… The Battle of Waterloo shows none of those passions, of that hatred born of impotence, which urged the Allies forward on that summer’s day. The figures of the Duke of Wellington and the other persons in the foreground are good portraits; but neither their attitude nor their action conveys the impression that a fierce and critical contest is taking place. Nor has Pieneman’s drawing the suppleness necessary to express a great moment. And yet he possessed what the born artist who, with scanty means, conquers for himself a place in a barren period must needs possess : he had energy and influenced his times. Jozef Israels has said of him that he was a genius who grew up in an inartistic age; and it was not his fault if the times in which he lived prevented him from developing himself In a society in a state of transformation, where, on the one hand, men, proud of their recovered nationality, asked for topical pictures representing the heroic deeds of the day, while, on the other hand, a pious tendency held sway and called for religious or kindred subjects strictly confined to the limits of the middle-class virtues, there was no opportunity for the exaltation of painting pure and simple and I*Art pour I’art for once became a misplaced maxim.
And then think of the makeshifts with which Pieneman had to content himself Burdened by an early marriage, he painted his Quatre-Bras in a small upper-part in the Nes, where he had to roll up one half of his enormous canvas, crammed with life-size equestrian figures, in order to paint the other half. He must have possessed a certain strength of will, a remarkable power of representation,
to complete a work of this kind in circumstances such as these. And yet, though he was honoured in his time and distinguished by his sovereign, though he was socially esteemed and lived in “a stately house on a canal,” though one may say of him that he was a great man in a slack time, he will never occupy a place in the ranks of our great painters nor even stand among our ” litde masters.” His chief services to art were rendered as director of the Amsterdam Academy. Israels describes him as an excellent drawing-master, thoroughly acquainted with the mathematics of the nude and unrivalled in the suggestion of an outline with a bit of chalk or charcoal. And it is certain that, as the master of Jozef Israels, who drew for seven years under his guidance and never speaks of him other than with respect and esteem, he deserves an honourable place in the memory of us all.
Nicolaas Pieneman, his son and pupil, was bom at Amersfoort in 1810, died in i860 and enjoyed— chiefly at the Hague, where he lived—an even greater favour than his father, thanks to his many portraits of the royal family. It is a pure delight to hear Jozef Israels reply, when asked how the younger Pieneman painted:
” Klaas Pieneman was a courtier; at an exhibition, he used to walk arm in arm with William the Third!”
He had neither his father’s temperament nor vigour and, possibly by way of a reaction against the latter’s frequent want of polish, he painted in a soapy and feeble style, especially his royal portraits, which are smooth and insipid and devoid of all life. …
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