DescriptionTHE PROPERTY OF A CALIFORNIA FAMILY
CORNELIS SCHUT III (Flemish, 1629-1685)
Shepherd and Archangel in an Extensive Landscape, circa 1668
Oil on canvas
33-1/4 x 41-1/2 inches (84.5 x 105.4 cm)
Signature and date in Spanish partially legible in shadow area on the ground in lower right quadrant of painting: Cor[...]Sch..tt f. / año de 16[..]
With art dealer Erasmus, Berlin, together with a "Flight into Egypt" of the same size also signed by Schut, in 1931;
Acquired by the grandfather of the current owner during the 1950s from an estate in either Santa Barbara or Santa Monica, California;
Thence by descent to the current owner.
This painting represents an important rediscovery in the oeuvre of Cornelis Schut III (1629-1685), a Flemish painter of biblical subjects and portraits, and a prolific and accomplished draftsman, who lived and worked for most of his career in Seville, Spain. He was a contemporary of 17th-century Seville's greatest painter, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), whose art had a powerful influence on his painting and was a man whom he doubtless knew personally in that city's small artistic community. Both Schut and Murillo participated in the founding of Seville's Academia de Bellas Artes in 1660, and both served as its president-Murillo together with Franciso de Herrera during its earliest years, and Schut from 1672 to 1674. Schut was employed as a teacher of drawing there, in addition to holding several administrative posts throughout the years.
Cornelis Schut III came from a family of artists in Antwerp, the town in which he was born, raised, and almost certainly trained by his uncle, Cornelis Schut I (1597-1655), a talented, prolific painter and printmaker, whose work became, and to some extent still remains, confused with his nephew's. Cornelis III had settled in Seville by May 21, 1650, a fact documented by an inscription he had made on a drawing, in Spanish: "Cornelio Schut f. en Seva a 21 de Mayo de 1650" [see Gertrude Wilmers, Cornelis Schut (1597-1655): A Flemish Painter of the High Baroque, Brepols, 1996, p. 221.] (Without known exception, Cornelis III always signed his work in Spanish.) In 1653 he married a Sevillian woman, Augustina Tello de Meneses, raised a family of at least two daughters, and died there in 1685.
What brought Cornelis III to Seville is not known, though the city's great commercial importance at the time attracted a large Flemish population. As a developing artist, Murillo had the opportunity to see a great deal of Flemish painting in private collections in Seville: this exposure resulted in his lifelong attraction to naturalistic detail drawn from firsthand observation as well as realist subjects such as beggars, peasants and other subjects drawn from everyday life. In turn, the "Flemish" qualities in Murillo's work would have been a natural artistic magnet for Cornelis III, when he settled in Spain. Interestingly, the Spanish qualities informing Cornelis III's painting and the Flemish qualities of Murillo's led both artists to find an avid patron in the same collector: Don Nicolas Omazur, a Flemish silk merchant based in Seville. Omazur purchased (and possibly commissioned) 6 important religious scenes by Cornelis Schut III, and was Murillo's greatest private patron (he owned more paintings by Murillo than any other collector of his century-31 in total). The groundbreaking scholarship of Duncan Kinkead on Omazur's collection has resurrected not only the significance of Omazur's role in art patronage in Seville in general, but has also for the first time identified a key private patron of Cornelis Schut III, whose painterly achievement has yet to be the subject of a comprehensive scholarly study (D. Kinkead, "The Picture Collection of Don Nicolas Omazur," The Burlington Magazine, vol. 128, no. 995 (Feb., 1986), pp. 132-144). To date only a handful of paintings by Cornelis III are known to survive, despite the fact that he is recorded as having produced altarpieces, and that fully-signed easel-sized paintings have appeared occasionally in estate inventories and at auction over the years (see Wilmers, p. 304, n. 10 for a list). The reasons for his obscurity doubtless stem from two key factors: confusion between his and his uncle's work on the basis of name and subject matter, and because expatriate Cornelis III does not fit neatly into either the Flemish or the Spanish tradition. He is, rather, a conflation of both.
The present painting's monumental figures in an extensive landscape and loose paint handling are consistent features of Cornelis Schut III's known paintings from the 1660s, the period of his greatest artistic production. These qualities distinguish his efforts from those of Cornelis I, which tend towards harder facture and smaller figures within the overall composition. Prior to Heritage's discovery of the signature on this painting, the work was considered by current art historians to be from the circle of German Baroque painter Michael Willmann, who studied in Holland and absorbed the aesthetics of both Rembrandt and Rubens. To be sure, the golden light describing this composition as well as the Rembrandtesque brushiness and subject matter are qualities Willmann adopted. The compressed facial features of the angel as well as its attenuated proportions indeed looked decidedly German. Interestingly, however, those and other features are also characteristic of the work of the under-studied painter Cornelis III, who forged an individual style based on several filters of influence.
