Four Seasons by Nicolaes Berchem Reunited
The Mauritshuis has acquired three allegorical paintings by Nicolaes Berchem. Together with Allegory of Summer – which has been at the Mauritshuis since 1992 - they form an exceptional ensemble. The series was broken up in the late nineteenth century, but has now been reunited, thanks to the generous support of the BankGiro Lottery and the Rembrandt Association.
Emilie Gordenker, Mauritshuis Director: ‘It was a golden opportunity to be able to bring Berchem’s series of the seasons together again. The series was originally made to be displayed above doors and this is how the works will eventually be seen in the museum too. This acquisition would not have been possible without the support of the BankGiro Loterij and the Vereninging Rembrandt.’
Seasons and Elements
In each painting, a medallion with the personification of the season seated on a chariot appears, pulled along in a procession by a pair of animals. Spring shows Flora, the Roman goddess of spring. Summer is represented by Ceres, god of grain and the harvest. Autumn is personified by Bacchus, god of wine. Finally Winter appears as an elderly man, rather than an ancient god or goddess. Around the medallions, figures and symbols connect the season with one of the four elements: spring with water, summer with fire, autumn with earth and winter with water. Owing to the fact that all the figures are interacting in a playful manner, everything seems to be in motion.
The Haarlem painter Nicolaes Berchem (1621/22-1683) was one of the leading and most productive Italianates: Dutch landscape painters inspired by the Italian landscape and the ‘golden light’ found there. Berchem himself never travelled to Italy, relying instead on the work of fellow countrymen who had. He developed his own style, characterised by fluid brushstrokes, considerable movement, strong colour accents and sober hues. The series of the four seasons comes from the Amsterdam home of Herman van Swoll (1632-1698), a wealthy trader in real estate. Van Swoll commissioned these four paintings as overdoors for his new house on the Herengracht canal.
At the Mauritshuis since 1992: Nicolaes Berchem's Allegory of Summer
A year after Van Swoll’s death, the series was sold by auction. The four paintings remained together for many years, but were separated in the late nineteenth century. Spring always remained in private ownership. Summer was alternately with art dealers in Switzerland and the Netherlands during the 1920s and '30s. In 1934 the painting was part of an exhibition organised by the art dealer D. Katz in Arnhem, as the property of an anonymous collector. In 1944 it was put up for sale at an auction in The Hague by 'Schilderijen en Antiquiteitenhandel v/h D. Katz NV', where it was purchased for the Führermuseum in Linz. After the war, Summer returned to the Netherlands where it became part of the NK-collection. Since 1992, the painting has been on view at the Mauritshuis.
Autumn and Winter always remained together. In 1990, they came into the ownership of the collector Eric Albada Jelgersma, who was also able to acquire Spring in 2013. After his death, the three Berchems were offered for sale to the Mauritshuis at the end of last year. Thanks to the support of the BankGiro Loterij and the Vereniging Rembrandt (thanks to its Themafonds 17de-eeuwse schilderkunst and its Fonds 1931), the series has now been reunited after more than a century apart.
The four reunited works complement each other and form a unique ensemble, which can now be appreciated in its full glory once more. The complete series reveals how wealthy collectors around 1670 decorated their houses with colourful depictions full of mythological figures and symbolism. Which is why the series is particularly at home in the Mauritshuis, itself a seventeenth-century residence. Berchem’s four seasons will be on view in the Mauritshuis’s Potter Room from 18 June. The long-term plan is to display them as originally intended: as ‘overdoors’.More about Provenance research and the NK-Collection.