.
This small panel is one of two paintings from the same family collection which have only recently come to light. The other, slightly larger in size and dated 1663, was with Johnny Van Haeften in 2013 (i). Both were discovered shortly after the English edition of Pedro and Bea Corrêa do Lago’s recent catalogue raisonné of Post’s work had gone to press (ii). Like the dated panel of 1663, the present painting seems to belong to what the Correa do Logos have defined as the “third phase” of Post’s career – the years from 1661-1669 – which they characterise as the “most brilliant and prolific of the artist’s career”(iii).
Like most of Post’s paintings from this period, the location of the present scene cannot be identified and is in all probability imaginary. Nevertheless, the large-leafed vegetation in the foreground, the palm trees on the hill and the small native figures, immediately evoke the exotic flavour of Brazil. The building on the left is almost certainly a sugar mill, a structure probably erected by the Portuguese but subsequently taken over by the Dutch colonists. Similar sugar mills, constructed of local limestone arcading, with open gable-ends, feature in many of Post’s Brazilian paintings. One depicted in great detail appears in a painting of 1644, painted for Johan Maurits, and now in the Musée du Louvre, in Paris (iv). The building on the hill to the left is probably the mill-owner’s house. A similar hip-gabled house, with an open veranda on the first floor, can be seen in a sugar mill painting in Recife, Instituto Ricardo Brennand (v). The structure perched on top of the hill to the right is a chapel, also probably of Portuguese origin. Similar simple chapel buildings, with open porches, occur in several of Post’s landscapes of the 1660s.
The son of the Haarlem glass painter Jan Jansz. Post (d. 1614) and
younger brother of the painter and architect Pieter Post (1608-69),
Frans Post was born around 1612 in Haarlem. In 1636, he went to Brazil
in the entourage of Prince Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen. The party
arrived at Recife in January 1637. During his seven-year stay in the
Dutch colony Post executed many paintings and drawings for his patron.
In 1644, Frans returned to The Netherlands and settled permanently in
Haarlem. In 1646, he joined the Haarlem painters’ guild, serving as
vinder in 1656/57 and penningmeester in 1658. Post designed
illustrations for Caspar van Baerle’s treatise on the administration of
Johan Maurits in Brazil entitled Rerum per octennium in Brasilia,
published in Amsterdam in 1647. On 27 March 1650, he married Jannetje
Bogaert, the daughter of a schoolmaster, in Zandvoort. The couple had
five children. Post joined the Reformed Church on 9 October 1654. His
last dated painting is of 1669, and he does not appear to have worked in
the last decade of his life, when he is described as “having fallen to
drinking and become shaky”(vi). Post was buried in Haarlem’s Grote Kerk
on 17 February 1680.
i Frans Post, A Landscape in Brazil, signed and dated 1663, on panel, 22.9 x 28.6 cm.
ii P. and B. Corrêa do Lago, Frans Post (1612-1680), Milan, 2007.
iii Idem, p. 190.
iv Idem, p. 216, no. 59, reproduced.
v Idem, p. 292, no. 114, reproduced.
vi Report of Jacob Cohen, 9 January 1679, quoted in Joachim de Sousa-Leão, Frans Post 1612-1680, Amsterdam, 1973, p. 32.
Frans Jansz. Post
c. 1612 – Haarlem - 1680
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