The Sentry by Carel Fabritius was bought by Duke Christian Ludwig for the Schwerin collection in the last of his many painting acquisitions. Its purchase appears in an invoice of August 2, 1755, submitted to the duke by the art dealer Gerhard Morell, subsequently the director of the royal paintings collection in Copenhagen. The same invoice lists numerous other works in the Schwerin collection, and annotations show that the duke’s son, Hereditary Prince Friedrich, was closely involved in these transactions.
The circumstances and precise date of acquisition of the Sentry by Carel Fabritius (fig. 1) for the Schwerin collections have long been unanswered questions.1 The painting is easily recognizable in inventories due to its unusual iconography, typically described as a soldier or hunter cleaning his rifle. It was conspicuously absent from the inventory of the paintings at Schwerin castle in 1752.2 Instead, it first turns up as the work of an anonymous artist in the earliest printed catalogue in 1792.3
Only recently has Volker Manuth provided one of the missing links in the Sentry’s provenance, by identifying it under Rembrandt’s name in the Amsterdam sale of Gerhard Michael Jabach’s collection on October 16, 1753. Though Jabach had resided in Livorno, the collection was auctioned off in Amsterdam. There the Sentry was sold to “Winter” for 32 guilders, 10 stuivers, as revealed in the annotated auction catalogue in the Rijksbureau voor Kusthistorische Documentatie (RKD).4 Manuth has plausibly identified the buyer as the painter-dealer Hendrick de Winter (1717–1790), who had connections to northern Germany. Manuth’s hypotheses now are confirmed by a document from the Schwerin archive, a list of paintings sold by the Hamburg art dealer Gerhard Morell (ca. 1710–1771) to Duke Christian Ludwig during the last year of the prince’s life (fig. 2). Dating from August 2, 1755, the list records the entry as “no. 10: Gerbr. v. Eekhout. Ein sein Gewehr puzender Soldat – 60 Rthlr” (Gerbrand van den Eeckhout. A soldier cleaning his rifle – 60 Reichstaler). Though the painting was thought to be by Rembrandt in the 1753 sale, a copyist, probably de Winter himself, had by then identified the painter as Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, whose name is noted on the back of a watercolor copy of the Sentry in a private collection.5
Morell seems to have transacted more business with de Winter. In his forthcoming study of Gerhard Morell, who subsequently became gallery director for the Danish king, Michael North relates that in a 1759 sale in Copenhagen, paintings bought by one “De Winter” were later sold to the king by Morell. It seems likely that this is the same de Winter from whom Morell had earlier received the Fabritius painting. Both dealers wanted to profit from their transactions, and the Sentry almost quadrupled in price between 1753, when it was bought by de Winter for the low price of 32 guilders (about 16 Reichstaler), and 1755, when sold for 60 Reichstaler by Morell to the duke in Schwerin. The latter sum was still remarkably low for such a masterpiece.
The Schwerin list holds further significance, containing some of the best pieces of the collection, among them Gerard ter Borch’s Young Man Reading, Jan Asselijn’s large Winter Landscape (lost in 1945), and, of course, Fabritius’s Sentry.6 These three paintings, whose earlier provenances indicate the dealer’s acquisition price, are especially illuminating for the study of the eighteenth-century art market. The three paintings were bought at auctions in the Netherlands just before Morell sold them to Christian Ludwig in Schwerin. In all three cases, Morell charged prices significantly higher than he himself had paid. Such profit margins may not be surprising, but this transaction is the first such example to be documented in Schwerin.
Jan Asselijn’s Winter Landscape (fig. 3) is recorded on October 21, 1754, in Amsterdam in the sale of J. Tonnemann,7 where it appears as lot 27: “Een extraordinair schoon stuk van Asselyn, alias Crabbetje, verbeeldt een Winter daar eenige Jongens malkander met Sneeuwballen gooyen; zeer Natuurlyk geschildert, hoog 27 ½, breet 32 duim” (An extraordinarily beautiful piece by Asselijn, i.e., Crabbetje, a winter scene where some boys throw snowballs at each other; painted very true to life, height 65.9 cm, width 76.7 cm). In the copy of the auction catalogue kept in the RKD in The Hague, the manuscript annotation to this lot reads: “Morel – 135,” establishing that Morell himself bought the Asselijn less than a year before selling it to Schwerin. The sale price of 135 guilders comes to a little over 65 Reichstaler. In selling it to the duke for 100 Reichstaler Morell made a profit of 35 Reichstaler or 70 guilders.
Only four days after securing the Asselijn painting, Morell also acquired Gerard ter Borch’s Young Man Reading (fig. 4) as part of a sale in Leiden, probably the estate of Catharina Adriana de la Court. The ter Borch was sold to Morell on October 25, 1754, as lot 25 for 140 guilders,8 equaling about 70 Reichstaler. As recorded on Morell’s invoice to the duke, the painting cost more than twice that amount—150 Reichstaler—giving the dealer a profit of 80 Reichstaler.
