Aert Schouman (Dordrecht 1710 – 1792 The Hague) after Jan Steen (Leiden 1626 – 1679 Amsterdam)
A Man and Woman at the Window of a Tavern
Watercolour, traces of black chalk, brown ink framing lines, 168 x 129 mm (6.6 x 5.1 inch)
Inscribed ‘A. Schouman’ (pencil, verso)
Professor Johan Quirijn van Regteren Altena, Amsterdam (1899–1980), until sold by his descendants in 2015 (his collector’s mark applied on the verso)
Herdenkingstentoonstelling Aart Schouman 1710-1792, Dordrecht (Dordrechts Museum) 1960, p. 53, no. 31
Aert Schouman was highly productive and worked in a wide variety of media, including painting and drawing, printmaking and glass engraving.1 He was also active as an art dealer, like many of his fellow artists at the time. He trained in Dordrecht under the genre and portrait painter Adriaen van der Burgh (1693–1733), before teaching drawing in his native town, and subsequently in Middelburg and The Hague. In addition to portrait commissions, he painted decorative works such as chimneypieces and wall-hangings. He also produced a large number of watercolour drawings, including landscapes and topographical views. However it were his studies of plants and animals for which he was most celebrated. His lively watercolours of birds make him one of the greatest animaliers of the eighteenth century.
Schouman was an exceptionally accomplished watercolourist. In addition to his original watercolours he specialised in making watercolour ‘natekeningen’, copy drawings, of famous paintings from the Golden Age. These drawings, both in colour and in grey wash, were considered as works of art in their own right, in which the artist transformed oil paintings into watercolour equivalents.
Schouman’s contemporaries held his ‘natekeningen’ in such high regard that they often received even higher praise than his original works.2 In 1751, Johan van Gool praised Schouman for his ability to emulate the different styles of earlier masters: ‘die hy, in elk zynen aert en manier, zo wel weet te volgen,dat een kunstkundig oog het met den eersten opslag nauelyks kan ontwaer worden, of voor eige werk van den Meester aanziet.’3 In 1792 the collector Cornelis Ploos van Amstel (1726–1798) wrote an obituary for Schouman, in which he praised the originality and ‘gemaklyke ongedwongenheid’ of Schouman’s copies, ‘zonder slaafsche zwaarmoedigheid’, translating rather than copying his originals.4 In the words of Ploos, Schouman was able to: ‘de genie, het vuur, de kracht … uit de taal der Olywerven, in de taal der Waterverwen, heeft weeten over te brengen’.5 Schouman is even credited with having invented a special technique, halfway between watercolour and bodycolour, which enabled him to produce even more satisfying results.
Here Schouman has taken a composition by Jan Steen as his model, At the Inn ‘The Three Owls’. Steen’s original is lost, but the composition is known from at least three early copies, such as that offered at Christie’s in 1978, which includes extra figures (see fig.).6 Schouman was an admirer of Jan Steen – at least two copies after other pictures by the 17th-century artist are known.7
1. For the artist, see: L.J. Bol, Aart Schouman, Ingenious painter and draughtsman, Doornspijk 1991.
2. See Nathalie Dufais, ‘Een bijzondere opdracht: zestien kopieën in aquarel van Aert Schouman in opdracht van Cornelis Ploos van Amstel’, Bijdragen voor Rudi Ekkart bij zijn afscheid als directeur van het RKD, The Hague 2012, pp. 33-38.
3. ‘…which he, in the style and manner of each, could follow so closely, that the eye of a connoisseur could hardly grasp the difference at first glance, or would consider it the work of the master himself’, Johan van Gool, De Nieuwe Schouburg der Nederlantsche kunstschilders en schilderessen, The Hague 1751, vol. II, p. 352.
4. ‘natural ease’, ‘without slavish dreariness’, Cornelis J. Cz. Ploos van Amstel, ‘Schets van het leeven en de verrichtingen van den Heere Aert Schouman, als Konstschilder Beschouwd’, Algemeene Vaderlandsche Letter-oefeningen, Amsterdam 1792, pp. 436-38.
5. ‘the genius, the fire, the power … from the language of oil painting, has been able to transfer to the language of watercolour painting.’; Ploos van Amstel, loc. cit.
6. Oil on panel, 29.5 x 24.5 cm; Christie’s, London, 7 July 1978; K. Braun, Alle tot nu toe bekende schilderijen van Jan Steen, Rotterdam 1980, p. 174, no. B-192.
7. Children making Pancakes, watercolour, 273 x 233 mm, after the picture by Steen when it was in the Braamcamp collection, Sotheby’s, Amsterdam, 9 November 1999, lot 179, repr.; ‘The Poultry Yard’, watercolour, 416 x 335 mm, after the picture by Steen in the Mauritshuis, The Hague, Christie’s, Amsterdam, 25 November 1992, lot 646, repr.Request more information »