The Wallace Collection

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A Southern Harbour Scene
  • Nicolaes Berchem (1620 - 1683)
  • A Southern Harbour Scene
  • Netherlands
  • late 1650s
  • Painting
  • Oil on canvas
  • Image size: 82.9 x 103.7 cm
  • Signature: 'Berchem'
  • P25
  • East Galleries III
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • In this painting, Berchem turned a bustling harbour into a theatrical mis-en-scène, where people from different walks of life converge around a fountain. Figures load and make ready an ornately carved and gilded ship. Others gather on the quay, looking out over the water. The scene is dominated by the elegant figure of a richly dressed woman. The parasol held over her head by her maid draws our attention to her. Her aloof and refined bearing is contrasted with the clumsily amorous demeanour of her male companion. This slightly caricatured and comic figure is perhaps intended as a nod to the work of Berchem’s contemporary in Haarlem, Jan Steen, who also painted comic male suitors (see particularly P154 ). Gathered at her feet on the steps are brightly dressed peasant women and herdsmen with their livestock that typically inhabit Berchem’s landscapes.

    The ambiguity of the woman’s presence infuses the whole painting: figures turn their backs to us, and the stone fountain appears to come to life. The rhythms of the contours of masts, sails and parasol all contribute to the rich decorative effect of the picture, which so appealed to artists and collectors in eighteenth- century France. It passed through a series of superlative French collections before being acquired in 1868 by the 4th Marquess of Hertford, who paid the substantial price of 42,000 francs (about £1,680) for it at the sale of Anatole Demidoff, Prince of San Donato, in 1868.