Christian Ludwig had had a long-standing relationship with Morell. Their earliest documented exchange concerns the dealer’s delivery of a “Mahlerey von Fyt worauf ein todtes Reh” (painting by Fyt of a dead deer) for 15 Reichstaler in March 1745.9 Though letters are extant only for this and the following year, they establish that the duke often bought from Morell, not only paintings but also sculptures, illustrated books, and other luxury goods. As I have mentioned elsewhere, Morell was only one of the dealers in contact with the duke, which led to significant tensions among the dealers. In fact, complaints about Morell allegedly selling fakes had already started in 1742, three years before his first documented contact with the duke.10 Apparently, these rumors did not prevent the collector from using the dealer’s services, as evidenced by correspondence between Morell and the court in the Schwerin archives. Surprisingly, though, there are very few works that can be positively linked to a provenance from Morell. In 1746 the dealer wrote to the duke about “die Maria Magdalena von Jordans so ich die Gnade gehabt habe Ew. HochFürstl. Durchl. zu verkaufen” (the Mary Magdalene by Jordaens that I was graced to sell to Your Highness), but there seems to be no other trace of this work, unless it is identical to the only Jacob Jordaens extant in Schwerin, the enigmatic Night Vision.11 A painting of dead birds by Willem van Aelst bought for 300 Reichstaler by the duke in 1745 can tentatively be identified as the largest van Aelst in Schwerin, the Dead Roosters of 1676.12 In spite of the extensive correspondence between Morell and the court about auctions and art works, until now no other works have been identified as coming to Schwerin via the Hamburg dealer.
To return to the year 1755, Morell’s last invoice highlights the fact that Christian Ludwig spent lavishly on art and artifacts until the very end of his life. In fact, the list has remained unknown so long precisely because it is filed among the unpaid bills Duke Friedrich had to grapple with when assuming power after his father died on May 30, 1756. It added almost 2,000 to the over 17,000 Reichstaler Christian Ludwig had been due to pay from his private funds (the state itself, on a larger scale, was in similar straights). These last acquisitions, then, appear only in the files of Friedrich, a notorious cost-cutter who, after coming to power, acquired not one single documented painting from anyone other than his court artists.13 Because of Duke Friedrich’s tight spending policy and lack of interest in painting, one would hardly expect to find documentation of lavish spending in the files of his private funds.
Therefore, it is highly interesting to see that Friedrich, almost from the start, was closely involved in this last transaction between his father and Morell. Apart from the final invoice reproduced at the end of this article, a preliminary list dated July 31, 1755 is preserved in the archive. It, too, is written in Morell’s hand and differs from the final invoice in a number of places. At the close of the document, Morell states that this preliminary list records the initial selection the duke made without the prince being present. After the prince returned from Hamburg, the duke decided to give back six of the pieces selected and, following the wishes of the prince, to include six others.14 Here is an instance where Friedrich’s direct influence on his father’s collection becomes apparent. The alteration is remarkably small, concerning only the exchange of four landscapes (by Nicolaes Berchem and Jacob de Heusch) and two peasant genre paintings (by David Teniers and David Rijckaert)15 for two other landscapes (by Jan [probably mistaken for Dirck] van Bergen), two animal pieces (by Jan Weenix and Melchior d’Hondecoeter [fig. 5]), a marine painting by Simon de Vlieger (fig. 6), and a cut crucifix by “Francis.”16 There is no way to ascertain the originality and quality of the rejected paintings, except for the prices, which add up to 730 Reichstaler, as against 1,250 for the new additions. Considering the quality of the newly chosen pieces, so far as we can identify them, the change was probably for the better.
In the light of these documents, we can rule out the notion proposed by some that because of the duke’s impaired eyesight, it was Friedrich who was largely responsible for all of Christian Ludwig’s art acquisitions during the last years of the latter’s life. Furthermore, it cannot have been the onset of the Seven Years’ War that forced Friedrich to stop buying art. While Friedrich came to power at the end of May 1756, the war started in August of that year and Mecklenburg only became engaged in it when Friedrich joined the Reichsexekution (imperial intervention) against Prussia in January 1757. These sweeping historical events cannot account for his abandonment of his father’s example as a lavish collector, because they post-date Friedrich’s succession to the throne. It seems far more likely that his well-known religious austerity,17 on top of his clear insight into his unstable financial situation, made him adverse to luxury expenditures. While his father was alive, Friedrich was unable to do much more than influence the quality of the selections. Remarkably, in so doing, he acquired the two most expensive pieces, the large decorative Jan Weenix and the beautiful de Vlieger, thereby increasing the sum owed from 2,500 to 3,000 Reichstaler.
