The Riding School
Signed with monogram, lower right: PLS. W
On panel, 14 x 16 ins. (36 x 41 cm)
Painted circa 1668
The Rev. Walter Davenport Bromley (1787-1863)
By descent in the Bromley-Davenport family, Capesthorne Hall, Cheshire
Private collection, Belgium, 2017
B. Schumacher, Philips Wouwerman: The Horse Painter of the Golden Age, Doornspijk, 2006, vol. I,
p. 177, no. A19, plate 18
Philips Wouwerman treated the subject of the riding school many times throughout his career, for example in the painting in the Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest (i) , which shares with this example a leaping grey horse (almost Wouwerman’s ‘signature’) as the focus of the picture. Birgit Schumacker (op. cit.) dates the present painting circa 1668. By this period Wouwerman had abandoned the warm brown tonality influenced by the work of the ‘Bamboccianto’ painter Pieter van Laer (1599-c.1642) in favour of a more silvery palette enlivened by touches of rich local colour, seen here in the yellow, blue and red costume of the horseman to the right. He had also perfected an elegance of composition and a fluidity in handling paint which allowed him to describe the light on the flank of the beautiful grey horse, the rustling silks of the woman’s dress, and the hazy, distant landscape.
Wouwerman spent most of his life in Haarlem; he may have visited France, but there is no evidence that he travelled to Italy, despite the fascination with the courtly, elegant atmosphere of that country in his work. His figures, as here, inhabit a semi-mythic world of bucolic grace, although they appear in contemporary dress. The Riding School is set on the outskirts of an Italianate walled town with a tumbledown cottage and feathery tree framed in the setting sun.
The central rider is practising the arts of the manège, the formal schooling of a horse. Fine horsemanship was much prized in the baroque era, both as the accomplishment of a gentleman and a practical skill in the days when cavalry were a familiar sight on the roads of Europe. The interest in scientific equitation, practised by the Romans, was revived in the Renaissance with Federico Grisone’s Gli Ordini de Cavalcare (The Rules of Horsemanship) (1561), the basis for subsequent manuals such as Instruction du Roi (1629) by Louis XIII’s riding master Antoine de Pluvinel. The basic moves changed little throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and survive in classical dressage today. The horseman in the painting is practising the Pésade, the first of the Airs Relevez, which teaches a horse to leap gracefully.
Wouwerman was successful in his lifetime and his work was avidly collected in the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century. This painting was owned by the Rev. Walter Davenport Bromley (1787-1863), who inherited Wootton Hall, Staffordshire in 1822 and journeyed to Italy the same year. He built up a fine collection of Old Master, mainly Italian, paintings, including Giovanni Bellini’s Agony in the garden (National Gallery, London) and Giotto’s Dormition of the Virgin (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin).
The eldest son of the painter Pauwels Joostsz. Wouwerman, Philips was baptised in Haarlem on 24 May 1619. His younger brothers, Pieter and Johannes, also became artists and painted in the style of Philips. Wouwerman probably took his first instruction in painting from his father. According to Cornelis de Bie, he subsequently became a pupil of Frans Hals, but there is no trace of Hals’s influence in his work. In 1638, against the wishes of his family, Wouwerman travelled to Hamburg to marry a Catholic girl named Annetje Pietersdr. van Broeckhof. While in Hamburg, he worked briefly in the studio of the German history painter, Evert Decker. By 1640, he had returned to Haarlem where he joined the guild. In 1646 he served as a member of the guild’s executive committee (as vinder or agent). He seems to have remained in Haarlem for the rest of his life. He died on 19 May 1668 and was buried in the Nieuwe Kerk in Haarlem. His wife survived him by less than two years and was interred in St. Bavo’s Church on 24 January 1670.
Though he lived to be only forty-eight years old, Wouwerman was one of the most successful and prolific artists of the Dutch Golden Age and around a thousand works bear his name. He occasionally painted staffage in the landscapes of Jacob van Ruisdael, Jan Wijnants and Cornelis Decker. He had numerous pupils and followers and died a wealthy man, leaving a substantial inheritance to his three sons and four daughters. During the eighteenth century, he became one of the most highly esteemed Dutch painters in Europe: no princely collection was complete without one of his paintings.
i Philips Wouwerman, The Riding School, canvas, 68 x 83 cm, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest.
1619 - Haarlem - 1668
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