1902 Encyclopedia > Ostade

Family of 7th century Dutch painters

OSTADE. The Ostades are Dutch painters of note, whose ancestors were settled at Eyndhoven, near the small village of Ostaden, from which they took their name. Early in the 17th century Jan Hendricx, a weaver, moved with his family from Eyndhoven to Haarlem, where he married and founded a large family. The eldest and youngest of his sons became celebrated artists.

I. ADRIAN OSTADE (1610-1685), the first of Jan Hen-dricx's boys, was born at Haarlem shortly before the 10th December 1610, when he was christened in presence of several witnesses. His death took place on the 27th April, his burial on the 2d May 1685, at Haarlem. According to Houbraken he was taught by Frans Hals, at that time master of Adrian Brouwer. At twenty-six he joined a company of the civic guard at Haarlem ; at twenty-eight he married his first wife, who lived till 1642. He speedily married again, but again became a widower in 1666. Persons curious of matters connected with the lives of famous men may visit the house in the Konigsstraat at Haarlem where Adrian Ostade lived in 1657, or that of the Ridderstraat which he occupied in 1670. He took the highest honours of his profession, the presidency of the painters' guild at Haarlem, in 1662. Amongst the treasures of the Louvre collection, a striking picture represents the father of a large family sitting in state with his wife at his side in a handsomely furnished room, sur-rounded by his son and five daughters, and a young married couple. It is an old tradition that Ostade here painted himself and his children in holiday attire ; yet the style is much too refined for the painter of boors, and pitiless records tell us that Ostade had but one daughter. The number of Ostade's pictures is given by Smith at three hundred and eighty-five. It is probable that he painted many more. At his death the stock of his unsold pieces was over two hundred. His engraved plates were put up to auction, with the pictures, and fifty etched plates—most of them dated 1647-48—were disposed of in 1686. At the present time it is easy to trace two hundred and twenty pictures in public and private collec-tions, of which one hundred and four are signed and dated, seventeen are signed with the name but not with the date, and the rest are accepted as genuine by modern critics.

Adrian Ostade is the contemporary of David Teniers and Adrian Brouwer. Like them he spent his life in the delineation of the homeliest subjects—tavern scenes, village fairs, and country quarters. Between Teniers and Ostade the contrast lies in the different condition of the agri-cultural classes of Brabant and Holland, and the atmo-sphere and dwellings that were peculiar to each region. Brabant has more sun, more comfort, and a higher type of humanity; Teniers, in consequence, is silvery and sparkling; the people he paints are fair specimens of a well-built race. Holland, in the vicinity of Haarlem, seems to have suffered much from war; the air is moist and hazy, and the people, as depicted by Ostade are short, ill-favoured, and marked with the stamp of adversity on their features and dress. Brouwer, who painted the Dutch boor in his frolics and passion, imported more of the spirit of Frans Hals into his delineations than his colleague; but the type is the same as Ostade's, only more animated and vicious. How was it that the disciples of Hals should have fallen into this course, whilst Hals himself drew people of the gentle classes with such distinction 1 It was probably because of his superiority and the monopoly which he and a few colleagues at Haarlem enjoyed that his pupils were forced into a humbler walk, and into this walk Hals was able to lead them, because he was equally able in depicting the strolling waif or fishwife, or the more aristocratic patrician who strutted about in lace collar, with his rapier at his side. But the practice of Hals in this form was confined to the city, or to those wanderers from the country who visited towns. Brouwer and Ostade went to the country itself and lived in the taverns and cottages of peasants, where they got the models for their pictures. Neither of them followed the habits of the artists of the Hague, who took sitters into their studios and made compositions from them. Their sitters were people, unconscious that they sat, taken on the spot and from life, and transferred with cunning art to pictures.

There is less of the style of Hals in Adrian Ostade than in Brouwer, but a great likeness to Brouwer in Ostade's early works. During the first years of his career, Ostade displayed the same tendency to exaggeration and frolic as his comrade. He had humour and boisterous spirits, but he is to be distinguished from his rival by a more general use of the principles of light and shade, and especially by a greater concentration of light on a small surface in con-trast with a broad expanse of gloom. The key of his harmonies remains for a time in the scale of greys. But his treatment is dry and careful, and in this style he shuns no difficulties of detail, representing cottages inside and out, with the vine leaves covering the poorness of the outer side, and nothing inside to deck the patch-work of rafters and thatch, or tumble-down chimneys and ladder staircases, that make up the sordid interior of the Dutch rustic of those days. His men and women, attuned to these needy surroundings, are invariably dressed in the poorest clothes. The hard life and privations of the race are impressed on their shapes and faces, their shoes and hats, worn at heel and battered to softness, as if they had descended from generation to generation, so that the boy of ten seems to wear the cast-off things of his sire and grandsire. It was not easy to get poetry out of such materials. But the greatness of Ostade lies in the fact that he often caught the poetic side of the life of the peasant class, in spite of its ugliness and stunted form and misshapen features. He did so by giving their vulgar sports, their quarrels, even their quieter moods of enjoy-ment, the magic light of the sungleam, and by clothing the wreck of cottages with gay vegetation.

