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Constantin Netscher – The Little Princess

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Constantin Netscher - The Little PrincessOn the terrace of a majestic park, in the style of that of Versailles, with fountains, balustrades, marble staircases, marine divinities, a very graceful young princess is represented. An abundant blonde hair frames her pretty face. Joufflue, plump, of well-drawn proportions, the girl keeps in the awakened and mutinous attitude this native distinction that betrays the race. What was this princess and what name did she leave in the story? We ignore it and it does not take away from the charm of this cute child. In a gesture full of naturalness, her left hand holds a flowered stem that she prepares to fix in a vase placed in front of her. The right hand slightly turns the purple robe in the form of an apron to maintain the picking of flowers some of which have already escaped and lie on the ground. The movement that raises the dress reveals elegant lace underneath and the birth of a leg pleasantly turned. In front of her, on the marble console which supports the vase, a parrot with multicolored plumage is placed, while at her feet a small white and black dog seems to play.

As much as the characters are graceful, the setting is as grand. In the garden, large dark-green trees form the screen on which the blond face of the princess appears. Groups of women in rich clothes cross, in the distance, the fairways of the park.

The whole is very harmonious in its arrangement a little dressed, and the composition very skilfully arranged to leave all interest in the portrait of the child, unique object of the work.

What is to be noticed in this picture, painted by a Dutchman, is the complete absence of the essential characteristics of Dutch painting. In his own way one can guess that a revolution has been accomplished, that a foreign influence has penetrated the art of Ter Borch and Nicolas Maës. It is made up of intimate scenes, cabaret meetings, cheerful parties of drinkers and smokers. Art has certainly not grown-but it has risen in tone, it has turned to the pseudo-classicism of French art, ruled by Le Brun. France is then at its peak; the glory of the Sun King has conquered Europe and behind its victorious armies, it is the French language, French poetry, French painting and French taste that cross borders and captivate the people. Everywhere, in the image of France, one seeks to do great and if one can not equal the majesty that Louis XIV prints to everything, one tries to reach it; if Dutch painting is badly prepared to imitate the solemn and vast compositions of Le Brun, at least it strives to grow too.

The two Netzchers, Gaspard and Constantine, the father and the son, took the first steps in this new direction. Gaspard Netzcher, moreover, although he had worked in the studio of Ter Borch at Deventer, did not hide his French affinities. When he was young, he had come to France and stayed in Bordeaux, where he had married. On his return journey to the Netherlands, he had stopped in Paris, and his splendors had dazzled and conquered him. Dutch art, so picturesque in its intimate and rustic simplicity, seemed to him inferior or at least not noble. He resolved not to go on with it and adopt a less familiar style. Strange phenomenon, his country did not hold rigor of this abandonment of the tradition. On the contrary, Gaspard Netzcher enjoyed a general vogue and acquired considerable fortune. The richest personages of Amsterdam and The Hague disputed the favor of posing before him; he even made the portrait of William III. A supple and brilliant painter, he put on his characters of a rather delicate elegance, more agreeable than true, but which was to seduce and flatter the somewhat heavy bourgeois of Holland.

Although he had broken with tradition, Gaspard Netzcher sometimes treated the genre picture and showed himself superior to it. His intimate scenes do not have the picturesque of those of Ter Borch, but they testify to a consummate skill and a perfect science of composition. One could cite as models The lesson of Bass viol and the Lesson of Song that are in the Louvre, and its Lady feeding a parrot.

As skilful as his father, Constantin Netzcher (Constantijn Netscher) accentuated his way even more, and without possessing his brilliant qualities, he nevertheless created good many well-ordered portraits, placed in a rather theatrical setting, but pleasant. In order to serve him, he had a happy palette, loaded with a color that was always fresh, smart, and he knew how to put his models in the pose that made them best. To these gifts of virtuosity he did not attach to an equal degree the exact vision or the real expression of life. He is no less one of the most charming of these Dutch “little masters” who have left us such delicious masterpieces.

The Little Princess entered the Louvre with all the paintings in the La Caze Collection, of which she was a member.

Height: 0.90 – Width: 0.52 – Full-size figure.

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