Knuttel, Gerhardus Wzn

Full Name: 
Knuttel, Gerhardus Wzn
Year Born: 
1889
Year Died: 
1968
Place Born: 
The Hague, Netherlands
Home Country: 
Netherlands
Overview: 
Museum curator; art critic. Knuttel was the son of Willem Knuttel (1854-1921), who was a librarian at the Royal Library in The Hague. His mother, Elize Fabius, was a writer. Knuttel attended the Gymnasium in The Hague and from 1909 to 1913 he took painting classes at the Hague Academy. In 1914 he was appointed an assistant at the Rotterdam Museum Boymans, a position he held for one year. He then decided to study art history. In Germany he enrolled at the universities of Berlin and Heidelberg. From Heidelberg University, where he studied under Carl Neumann (q.v.), he earned, in 1917, his doctoral degree with a dissertation on a painting by Adriaan van de Venne, "Fishing for Souls", Das Gemälde des Seelenfischfangs von Adriaen Pietersz. van der Venne. The painting (1614) is an allegory of the fight between the Protestants in the Northern Netherlands and the Catholics in the Southern Netherlands. After his return to the Netherlands, Knuttel began, in 1919, his yearlong career at the Hague Gemeentemuseum, under H. E. Van Gelder (q.v.). In addition, between 1926 and 1938, he taught modern art at Utrecht University as a privaat-docent. In the museum, where he climbed in rank from assistant to curator of modern art, he stimulated the acquisition of works of contemporary Dutch and foreign painters. This collection became one of the highlights of the new museum designed by Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856-1934), and completed in 1935. In 1938 Knuttel published his synthesis on Netherlandish painting, De Nederlandsche schilderkunst van Van Eyck tot Van Gogh. Between 1939 and 1941 he published, in the Palet-series, three monographs: Hubert en Jan van Eyck, Hercules Seghers, and Willem van Konijnenburg. In the Gemeentemuseum Knuttel eventually succeeded H. E. van Gelder as director in 1941. Unwilling to collaborate with the Nazis during the German Occupation, Knuttel was held hostage for two years in Michielgestel, a municipality in the southern part of the Netherlands. During those empty days the hostages organized courses on various topics. Knuttel contributed to the program with art history classes. After the war he resumed his position at the museum. In 1947 he published a book on leading painters in art history, Fakkeldragers van de Nederlandse Schilderkunst. Van Eyck, Bruegel, Rubens, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh. In 1948, the year of his retirement, followed his study, Tot het hart der mensheid, het Nederlandse in de beeldende kunst. In 1949 his monograph on a contemporary painter appeared, Charles Eyck. As an art critic he regularly published in the journals Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant and Het Vaderland, and in the magazine Kroniek voor Kunst en Kultuur. In 1950 he was one of the co-founders of the Association Internationale des Critiques d'Art, and for years he was the president of the Dutch section. In 1951 he published a study on the evolution of the artistic design of letters throughout different style periods, De letter als kunstwerk; beschouwingen en confrontaties met andere gelijktijdige kunstuitingen van de Romeinse tijd tot op heden. His publication on Rembrandt's etchings was translated into English, German, French, and Swedish. His Rembrandt monograph was published in 1956, a Rembrandt commemoration year. His last work (1962) is a critical study on the oeuvre of the Flemish painter Adriaen Brouwer. Knuttel saw his synthesis, De Nederlandsche schilderkunst van Van Eyck tot Van Gogh, as belonging to Geistesgeschichte and he pointed to the art history approach of Max Dvorak (q.v.). In this perspective the personality of the artist is a component in the intellectual evolution of a specific period. Knuttel's observations also reveal his personal engagement with the artworks and their creators. In his earlier publications he paid more attention to the iconological content of art works, as appears from his dissertation and from his 1926 essay on the Dutch still life (E. De Jongh, 1999). In his 1962 monograph on Adriaen Brouwer, which Knuttel intended as a necessary improvement on the earlier monographs by Schmidt Degener (q.v.), published in 1908, and Bode (q.v.), published in 1924, Knuttel offers a new picture of the master's life and personality, and of his artistic development,. As an art critic, privaat-docent, curator, and writer, Knuttel saw himself as a mediator between art and his audience as well as the contemporary public. (Jaffé, 1974).
Selected Bibliography: 
Das Gemälde des Seelenfischfangs von Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne. Heidelberg, 1917, published, The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1917; Het classicisme en de kunst van heden: openbare les op 21 October 1926. Utrecht: Oosthoek, 1926;"Het Nederlandsch stilleven" Mededeelingen van den Dienst voor Kunsten en Wetenschappen der Gemeente 's-Gravenhage (1926, 2): 1-31; De Nederlandsche schilderkunst van Van Eyck tot Van Gogh. Amsterdam: H. J. W. Becht, 1938; Fakkeldragers van de Nederlandse Schilderkunst. Van Eyck, Bruegel, Rubens, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh. Antwerp: De Sikkel, 1947; Tot het hart der mensheid, het Nederlandse in de beeldende kunst. Amsterdam: Ploegsma, 1948; Charles Eyck. Amsterdam: Van Munster, 1949; De letter als kunstwerk; beschouwingen en confrontaties met andere gelijktijdige kunstuitingen van de Romeinse tijd tot op heden. Amsterdam: Lettergieterij "Amsterdam" voorheen N. Tetterode, 1951; Rembrandt: etsen. The Hague: L. J C. Boucher, 1954; Rembrandt, de meester en zijn werk. Amsterdam: Ploegsma, 1956; Adriaen Brouwer, the Master and his Work. The Hague: L. J. C. Boucher, 1962.
Sources: 
Jaffé, H. L. "Gerhardus Knuttel WZN" in Jaarboek van de Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde te Leiden 1972-1973. Leiden, 1974, pp. 153-159; Jansen, H. " 'Zingen, lief, is zich versteken, in een vindbaarheid zoo schoon'" Jaarboek Haags Gemeentemuseum 1995-1996. The Hague, 1997, pp. 64-85; Blotkamp, Carel "Kunstgeschiedenis en moderne kunst: een lange aanloop." in Hecht, Peter; Stolwijk, Chris; Hoogenboom, Annemieke, eds., Kunstgeschiedenis in Nederland. Negen opstellen. Amsterdam: Prometheus, 1998, pp. 97-98; De Jongh, E. "The Iconological Approach to Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painting" in Grijzenhout, Frans and Van Veen, Henk, eds., The Golden Age of Dutch Painting in Historical Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 208-210.
Contributor: 
Monique Daniels