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Detail of a still life showing a laded table
Dutch Art

The Royal Collection has one of the finest holdings of seventeenth century Dutch paintings in the world

Background to the collection

Apollo and Diana©

The seventeenth century was the Golden Age for Dutch painting, coinciding with the nation's growing influence on the political and commercial stage. The subject matter and modest scale of most of the works reflects the fact that many artists painted speculatively for the open market; their works were destined for the homes of the increasingly wealthy merchant class rather than grand palaces. Such a clientele were interested in paintings that reflected the world around them, not mythological scenes containing moral instruction that was difficult to interpret. To some this low subject matter was not considered an appropriate subject for 'high art', although the broad appeal of such pictures to modern eyes is testament to the relevance of many of the themes and subjects today.

Many of the seventeenth-century Dutch paintings in the collection were produced by artists who travelled from the Low Countries to England and were granted positions or commissions at court. Charles I (1600-49) succeeded in attracting to England Gerrit Van Honthorst (1592-1656), who painted the monumental Apollo and Diana (RCIN 405746), the portraitist Daniel Mytens (c.1590-1647; see Charles I and Henrietta Maria, RCIN 405789) and the landscape painter Cornelis van Poelenburgh (1594-1667; see Shepherds with their Flocks in a Landscape with Roman Ruins, RCIN 404819). Similarly Charles II was able to entice to England the internationally renowned marine painters Willem van de Velde the Elder (c.1611-93) and Younger (c.1633-1707). Father and son were installed in the Queen's House in Greenwich and quickly became the chief recorders of the King's triumphs at sea (See The Battle of the Texel, 21 August 1673, RCIN 405306). Charles II also appointed the Dutch artist Sir Peter Lely (1616-80) to the position of Principal Painter (See Eleanor Needham, Lady Byron, RCIN 404089).

An old Woman called 'The Artist's Mother'©

Three separate 'Dutch Gifts' of collections of paintings were made to the Stuart Court by the States of Holland as a sign of friendship between the two nations. The first, which included the Battle of Gibraltar by Hendrick Vroom (c.1590-1647; now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) was made to Henry Prince of Wales (1594-1612) in 1610. The second, which included Rembrandt's An old Woman called 'The Artist's Mother' (RCIN 405000), was made to Charles I in 1636, while the third was given to Charles II in 1660, soon after his return to England from his exile in Holland and included The Young Mother, (now in the Mauritshuis, The Hague). Such gifts served a diplomatic purpose and emphasised the close familial connections between the Stuarts and the House of Orange, as well as their fluctuating and sometimes fragile political alliance.

With George III's (1738-1820) acquisition of the collection of Consul Joseph Smith in 1762 came a number of significant Dutch paintings, by artists including Nicolaes Berchem (1620-83), Philips Wouwermans (1619-68) and Jan Steen (1626-79). However, it was to be George III's son who would make the most significant contribution of Dutch works to the Royal Collection. George IV (1762-1830) particularly favoured seventeenth century Dutch art above all other, an interest that reflected current French fashion. As Prince Regent he was able to take advantage of the political upheavals wrought by the French Revolution, which released a flood of Dutch old masters onto the market. Many of the pictures so characteristic of French taste that were acquired by George IV can be traced back to the major collections of the period. George IV also took a particular interest in contemporary artists such as Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841) whose paintings often drew inspiration from seventeenth-century Dutch art.

For other monarchs, Dutch art has been appreciated for the historical account it provides of Anglo-Dutch relations. George II (1683-1760), Queen Victoria (1819-1901), and HM The Queen (b.1926) all acquired works depicting James I's daughter, Princess Elizabeth (1596-1662) and Frederick V (1596-1632; the 'Winter King and Queen') whose marriage formed a key link between the Stuart and Orange dynasties and whose Hanoverian descendant acceded to the British throne in 1714 as George I (1660-1727).

The income from your ticket contributes directly to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity. The aims of The Royal Collection Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection, and the promotion of access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational activities.