The Koekkoeks

Apr 03 2014

Natalie Patel recently completed a 10 month internship with our Curatorial Team. She’s been blogging about some of her research into the Koekkoeks, a remarkable family of Dutch artists.

Over the past six months I’ve been researching paintings in Museums Sheffield’s collection by the Koekkoek family of artists. We started off knowing very little about the Koekkoeks, but thanks to a generous research grant from the Pre-1900 Art Subject Specialist Network, I’ve met experts in The Hague, Amsterdam and London to learn more about their work and history.

The Koekkoeks (pronounced ‘cuk-cuk’) were a Dutch family spanning five generations between 1775 and 1982. Their paintings were popular with British and American art collectors and seven of their seascapes and landscapes have found a home in Museums Sheffield’s Visual Art collection.

The Koekkoek family passed down their techniques from father to son and specialised in atmospheric townscapes, landscapes and maritime scenes. They idealised nature and took inspiration from the 17th century Dutch Golden Age when the Netherlands was an economic powerhouse. Their paintings were not necessarily topographically accurate, a popular style in the 18th century, but imagined and atmospheric.

A longing for drama or sentimentality is a central theme in 19th century Dutch Romantic Art. This is most noticeable in landscape painting - a storm is always fiercer, the dark sky more threatening and trees or church ruins are much larger than in real life. Romantic painters like the Koekkoeks presented nature as either overwhelming or intimately connected to man, with figures depicted at ease with their surroundings.

Johannes H KoekKoek - Sea PieceBarend Cornelis Koekkoek (1803-1868) was one of the most celebrated 19th century Dutch landscape artists and perhaps the most Romantic. He specialised in painting detailed panoramic views of the Rhine Valley and idyllic wooded scenes. He and his three brothers learnt to paint under their father, Johannes Hermanus Koekkoek (1778-1851), and their work was particularly popular with English and American gentlemen on the European Grand Tour.

In ‘A Coming Storm’ (1855), picture aboved, by Barend Cornelis Koekkoek the mountainous landscape is dominated by a dark sky. The steep rock in the background may be the Lorelei in the Rhine Valley and you can see fishermen and villagers preparing for the storm by securing their boats and herding their cattle to safety.

Museums Sheffield is hoping to conserve a number of Koekkoek works in the collection - watch out for a display of paintings by the Koekkoek family in Graves Gallery in 2015. 


Top: Barend Cornelis Koekkoek (1803 – 1862), A Coming Storm, 1855 © Museums Sheffield
Right: Johannes Hermanus Koekkoek (1778-1851), Sea Piece, 1790–1815 © Museums Sheffield


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