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BARTHOLOMAEUS VAN DER HELST

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Originally appearing in Volume V13, Page 253 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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BARTHOLOMAEUS VAN DER HELST, Dutch painter, was born in Holland at the opening of the 17th century, and died at Amsterdam in 1670. The date and place of his birth are uncertain; and it is equally difficult to confirm or to deny the time-honoured statement that he was born in 1613 at Amsterdam. It has been urged indeed by competent authority that Van der Heist was not a native of Amsterdam, because a family of that name lived as early as 1607 at Haarlem, and pictures are shown as works of Van der Helst in the Haarlem Museum which might tend to prove that he was in practice there before he acquired repute at Amsterdam. Unhappily Bartholomew has not been traced amongst the children of Severijn van der Heist, who married at Haarlem in 1607, and there is no proof that the pictures at Haarlem are really his; though if they were so they would show that he learnt his art from Frans Hals and became a skilled master as early as 1631. Scheltema, a very competent judge in matters of Dutch art chronology, supposes that Van der Heist was a resident at Amsterdam in 1636. His first great picture, representing a gathering of civic guards at a brewery, is variously assigned to 1639 and 1643, and still adorns the town-hall of Amsterdam. His noble portraits of the burgomaster Bicker and Andreas Bicker the younger, in the gallery of Amsterdam, of the same date no doubt as Bicker's wife lately in the Ruhl collection at Cologne, were completed in 1642. From that time till his death there is no difficulty in tracing Van der Heist's career at Amsterdam. He acquired and kept the position of a distinguished portrait-painter, producing indeed little or nothing besides portraits at any time, but founding, in conjunction with Nicolaes de Helt Stokade, the painters' guild at Amsterdam in 1654. At some unknown date he married Constance Reynst, of a good patrician family in the Netherlands, bought himself a house in the Doelenstrasse and ended by earning a competence. His likeness of Paul Potter at the Hague, executed in 1654, and his partnership with Backhuysen, who laid in the backgrounds of some of his pictures in 1668, indicate a constant companionship with the best artists of the time. Wagen has said that his portrait of Admiral Kortenaar; in the gallery of Amsterdam, betrays the teaching of Frans Hals, and the statement need not be gainsaid; yet on the whole Van der Heist's career as a painter was mainly a protest against the systems of Hals and Rembrandt. It is needless to dwell on the pictures which preceded that of 1648, called the Peace of Munster, in the gallery of Amsterdam. The Peace challenges comparison at once with the so-called Night Watch by Rembrandt and the less important but not less characteristic portraits of Hals and his wife in a neighbouring room. Sir Joshua Reynolds was disappointed by Rembrandt, whilst Van der Heist surpassed his expectation. But Burger asked whether Reynolds had not already been struck with blindness when he ventured on this criticism. The question is still an open one. But certainly Van der Heist attracts by qualities entirely differing from those of Rembrandt and Frans Hals. Nothing can be more striking than the contrast between the strong concentrated, light and the deep gloom of Rembrandt and the contempt of chiaroscuro peculiar to his rival, except the contrast between the rapid sketchy touch of Hals and the careful finish and rounding of van der Helst. " The Peace " is a meeting of guards to celebrate the signature of the treaty of Munster. The members of the Doele of St George meet to feast and congratulate each other not at a formal banquet but in a spot laid out for good cheer, where de Wit, the captain of his.company, can shake hands with his lieutenant Waveren, yet hold in solemn state the great drinking-horn of St George. The rest of the company sit, stand or busy themselves around—some eating, others. drinking, others carving or serving—an animated scene on a long canvas, with figures large as life. Well has Burger said, the heads are full of life and the hands admirable. The dresses and subordinate parts are finished to a nicety without sacrifice of detail or loss of breadth in touch or impast. But the eye glides from shape to shape, arrested here by expressive features, there by a bright stretch of colours, nowhere at perfect rest because of the lack of a central thought in light and shade, harmonies or composition. Great as the qualities of van der Helst undoubtedly are, he remains below the line of demarcation which separates the second from the first-rate masters of art. His pictures are very numerous, and almost uniformly good; but in his later creations he wants power, and though still amazingly careful, he becomes grey and woolly in touch. At Amsterdam the four regents in the Werkhuys (165o), four syndics in the gallery (1656), and four syndics in the town-hall (1657) are masterpieces, to which may be added a number of fine single portraits. Rotterdam, notwithstanding the fire of 1864, still boasts of three of van der Heist's works. The Hague owns but one. St Petersburg, on the other hand, possesses ten or eleven, of various shades of excellence. The Louvre has three, Munich four. Other pieces are in the galleries of Berlin, Brunswick, Brussels, Carlsruhe, Cassel, Darmstadt, Dresden, Frankfort, Gotha, Stuttgart and Vienna.
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