It was natural that, with the tendency to effect which marked Ostade from the first, he should have been fired by emulation to rival the masterpieces of Rembrandt. His early pictures are not so rare but that we can trace how he glided out of one period into the other. Before the dispersion of the Gsell collection at Vienna in 1872, it was easy to study the steel-grey harmonies and exaggerated caricature of his early works in the period intervening between 1632 and 1638. There is a picture of Rustics, dated 1632, in the Kosloff collection at St Petersburg; a Countryman having his Tooth Drawn, in the Belvedere of Vienna, of a similar date though unsigned ; a Bagpiper of 1635 in the Lichtenstein gallery at Vienna; Cottage Scenes of 1635 and 1636, in the museums of Carlsruhe, Darmstadt, and Dresden; Smokers in the House of Count Berchem at Munich; and Card Players of 1637 in the Lichtenstein palace at Vienna, which make up for the loss of the Gsell collection. The same style marks most of those pieces. About 1638 or 1640 the in-fluence of Rembrandt suddenly changed his style, and he painted the Annunciation of the Brunswick museum, where the angels appearing in the sky to Dutch boors half asleep amidst their cattle, sheep, and dogs, in front of a cottage, at once recall the similar subject by Rembrandt, and his effective mode of lighting the principal groups by rays propelled to the earth out of a murky sky. But Ostade was not successful in this effort to vulgarize Scripture. He might have been pardoned had he given dramatic force and expression to his picture ; but his shepherds were only boors without much emotion, passion, or surprise. His picture was a mere effect of light, as such masterly, in its sketchy rubbings, of dark brown tone relieved by strongly impasted lights, but without the very qualities which made his usual subjects attractive. "When, in 1642, he painted the beautiful interior at the Louvre, in which a mother tends her child in a cradle at the side of a great chimney near which her husband is sitting, the darkness of a country loft is dimly illumined by a beam from the sun that shines on the casement; and one might think the painter intended to depict the Nativity, but that there is nothing holy in all the surroundings, nothing attractive indeed except the wonderful Rembrandtesque trans-parency, the brown tone, and the admirable keeping of the minutest parts. The sparkle of Brouwer is not there; nor as yet the concen-trated evenness of such pictures of Rembrandt as the Meditative Philosopher at the Louvre. Yet there is perhaps more conscien-tiousness of detail. Ostade was more at home in a similar effect applied to the commonplace incident of the Slaughtering of a Pig, one of the masterpieces of 1643, once in the Gsell collection at Vienna. In this and similar subjects of previous and succeeding years, he returned to the homely subjects in which his power and wonderful observation made him a master. He never seems to have gone back to gospel illustrations till 1667, when he produced the admirable Nativity of Mr Walter of Bearwood, which is only surpassed as regards arrangement and colour by Rembrandt's Carpenter's Family at the Louvre, or the Woodcutter and Children in the gallery of Cassel. Innumerable almost are the more familiar themes to which he devoted his pencil during this interval, from small single figures, representing smokers or drinkers, to vulgarized allegories of the five senses (Hermitage and Brunswick galleries), halfdengths of fish-mongers and bakers, and cottage brawls, or scenes of gambling, or itinerant players and quacks, and nine-pin players in the open air. The humour in some of these pieces is contagious, as in the Tavern Scene of the Lacaze collection (Louvre, 1653), where a boor squeezes the empty beer-pot in his hands to show that the last drop has been sucked out of it. It would be tedious to enumerate the masterpieces of this kind. But those who have no other opportunities may study with pleasure and advantage the large series of dated pieces which adorn every European capital, from St Petersburg to London. Buckingham Palace has a large store, and many and many a good specimen lies hid in the private collections of England. But if we should select a few as peculiarly worthy of attention, we might point to the Rustics in a Tavern of 1662 at the Hague, the Village School of the same year at the Louvre, the Tavern Court-yard of 1670 at Cassel, the Sportsmen's Rest of 1671 at Amsterdam, and the Fiddler and his Audience of 1673 at the Hague. At Amsterdam we have the likeness of a painter, in a red bonnet and violet coat, sitting with his back to the spectator, at his easel. The colour-grinder is at work in acornar, a pupil prepares a palette, and a black dog sleeps on the ground. The same picture, with the date of 1666, is in the Dresden gallery. Both specimens are supposed to represent Ostade himself. But unfortunately we see the artist's back and not his face. Ostade painted with equal vigour at all times. Two of his latest dated works, the Village Street and Skittle Players in the Ashburton and Ell^smere collections, were executed in 1676 without any sign of declining powers. The prices which he received are not known, but those of the present day are telling when compared with those of the close of last century. Early pictures, which may have been sold by the painter for a few shillings, now fetch £200. Later ones, which were worth £40 in 1750, are now worth £1000, and Earl Dudley gave £4120 for a cottage interior in 1876. The signatures of Ostade vary at different periods. But the first two letters are gene-rally interlaced. Up to 1635 Ostade writes himself Ostaden.—e.g., in the Bagpiper of 1635 in the Lichtenstein collection at Vienna. Later on he uses the long s (f), and occasionally he signs in capital letters (Strauss collection, Vienna, 1647 ; and Hague museum, 1673). His pupils are his own brother Isaac, Cornelis Bega, Cornelis Dusart, and Richard Brakenburg.

