John and Marine van Vlissingen Collection

En route ! Dutch Landscape Drawings

from 30 January to 30 April 2016

The Fondation Custodia is staging an exhibition of the impressive collection of old master drawings owned by John Fentener van Vlissingen and his wife Marine, Comtesse de Pourtalès. This exhibition, which ran at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam during the summer of 2015, features 100 drawings with ‘travelling’ as the theme – from sheets by seventeenth-century artists such as Rembrandt and Jacob van Ruisdael to nineteenth-century works by the generation that included Josephus August Knip (1777-1847).

Over a period of fifty years John and Marine van Vlissingen have meticulously compiled a collection of landscape drawings by Dutch and Flemish artists who depicted nature, not only in the Netherlands but also in France, Italy, England and Africa.

Dutch artists have always been known as enthusiastic travellers. During the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries they travelled the world on horseback, by stagecoach, by barge and on foot. In their drawings they captured the great diversity of landscapes they passed through. For the artists who did not have the opportunity, the courage or the wherewithal to undertake such trips, the work of those artists who did travel was extremely valuable. For the first time in art history the landscape was not regarded as a background for biblical and mythological scenes, but as a subject in its own right.

Rembrandt (1606-1669) probably never left the Netherlands, but he often drew nature, chiefly around Amsterdam. The sheet in the exhibition in the Fondation Custodia, Rampart near the Anthony’s Gate, Amsterdam, is one of a splendid series of landscapes he made between 1648 and 1652, which for a long time were in the Duke of Devonshire’s collection at Chatsworth. As in many works from the same period, Rembrandt depicted the landscape in a flawlessly simple manner, using only a reed pen, brown ink and a brown wash, a technique that lends the work rare clarity and extraordinary balance.

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606-1669)
Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606-1669)
Rampart near the Saint Anthony’s Gate, Amsterdam, c. 1648 – 1652
Pen and brown ink, with brown wash, 142 × 182 mm
John and Marine van Vlissingen Art Foundation

This drawing hangs in the same room in the Fondation Custodia as View of the Hogesluis beside the Amstel, Amsterdam by Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/29-1682). It is a magnificent example of the artist’s refined style. Three other sheets from his Amstel series have survived; two in the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the third in the Kunsthalle in Bremen. With the low horizon and impressive clouds, the drawing makes a powerful impression. The lift bridge, the bridge in the distance and the five windmills are typical of the Dutch landscape, but finding a concentration like this in one composition is exceptional.

Like many of his compatriots from the Southern Netherlands, Lodewijk Toeput – called Pozzoserrato (1550-1603/5) – left Flanders to travel to Italy and escape the Spanish occupation. He arrived in Venice around 1573 and set himself up in Treviso, where he remained for the rest of his life. Pozzoserrato made the Panoramic Landscape soon after his arrival there. It was probably intended for a set of illustrations of the months of the year or the four seasons. The subject, technique and style bear a strong resemblance to the larger drawing of the Allegory of Winter, now in the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven.

Hendrick Avercamp’s watercolour of boats on a calm sea might have been designed to reflect the title of this exhibition – En route ! Avercamp was highly adept at creating a strong effect with minimal resources.

The Church interior by Pieter Saenredam (1597-1665) is a very recent addition to the Van Vlissingen Collection. It was acquired with the Atlas Munnicks van Cleeff, which contains primarily topographical scenes in the city and province of Utrecht.

Willem Schellinks’s panoramic drawing of a view of Valetta (Malta) with annotations in the artist’s handwriting was also acquired only recently from the I.Q. van Regteren Altena Collection.

Hermanus Numan (1744-1820) was one of the leading Dutch watercolourists of the eighteenth century. He painted many country estates and parks, and in the 1780s made this subject his speciality. The two watercolours in the exhibition – of an orangery in a park with a pond – are very sophisticated examples of his talent. These sheets are part of a larger series, as we know from a third watercolour, now in the Albertina in Vienna. With identical dimensions, it is a frontal view of the same orangery. A fourth view came to light recently: a drawn preliminary study the artist made in the open air. The drawing and the watercolours are displayed together in the exhibition.

In Landscape near Galloro with a Fountain by Josephus Augustus Knip (1777-1847) we see Italy again. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, foreign artists living in Rome moved out of the city during the summer months, attracted by the peace and quiet of the Roman countryside with its picturesque hills and shady forests. Knip made a large number of studies from nature that attest to his talent as a watercolourist. Here he drew the path that led to the shrine of Santa Maria di Galloro, near Lake Albano and Lake Nemi to the southeast of Rome. Unlike most of Knip’s landscapes and panoramas, which he occasionally executed on mounted sheets of paper, parts of which he left unfinished, Landscape near Galloro was fully worked up in watercolour.

Like an echo of Paysages de France, an exhibition staged by the Fondation Custodia in 2006, the current exhibition also includes Dutch drawings made in France in the seventeenth century. One of them, attributed to Jan Wils or his son Joan, is Houses on a Cliff below the Castle of Francheville, near Lyon.

France is also represented with View of the District of Vertais in Nantes by Lambert Doomer (1624-1700) and the impressive View of Cambrai, by Adam Frans van der Meulen, a specialist in topographical drawings who died in Paris in 1690.


A catalogue in English was published for the exhibition in the Rijksmuseum in 2015 and is available at the Fondation Custodia.

Home and Abroad. Dutch and Flemish Landscape Drawings from the John and Marine van Vlissingen Art Foundation
BCD Group, Rijksmuseum, 2015
273 pp, 30,5 × 24,5 cm, ca. 100 pl., hardback
Price: 39,95 €

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