Yesterday’s autumn sunshine gave the views on Hampstead Heath a harmonious classical beauty. At Kenwood, where the grass slopes lead the eye down to the tree-fringed lake and its pair of swans, it seemed easy to gaze over the prospect with the eyes of an eighteenth century landscape connoisseur. Inside Kenwood, the famous Rembrandt and Vermeer paintings are accompanied by a Gaspard Dughet Landscape with Hunters (c1639). However, on first sight the painting looks like a dull expanse of murky brown, a shadow of the sunlit vista outside. Poor Dughet’s paintings often seem to be tucked away, unfashionable and unloved; this one is hung high on the wall so that the title on the frame is actually not even visible. He seems as unappealing to modern tastes as some other great enthusiasms of the eighteenth century, like James Thomson’s poem The Seasons (which Michael Schmidt’s history of English poetry describes as ‘dead pastoral’). The brown-ness of old landscape paintings went out of fashion in the nineteenth century as Constable and others altered the way they underpainted to create more vivid colours. But the Landscape with Hunters is a dawn scene and therefore naturally full of shadows. Paintings that strive for subtle light effects may be most harmed by the passage of time (the same may be true of photographs and films we currently admire). What did Dughet’s painting look like 350 years ago?
Apparently the Louvre does not own a single painting by Dughet. However, there is at least one place where Dughet is honoured: Rome’s Doria Pamphilj Gallery. There they have a Poussin Room entirely full of his paintings (Dughet is also known as Gaspard Poussin after his better known brother in law). It is an amazing space - a total immersion in classical landscape.
Postscript: January 2014
Kenwood has recently re-opened after refurbishing. The Dughet Landscape with Hunters is still high up but better lit than when I wrote this post in 2006...