Henry and June “Jimmy” Weldon amassed a fascinating collection of Flemish and Dutch old master paintings over 60 years of passionate collecting. Around 2002 I had the good fortune to meet Jimmy and was invited to her apartment to look at their paintings. Later in 2004, I uncovered an undocumented van Dyck head sketch, and it was to the Weldon’s I went to make the comparison between their studies by the great master and mine to then ultimately present mine at auction with a full attribution to the artist. The Weldon’s were this type of people – fervent, loving collectors that gregariously shared their collection with those with an equal passion for Dutch and Flemish art. “Jimmy” outlived Henry and passed away in her 90s last year. It is with great merit that Sotheby’s is selling the Weldon Collection on 22 April.
Dutch old master paintings are quite unlike any other type within the old master genre. Most commonly referring to the works of Dutch artists of the 17th and 18th centuries, paintings of this school and time period came about from a break in the patterns of commissions and collecting that had, to that point in history, gripped European fine art for centuries. Art was no longer for only Kings and Princes, Popes or Prelates, but for the common people and merchants of Holland who now had the means to buy and hang art in their homes – the first instance of democratization of art.
And so Dutch old master paintings became popular because it was what people wanted in their house – mostly observations and depictions of everyday “simple” life, whether it was skaters on a frozen river or laborers walking to work, flowers in a vase or berries in a bowl. Though not devoid of religious messages, 17th century art of Holland and Flanders “came down” a notch and was therefore easier for the Calvinist Dutch to enjoy – a characteristic appreciated by international old master collectors today.
Hendrick Avercamp winter scenes are truly rare in today’s marketplace and lot 6 in the Weldon sale has a remarkable little gem of life in the northern Netherlands with people of all types and classes – some fishing, some skating and playing “kolf” and still others taking a stroll with the family. Lot 38, Aelbert Cuyp’s panoramic landscape of travelers hanging out and taking in the town views of Opheusden is wonderful.
The intrepid Dutch made it all the way to Brazil in the 17th century and lot 41, an exquisite composition by Frans Post of village life, doesn’t disappoint. The carefully staged arrangement includes an armadillo and an anteater, ruins and figures of both slaves and natives set in the lush greenery of northeast Brazil.
Still lives are some of my personal favorite Dutch old master paintings and the Weldon sale has a number of superb examples. Lot 67, Adriaen Coorte’s strawberries on a ledge set against a plain dark background is frankly beyond words for its restraint and simplicity. Ambrossius Bosschaert the Elder’s still life with flowers (lot 71) is painted on a small copper plate that allows the paint to remain on the surface and maintain its luminosity. Aside from the “distracting” bumblebee, dragonfly and caterpillar, the focus is on rare flowers carefully arranged to their best advantage.
Subject aside, one of the aspects that keeps fascinating viewers of Dutch old master paintings to this day is the obsessive representation of details – for example, dew drops on a flower – and the depiction of “atmosphere” – where light befalls a body of water, fabric, floor or face. If you have the interest, you really won’t want to miss looking at the offerings from the Weldon Collection. It’s hard to find a private collection of paintings of this caliber for sale today.
Richard Rabel is a New York Interior Designer and Principal at Richard Rabel: Interiors+ Art, a studio offering residential design, decorating and art advising.
image credits: Sotheby’s New York. The Weldon Sale of Dutch Old Master Paintings is scheduled for 22 April 2015 and is on public view from 17-21 April in New York.