II. ISAAC OSTADE (1621-1649) was christened on the 2d of June 1621, at Haarlem. He began his studies under Adrian, with whom he remained till 1641, when he started on his own account. At an early period he felt the influ-ence of Rembrandt, and this is apparent in a Slaughtered Pig of 1639, in the gallery of Augsburg. But he soon reverted to a style more suited to his pencil. He pro-duced pictures in 1641-42 on the lines of his brother,— amongst these, the Five Senses, which Adrian after-wards represented by a Man Reading a Paper, a Peasant Tasting Beer, a Rustic Smearing his Sores with Oint-ment, and a Countryman Sniffing at a Snuff-box. The contract for these pieces was made before 1643, when Leendert, a dealer, summoned him for a breach of his agreement before the burgomaster of Haarlem. The matter was referred to the guild, and evidence was adduced to prove that Isaac had promised in 1641 to deliver six pictures and seven rounds, including the Five Senses, for 27 florins. Isaac, in his defence, urged that he had finished two of the pictures and two of the rounds, which Leendert had seen, but neglected to fetch ; that he had begun the remainder of the series, but that in the meanwhile the value of his works had risen, so that he thought that on that ground alone he was freed from the obligations he had assumed. The guild decided that Isaac was bound to furnish the pictures before Easter 1643. But they reduced the number of the rounds to five, and assessed the price of the whole at 50 florins. A specimen of Isaac's work at this period may be seen in the Laughing Boor with a Pot of Beer, in the museum of Amsterdam; the cottage interior, with two peasants and three children near a fire, in the Berlin museum; a Concert, with people listening to singers accompanied by a piper and flute player, and a Boor Stealing a Kiss from a Woman, in the Lacaze collection at the Louvre. The interior at Berlin is lighted from a casement in the same Rembrandtesque style as Adrian's interior of 1643 at the Louvre. The value of these panels, which we saw estimated in 1643 at two florins apiece, was greatly enhanced in the following century, when the Laughing Boor at Amsterdam was sold for 56 florins. But the low price fixed by the guild of Haarlem must have induced Isaac to give up the practice, in which he could only hope to remain a satellite in the orbit of Adrian, and accordingly we find him gradu-ally abandoning the cottage subjects of his brother for landscapes in the fashion of Esaias Van de Velde and Salomon Ruisdael. Once only, in 1645, he seems to have fallen into the old groove, when he produced the Slaughtered Pig, with the boy puffing out a bladder, in the museum of Lille. But this was a mere accident. Isaac's progress in the new path which he had cut out for himself was greatly facilitated by his previous experience as a figure painter; and, although he now selected his subjects either from village high streets or frozen canals, he was enabled to give fresh life and animation to the scenes he depicted by groups of people full of movement and animation, which he relieved in their coarse humours and sordid appearance by a refined and searching study of picturesque contrasts. Unfortunately he did not live long enough to bring his art to the highest perfection. He died at twenty-eight, on the 16th October 1649.

The first manifestation of Isaac's surrender of Adrian's style is apparent in 1644 when the skating and sledging scenes were executed which we see in the Lacaze collection and the galleries of the Hermitage, Antwerp, and Lille. Three of these examples bear the artist's name, spelt Isack van Ostade, and the dates of 1644 and 1645. The road-side inns, with halts of travellers, form a compact series from 1646 to 1649. In this, the last form of his art, Isaac has very distinct peculiarities. The air which pervades his composition is warm and sunny, yet mellow and hazy, as if the sky were veiled with a vapour coloured by moor smoke. The trees are rubbings of umber, in which the prominent foliage is tipped with touches hardened in a liquid state by amber varnish mediums. The same principle applied to details such as glazed bricks or rents in the mud lining of cottages gives an unreal and conventional stamp to those particular parts. But these blemishes are forgotten when one looks at the broad contrasts of light and shade and the masterly figures of steeds and riders, and travellers and rustics, or quarrelling children and dogs, poultry, and cattle, amongst which a favourite place is always given to the white horse, who seems as invariable an accompaniment as the grey in the skirmishes and fairs of Wouvermans. But it is in winter scenes that Isaac displays the best qualities. The absence of foliage, the crisp atmosphere, the calm air of cold January days, unsullied by smoke or vapour, preclude the use of the brown tinge, and leave the painter no choice but to ring the changes on opal tints of great variety, upon which the figures come out with masterly effect on the light background upon which they are thrown. Amongst the road-side inns which will best repay attention we should notice those of Buckingham Palace, the National Gallery, the Wallace, Ellesmere, Ashburton, Holford, Robarts, and Bearwood collections in England, and those of the Louvre, Berlin, Hermitage, and Rotterdam museums and the Rothschild collections at "Vienna on the Continent. The finest of the ice scenes is the famous one at the Louvre. (J. A. C.)

The above article was written by: J. A. Crowe, author of Early Flemish Painters.

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