The Dutch masterpiece hasn’t been on public display since 1795. But on Friday, the National Gallery of Art will announce that it acquired “The Concert,” by Gerrit van Honthorst. The six-foot-wide work, painted in 1623, will go on display in a special installation at the National Gallery of Art’s West Building on Friday morning. It is the gallery’s first painting by Honthorst, one of the preeminent painters of the Dutch Golden Age and part of the Utrecht “Caravaggisti,” or early-17th-century painters who were influenced by Italian baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. The National Gallery acquired the painting from a family’s private collection in France.
Arthur Wheelock, the National Gallery’s curator of northern baroque paintings, visited art dealer Adam Williams’s gallery in New York to view the piece. Wheelock recalls how Williams pulled back a curtain to show an unfamiliar dynamic work, portraying several musicians gathered around a table playing instruments. He didn’t know who painted it at first, having never seen an image of “The Concert.”
“For a major artist to have something that is pretty much unknown appear like this is rare,” Wheelock said. “It ranks with the best [Honthorst] ever did.”
Wheelock noted that the painting is a vital addition to the National Gallery. Caravaggist works were not included in the gallery’s large collection of Dutch art until 2009, when the gallery acquired Hendrick ter Brugghen’s “Bagpipe Player.”
“It’s such an important period of art history in the 17th century, and we feel like we have an incredible group of Caravaggist works,” Wheelock said. “The painting helps link together Caravaggist works from France, Italy, Germany and Spain. So it’s not only important for the Dutch galleries but also for the entire institution.”
Wheelock also noted that the painting was in incredible condition considering its large size. The gallery restored the painting, removing layers of varnish that suppressed its vivid qualities. “The Concert” will remain in the special exhibition for six months and will then be installed permanently in the West Building’s Dutch and Flemish galleries.