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Gerson research

Gerson Project

The RKD is conducting a large-scale research project with the working title ‘Painting of the Golden Age in European Perspective. Research into the distribution and reception of Dutch and Flemish art in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries’. The research programme, which is being carried out in collaboration with various universities in the Netherlands and the Dutch University Institute for Art History (NIKI) in Florence, will provide over 20 internships in the period 2012-2017.

For a project like this it is very important to work together with specialists abroad . Not all relevant knowledge abroad penetrates the Dutch research and also the other way around this is often the case. The objective of the project is to combine research in The Netherlands with that conducted abroad and to publish the results in to several languages.

Jean-Etienne Liotard, Portrait of the art collector François Tronchin (1704-1798) with his painting of Rembrandt, 1759, Cleveland Museum of Art. Over the course of the 18th century, Rembrandt’s Woman in bed was in collections in France Switzerland Italy and England. Since 1892 it has been in the Scottish National Gallery.

The project is known unofficially as the Gerson project because it was inspired by the investigations of the art historian Horst Gerson (1907-1978) who worked at the RKD from 1935 to 1966, and became director in 1954. His groundbreaking book Ausbreitung und Nachwirkung der holländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts was published in 1942. In contrast to Gerson, the current research takes the view that the dispersal of Flemish painting is inextricably linked with that of Dutch painting and should to be treated accordingly. It also examines the role of collectors, art dealers and reproductive printmaking abroad.

The central research question of the Gerson project can be summarised as follows:

How were Dutch and Flemish paintings from the Golden Age disseminated in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and what role did these works play for artists outside the Low Countries?

The research falls into a number of subcategories:

• Dutch and Flemish artists who lived and worked abroad

• Foreign artists who were trained by Dutch or Flemish masters

• Foreign trade in Dutch and Flemish art, and the history of collecting Dutch and Flemish paintings outside the Low Countries

• Reproductive prints of Dutch and Flemish works by foreign engravers

• Reception of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish painting by foreign artists in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries

Within these categories there are the following geographical subdivisions:

1. France
2. Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Czech/Bohemian lands and Middle Europe
3. Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
4. United Kingdom and Ireland
5. Italy and Southern Europe

Biographical data for collectors of, and dealers in, Dutch and Flemish art and for (itinerant) artists are currently to be found in the RKDartists& database; relevant works of art are made available in RKDimages. If sufficient external funding can be obtained, the results of the research will be presented in online publications with bibliographies on the RKD website (RKDmonographs). Plans are also in the making for an illustrated online version in English of Gerson’s Ausbreitung, which is to be published in instalments.

Gerson Illustrated: Poland

Rieke van Leeuwen,
Head of Digital Collections


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