Two earlier writers described Cornelis Schut III's mature Sevillian style in enough detail that their words and the qualities of the present painting of circa 1668 make a comfortable match. Writing in 1884, Amador de los Rios characterizes the best of the artist's paintings as gracious and noble, with correct drawing, freedom of execution, and agreeable color, while in others he finds faulty draftsmanship, inattention to anatomical proportions, and a palette tending toward gray or monochrome. A little later, Gestoso y Perez cites strong contrasts of light and shade and exaggerated foreshortening as typical elements of Cornelis III's painting style.
Cornelis III's familiarity with Murillo's paintings can be pinpointed through particular motifs in the current work, which have antecedents in specific Murillo paintings the artist would have or certainly could have known. The kneeling shepherd, for example, appears in a pose virtually identical to that of the Prodigal Son in Murillo's Prodigal Son Feeding Swine of 1660 now in the collection of the National Gallery, Ireland [inv no 4544]. A massive, oversized angel in the same pose, but without the arm crossing over the body, appears in Murillo's 1667 Liberation of St. Peter, painted just a year earlier, in 1667 (now in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg). Perhaps the best and most obvious source for an oversized, attenuated angel with great outstretched wings and reddish hair, with feet posed identically to those of Cornelis III's angel, was the angel occupying the very center of Murillo's monumental St. Francis in the Kitchen of Two Angels painted circa 1645-46 for the Monastery of St. Francis in Seville. As a newcomer to Seville around that time, Cornelis III would have joined the ranks of others who were bowled over by this and the twelve other massive canvases Murillo produced for the monastery. The series was justly celebrated and gave Murillo a well-deserved boost in reputation which led to major commissions in Madrid as well.
Provenance and a possible companion painting
Prior to 1931, this painting's history is undocumented. During that year, the painting appeared on the art market in Berlin with dealer Dr. Erasmus, together with another work by Cornelis III of the same size and quality depicting The Flight into Egypt (current whereabouts unknown)-which could have been its pendant. Through photographs preserved on annotated mounts in the photographic archive of the Courtauld Institute of London's Witt Library, we know that both works were signed in full, and that the present work was, at that time, clearly dated 1668, a date whose last two digits have since become obscured. The same archive also preserves a photograph of a painting by Cornelis III entitled David Returning with the Head of Goliath by Cornelis III, signed in full in Spanish and dated 1664, which sold at Christie's, Manson & Woods, London, December 22-23, 1937, lot 72 (present whereabouts unknown). This work possesses a blond landscape extremely similar to that of the present work, and also features a large, brightly illuminated female figure with very similar features and drapery (Scans of the Witt Library photographs are available in our online catalogue.)
How this painting came to be in California in the early 1950s, when it was purchased by the current owner's grandfather, a colorful Russian-born immigrant, is unknown. However, the sketchy circumstances surrounding its acquisition are known to the family.
The current owner's grandfather came to the United States from the region of Kiev as a young man in the 1910s with dreams of becoming a cowboy. He succeeded in his dream by becoming a cattle broker in the Midwest, even riding a horse from one customer to another, sometimes over long distances. He also eventually owned a large cattle ranch, a lumber business, and at least two general stores in the Midwest. During the 1940s (no later than 1947) he moved to California, where he owned a lumber yard, built some houses, and owned another small cattle ranch, mostly as a hobby after he retired.
During the early 1950s, he drove his wife to a medical appointment at a specialty clinic in either Santa Barbara or Santa Monica. His son, who was young at the time and not yet familiar with California geography, couldn't distinguish, as he put it, "between Santa this and Santa that. It all sounded the same to him, and wasn't sure which city the clinic was in." While waiting for his wife to finish her appointment, which took awhile, he wandered around the town to pass the time, and somehow ran across this painting for sale-apparently at an estate sale of some kind.
He had not been an art collector up to this point in his life, nor did he continue to be. His family was always mystified by his choice of the large painting with a strong religious narrative, but obviously it spoke to him in some way that he never explained. According to the current owner, "When they returned from the trip, my father recalls that my grandfather was extremely proud of the painting he had brought back with him. He quickly installed it prominently over a dark green sofa in his living room where it hung until his wife's death in 1983. My mother then inherited it and she then hung it in her own living room, where it stayed on the same wall until I inherited it in 2000, but I left it on the same wall. Over the 60 years it has been in our family, it has hung on just two walls."
The specific subject of this painting has eluded numerous contemporary specialists of 17th-century European painting. The family of the current owner always referred to it as "Tobias and the Angel" despite the fact that it is not a perfect fit. The story of the Annunciation to the Shepherds is not a comfortable fit either, since there is only one shepherd, and the angel seems to be tasking the elderly man with a personal assignment rather than making a general announcement of Christ's birth. The theme of the probable companion painting, The Flight into Egypt, may well provide the clue to this painting's subject. Cornelis Schut III may have depicted here, with liberties, the story of an Angel appearing to Joseph, insisting he flee Bethlehem with his family for Egypt to escape Herod's Massacre of the Innocents.
We are grateful to Christine Edmondson, art librarian at the Ingalls Library, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, for her cheerful and generous assistance in locating research materials which were indispensable to the cataloguing of this painting.
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