Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Mysterious Landscapes of Hercules Segers

I had a list of exhibitions I wanted to see in New York and “The Mysterious Landscapes of Hercules Segers” (ca. 1590 – ca. 1638) an exhibition in the drawings galleries at the Metropolitan Museum was certainly not at the top.  The last thing I expected was to be blown away by it.  I have always thought of the artist as a draughtsman of very delicate drawings, which had a great influence on, Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) who owned eight of Segers’ paintings and even reworked his prints.  It was not just Rembrandt who was influenced by Segers but others such as Jan Ruyscher and Philips Koninck.  Obviously, anyone who came into Rembrandt’s studio would have seen Segers’ work.

Sometime prior to 1652 Rembrandt acquired Segers original plate for his print of “Tobias and the Angel”.   He decided, however, to rework the plate and subsequently it the Rembrandt version shows “The Flight into Egypt”.  The former print lent by the Rijksmuseum, the latter from the Metropolitan.

“Mountain Landscape with a Distant View”  (1620-1625), oil on canvas laid down on panel by Segers, was believed for a long time to be by Rembrandt, and it is still thought possible that the latter added some of his own touches to the picture.

The exhibition does an excellent job of showing what a great innovator Segers was.   It was done in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum which has more works by the artist than any other institution. The show opened in Amsterdam last fall. This is Segers first solo exhibition in U.S. and the first anywhere to represent all the media he used. 

Segers was so popular in his own time that you would think that his history would be well recorded.  This, however, is not the case.  In fact, very little is known about him for certain.   He was born in Haarlem and at the age of six he moved to Amsterdam and in 1631 being in debt he moved to Utrecht and became an art dealer.  He must have sold enough to take care of his debts so he moved to the Hague where he stayed until his death.  It is probable that he never travelled further than Brussels and, if this is the case, he could never have seen the large river landscapes, castles and mountains that he represented in his work.

He created drawings, paintings and prints and then came up with the innovation of painted prints.  Like every artist there were influences from other artists and two of those were Pieter Breughel and Durer.  This etching titled “Mountain Valley with Fenced Fields” (1625-1630) is printed in blue but in different versions he painted the sky to indicate the time of day.

He was daring doing things no one had ever done before.  There are twenty-two impressions of this print, “The Enclosed Valley” (1625-1630):  ten were done on cloth; others on different colored papers using different colored inks.

Not all of Segers’ art was fantasy and here is a print he did from his window, which is accurate down to the shutters.

There is a two-volume catalog for the show, which I could hardly lift but could not purchase, since it was still on back order.  The Met had sold out the first two orders and had ordered a third but were still not sure if it could be supplied! 

This exhibition is a unique opportunity and well worth taking advantage of.  If you go
don’t miss the excellent 4 minute video that introduces the exhibition.  It helps a great deal in understanding the show.  If you cannot wait, however, you can also view it below:

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