HERCULES PIETERSZ. SEGERS
(Haarlem circa 1589–circa 1640 The Hague)
A forest path. 1618–20.
Oil on canvas on panel. 16 × 22.4 cm.
Estimate: CHF 350 000 / 500 000
Auction on 22 March 2024
This landscape is a significant addition to the very few known oil paintings by Hercules Segers, an important Dutch artist of the Golden Age. Although a number of forest paintings by Segers are mentioned in old sources, this depiction of a winding forest path is the only surviving example of this genre by the artist.
Documented in several early inventories, its recent rediscovery in a Norwegian private collection is the result of art-historical detective work and fortunate circumstances. Rediscovered 20 years ago, and published for the first time as part of a major retrospective in 2017, the work boasts a provenance sequence that is probably the best of all fully accepted paintings by Segers.
Segers’ authorship is evident not only from the technique used and the similarity to his graphic works, but also from the seventeenth-century inscription of his name on the reverse of the panel and its listing in old inventories.
A much-acclaimed artist
In an early account of his life by Rembrandt’s pupil Samuel van Hoogstraten, Segers is portrayed as a misunderstood artist: ahead of his time, he was supposedly rejected during his lifetime and his brilliance only recognised after his death. This rather stereotyped version of the artist’s life is refuted by documentary evidence which suggests that Segers was highly regarded by his colleagues. In fact, Rembrandt owned eight of his paintings.
Hercules Segers possessed one of the most fertile artistic minds of his time and created landscapes of astonishing originality. Using a range of unusual techniques, he etched colourful landscapes, seascapes and biblical scenes. His small oeuvre comprises 182 prints, which vary greatly in composition, and 19 paintings. In his prints, the artist demonstrates great experimental boldness, in particular a printing method he developed in which he individually re-coloured and partially altered each copy, making each one unique. The influence of his teacher, the landscape painter Gillis van Coninxloo (1544–1607) was of great importance in shaping the mysterious atmosphere that pervades Segers’ work.
A complete provenance
The label on the reverse of the panel provides a wealth of information about the painting's early ownership. In elegant script around the stamped coat of arms of Frederick III, Elector of Brandenburg, later King Frederick I of Prussia, the words ‘Oranienbourg / Im monath Septbr / 1709’. Similar inscriptions in black or red ink with the same coat of arms can also be found on other paintings from the electoral collection. They were applied in autumn 1709 to paintings that were inventoried in Oranienburg Palace, 30 km north of Berlin. The name "...les Segers" is written in black under the label, which indicates that Hercules Segers was identified as the creator of this forest scene as early as 1709 or earlier. The inventory from 1709 has not survived today, but the painting is already listed in the inventory from 1699, and in the one from 1743 as ‘A country scene, through a forest, in a black frame, by Segers’. At the time, the painting hung in the King of Prussia’s antechamber.
The painting left the palace when the Electoral Collection was dispersed between 1743 and 1800. Its subsequent journey until today is clearly documented, through various owners including the Norwegian landscape painter Christian Dahl (1788–1857).
The painting came into the possession of the auctioneer Ole Fagersand and his descendants in 1962. A Norwegian private collector acquired the painting in 2003 at the estate auction of Fagersand’s heirs, where the painting was wrongly offered as ‘19th/20th century European school’. From 2007 onwards, the new owner commissioned a series of technological analyses and art historical research that led to the rediscovery of the painting’s authorship, and ultimately led to its inclusion in the major Hercules Segers retrospective at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam in 2016/2017.
Koller’s 22 March 2024 auction is a unique opportunity to acquire this rare and historically important work by a master of the Dutch Golden Age.
The catalogue for this and all of Koller's March auctions will be online from circa 21 February.