In fairness to Morell, I should point out that in the final invoice the sum of 3,220 Reichstaler was rounded down to 3,000, reducing the total by almost 7 percent. Some kind of reduction was probably an accepted common courtesy between dealer and client. The preliminary list did not include the price reduction, but Morell included a few items without charge. Nevertheless, he carefully totaled their costs, amounting to 130 Reichstaler.18 Furthermore, he intended to charge only 70 Reichstaler for a pastel by Teniers allegedly worth 100.19 In an interesting twist, the reduced Teniers and the two (free) de Heusch landscapes were among the pieces later on rejected by the prince. The painting by Jan Brueghel (fig. 7), on the other hand, was entered in the later list with a price of 50 Reichstaler, an extremely low price for this sought-after master. Perhaps both dealer and clients were not convinced of its authenticity (but still left it on the list). Such doubts continued into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.20 Luckily, the painting on copper was acquired and retained in spite of these doubts and is today one of three authentic works by Jan Brueghel the Elder in Schwerin.21
Terms of payment as well as price were both typically negotiated, and as a further concession to his customers, Morell agreed to receive payment in installments over a period of fourteen months. This method was used quite often, even for much smaller sums, but in this case it can also be considered as a particular risk taken by the dealer. In the summer of 1755, the health of Christian Ludwig, at seventy-two years of age, must already have been failing. Most likely his death in May 1756 came as no surprise, not even to the dealer who had been in Schwerin in the summer of 1755 to complete his sale. He must have been convinced of Friedrich’s compliance with the deal when he made it. In the end, Morell’s calculation turned out to be correct, and he received payment in full, albeit half a year later than the contract stipulated.22 Morell was unusual in his willingness to take this risk; other partners of Christian Ludwig, less trusting, strictly insisted on direct payment, if they were in a position to do so. The famed flower painter Jan van Huysum, for instance, rejected the duke’s request to receive a particular painting in Schwerin on approval before buying it. Already in 1733 van Huysum referred to the duke’s possible death, which could jeopardize future installments, and, therefore, refused such a deal.23
The list of paintings Gerhard Morell sold to Duke Christian Ludwig, preserved in the Schwerin archives, constitutes a valuable source of information on several aspects of the Schwerin painting collection. In addition to evidence of the provenance and acquisition date of a number of important works, it indicates the methods of both the dealer and the collector in negotiating their deals. Both sides, it turns out, bargained hard, and the dealer took a considerable risk in selling to the aging duke. It ended well for Morell, but in recording his last sale to the Schwerin court, the 1755 invoice also attests to the last of Christian Ludwig’s many art acquisitions, including Schwerin’s precious painting, Fabritius’s Sentry.
Following is the full text of Morell’s invoice to the duke, with identifications of the particular paintings in the notes.24
Ihro Hoch Fürstl. Durchll. Erhandelten Allergnäd. Empfingen und Belieben vor nachfolgenden Mahlereyen.
1 Jan Lingelbach. Eine Heu Erndte – Rthlr. 250 25
2 Jan Weenix. Todtes Klein Wild ms.f. – 500
4.5 Joh. Hinr. Roos. Zahme Vieh Heerden 27– 160
6 Jan Hugtenburg. Eine Plünderung – 250
8 Gerritt Berkheyde. Das Stadt-Haus van Amsterdam 29– 75
9 David Rykarts. Eine fröhliche Bauer Gesellschaftt an Statt Dieses ein geschnitten Crucifix – 150
13.14 Jan Lingelbach. Carolus der 5te Die Königin Christina van Schweden zu Pferde à 30 33–60
Summa Rthlr 2025
[verso] Transport Rthlr 2025
15.16. Isaac Moucheron Sehr angenehme Landschafften à 100 34–200
18 Andr. Both. Ein Italiänisches Wirths Hauß mit Maul-Esel Treiben u.s.f. –150
20 Matth. Willmann. Discipul van Anth. v. Dyk Die Entführung der Europa 37–150
24.25. Jan v. Bergen. Zahmes Vieh 41 à 25 –50
26 Jan Hacker. Landschaftt mit Römischen Ruderibus –40
Summa Rthlr 3220
Schwerin den 2ten Aug. 1755
unterthänigster Gerhard Morell
[Annotation:] Vorstehende 3220 r. sind behandelt zu 3000 rthl. in Golde, und ist dabey gnädigst versprochen worden, daß solche summa termins-weise, und zwar auf nechstkomenden Michaelis dieses jeztlauffenden 1755 Jahres – 1000 rthl., auf Weynachten ej. an. 500 rth. auf Ostern 1756 wieder – 500 rth. auf Johannis 1756 noch – 500 rth. und endl. auf Michaelis – 1756 die lezten 500 rthl. bezahlet werden sollen. Schwerin d. 2ten Aug. 1755. [Paraphe:] CLHZM