THE BERCKHEYDE BROTHERS
The launch of our new website seemed a good moment to shine a light on the talented brothers, Job and Gerrit Berckheyde, as we have works by both of them in our current inventory. Gerrit is represented by an atmospheric painting of the Kleine Houtpoort, one of Haarlem’s old city gates, and Job is represented by a small, intimate genre piece depicting a man reading the newspaper.
In the 17th-century Dutch Republic painting was often a family affair. The sons of painters usually received some or all of their artistic training from their father, or another relation, or a family friend: many artists married the daughters or sisters of their colleagues. With some notable exceptions, artists were rarely drawn from the ranks of the regent classes or wealthy merchants, rather they belonged to the less prosperous middle classes, encompassing tradesmen, artisans and lesser merchants. In the larger artistic centres, such as Haarlem, Amsterdam, Leiden, Delft and Utrecht, artists formed close-knit communities in which family connections were reinforced by professional ones. For artists, this most often took the form of guild membership, since in order to be able to sell their work in a particular city, they had to belong to the local painters’ guilds.
From the documentary records, we are able to build up quite a detailed picture of the private and professional lives of the Berckheyde brothers. Sons of the butcher Adriaen Joppen Berckheyde, they were born in Haarlem and baptised in the Reformed Church. Job, born in 1630, was the eldest son of seven children, while Gerrit, who was the second youngest of the family, was born eight years later. Job became a pupil of the Haarlem landscape and history painter Jacob de Wet, and subsequently taught his younger brother Gerrit to paint. Sometime in the mid-1650s, the two young painters made an extended trip to Germany, by then a popular destination for Dutch artists who were keen to see something of the world, but were not willing to make the arduous journey to Italy. The two brothers travelled along the Rhine, visiting Cologne, Mannheim, Bonn and finally Heidelberg, where they found employment at the court of Karl-Ludwig, Elector of the Palatinate. Very little is known of their work from this time, but it evidently pleased their princely patron, who rewarded them both with gold medals, such as that worn by Job in his self-portrait in the Frans Hals Museum.
After returning to The Netherlands, Job and Gerrit settled in Haarlem and joined the Guild of St. Luke. For much of their adult lives, they shared a house in the St. Jansstraat with an unmarried sister, and possibly a studio as well. According to the artists’ biographer Arnold Houbraken, neither brother ever married. In addition to their artistic activities, Gerrit and Job became involved with the local Rhetoricians’ Chamber (drama group) De Wijngaardranken (The Vine Branch), an association to which many artists belonged. At various times in the 1680s and 1690s, they both held offices in the painters’ guild. Sometime in the mid-1680s, Job moved to Amsterdam where he joined the local guild. Although there is no record of his place of death, he was buried the St. Janskerk in Haarlem on 27th November 1693. Houbraken tells us that five years later, upon leaving the garden of the Haarlem art lover Alexander de Vos, Gerrit fell into Brouwersvaart and drowned. Like his brother, he was laid to rest in the St. Janskerk in his hometown. Both were given expensive funerals, suggesting that they had prospered.
Although the two brothers had a close relationship, they seem to have had very different personalities. Houbraken characterised Job as ambitious and impulsive, while Gerrit was modest and meticulous[i]. The brothers also followed somewhat different artistic paths. From the outset, Gerrit focused on architectural subjects, pioneering the development of the townscape as an independent genre. By far the larger part of his oeuvre is devoted to city views in Haarlem, Amsterdam and The Hague, although he also painted views of German cities. Whilst his Dutch views are invariably true to life, his German townscapes often contain imaginary elements. By contrast, Job deployed his talents in a variety of genres, including cityscapes, church interiors, still lifes, history paintings, genre scenes and even portraits.
We know very little about the type of people who originally purchased the brothers’ work. For the most part, their paintings were probably produced for the open market. Judging from Gerrit’s numerous depictions of Haarlem’s Groote Markt and the cathedral of St. Bavo there was a considerable demand for views of such well-known landmarks. However, the exceptionally large size, or unusual subject matter of some of his paintings, point to them have been individually commissioned works. For example, two early works, which have recently come to light, depict the premises of Haarlem breweries, suggesting that Gerrit enjoyed the patronage of certain members of Haarlem’s wealthy brewing elite early in his career. One of them depicting a view of the Bakenessergracht with the “De Passer en de Valk” brewery was recently acquired by the Frans Hals Museum[ii], while the other showing the brewery “De Drie Klaveren” (The Three Clubs) on the River Spaarne is now in a private European collection (see our Notable Sales). In both of them the probable brewery owner and commissioner of the painting features among the figures in the foreground.
[i] Information taken from Van der Willigen/De Kinkelder (typescript 1993/1998) in the biographical details on the artist held in the RKD, Netherlands Institute for Art History, The Hague.
[ii] Gerrit Adriaensz. Berckheyde, View on the Bakenessergracht with the De Passer en de Valk brewery, dated 1662, oil on canvas, inv. no. os 2018-3.