Rijksmuseum Discovers Unknown Masterpiece at Sotheby’s Sale

Sculpture belonging to the Royal Family attributed to court sculptor

The Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’ national museum, discovered a previously unknown masterpiece at the auction Property from the estate of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands at Sotheby’s in Amsterdam. Upon closer study, the terracotta sculpture of two women, still credited to ‘Louis Royer’s circle’ in the auction catalogue, has been attributed to court sculptor Jean-Louis van Geel, one of the Netherlands’ foremost neoclassical sculptors. It is the only example of the artist’s work held by a Dutch museum.

At 48 cm and signed ‘L. van…1816’, the sculpture depicts the political unification of the Netherlands and Belgium between 1815 and 1830, with two women in classical dress holding hands and the lion of the Netherlands between them symbolising alliance. The figure on the right holding the caduceus, symbolising trade, and a plough, denoting agriculture, represents the Dutch Republic, while the left-hand figure represents the Southern Netherlands. The figures’ hands are joined, signifying their unification.

This allegorical rendering was created by Jean-Louis van Geel (1787-1852), who was appointed court sculptor to Prince Willem, who later became King Willem II. In 1821, the Royal Family began to commission Van Geel for major works, including the famous Lion’s Mound on the battlefield of Waterloo. It is believed that the newly acquired sculpture was intended as a model for a monument that was never erected.
Court sculptor
The sculpture will be placed with the 19th-century exhibition in the Waterloo Room of the renovated Rijksmuseum. The epic painting Battle of Waterloo by Jan Willen Pieneman will also be displayed in this room when the main building reopens in 2013.

According to Gijs van der Ham, the Rijksmuseum’s Interim Head of History,
‘It is a positive image: the women represent the two countries, with their hands fervently locked and a lion resting at their feet, as calm as can be. While it depicts the desire for union, the reality soon proved far more troubled. The museum has many historical artworks showing the Belgian revolt of 1830 and the resulting secession, but very few portraying the short period of unification, which is another reason why we are so pleased to have it in our collection. As part of the permanent exhibition, the sculpture will tell the other side of the story.’

Frits Scholten, Curator of Sculpture at the Rijksmuseum, says,
‘Learning of the artistic and historical details of this sculpture was the Rijksmuseum’s highlight of the Juliana auction! It’s fantastic that we are able to preserve this work – an unknown sculpture by Willem II’s court sculptor – for the nation.’


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