Museums

Mauritshuis acquires rare painting

4 Dec 2018

The Mauritshuis in The Hague has acquired an extremely rare painting by Willem Buytewech with the support of the BankGiro Lottery. Only six paintings by the artist are known. With Merry Company on a Terrace from c. 1616-1617, the museum has secured a key work in the development of early Dutch genre painting.

Merry Company on a Terrace from c.1616-1617 is a key work in the development of early Dutch genre painting. The Mauritshuis already had landscapes, still lifes, history paintings and portraits from the early seventeenth century in its collection, but until now there had not been a representative genre piece (a painting that depicts a scene from everyday life). Buytewech portrayed the subject of young people eating, drinking and enjoying themselves with great virtuosity and humour. Several couples are shown gathered around a richly-laid table on an elegant terrace in a palatial setting. The only thing that is not entirely clear is who is with whom and who is flirting with whom? All the figures are dressed in the latest fashions – the women with low-cut necklines and the men in colourful outfits with tall hats. The small monkey on the left plays a key role: he is trying to lift one of the women’s skirts, but the man who might be her partner is thwarting the effort by playing footsie with her.

Willem Buytewech was a prominent artist in early seventeenth-century Haarlem. He was known as ‘Geestige Willem’ (Witty Willem) in his own lifetime, a nickname that alludes both to his witty inventiveness and to the humour in his depictions. A large body of graphic work by him is known (125 drawings and 32 etchings), but only six of his paintings have survived. This new acquisition for the Mauritshuis can justifiably be called a highlight of this small painted oeuvre on account of its virtuosity. With the acquisition of this merry company, the Mauritshuis is now able to illustrate a development that emerged at the start of the Dutch Golden Age. Shortly after 1600, various new subjects appeared in Dutch painting: different kinds of scenes that were taken from everyday life. One of these new subjects were depictions of well-to-do young people ‘hanging out’ together.