Jan van Goyen

Abstract of the Master’s thesis by Drs. B. Biemans MA, about the estimation of the amount of paintings that was made in the Dutch Republic in the 17th century.Abstract of the Master’s thesis by Drs. B. Biemans MA, about the estimation of the amount of paintings that was made in the Dutch Republic in the 17th century.

Based on an average production of 25 paintings per artist per year during their working life of on average 27 years, for almost 1500 painters, I estimate that the amount of paintings that was produced in the Dutch Republic in the 17th century is approximately one million. If we take this amount of one million works, we see a significant difference with earlier excepted numbers of five or six million, calculated by Van der Woude and by Montias (converted). Furthermore, both mainly look at the Old Masters and Van der Woude only considers the province of Holland, which would mean that their numbers for the whole of the Dutch Republic would be even higher. On an average population of about 1.7 million and approximately 350,000 residential units (houses, farms) six million paintings is an overwhelming amount, in my opinion. Nonetheless, this amount of six million and even higher (five to ten million) is still being used, even though a certain doubt about these great numbers exists. However, because of a lack of new insights and calculations art historians hold on to these figures. Thanks to the work of Mr. Groenendijk, there is a better view on the amount of painters that worked in the Netherlands in the 17th century. Furthermore, his Lexicon shows too that painters often worked in other professions in combination with their artistry. The painters did not only do artistic work such as making etchings, engravings, watercolour sketches, drawings and decoration. They also had administrative positions or worked in the (art) trade, industry or catering. This means that there income was often not completely dependent on the sale of paintings. Since Van der Woude and Montias do assume this dependence, their methods take on a different light. Even though one million paintings in 100 years is still a respectable amount, this number is five to six times less than the amount that has been used so far. In my opinion, we can no longer speak of enormous amounts of paintings in the Dutch Republic in the 17th century. To clarify my estimation of one million paintings, I will make a comparison with the results of the research of Van der Woude, De Vries and Montias. The table below shows the key figures of Van der Woude, De Vries, Montias and my research.

Tabel: Analysis of the key figures of the amount of paintings in the Dutch Republic in the 17th century.


* The estimation of Montias in 1650
** The estimation for the period 1640-1659
*** The estimation of 20 years is multiplied by five for the period 1600-1700
Based on a comparison of the data above, I am making the following analysis. I am holding on to the amount of painters of 1500 because this number is largely based on a ten-year study of 17th century painters by Mr. Groenendijk. I value his study more than estimations based on the income of a painter in the 17th century, the prices of paintings in this period or an estimation of the painters based on a comparative percentage of the labour force in the 17th century because of the low degree of precision of these calculations. The average amount of productive years that I use, 27, lies in the middle of De Vries’ estimation of 25 to 30 years. The number of 27 seems to me to be a reasonable estimate. The average amount of paintings that an artist produces of 75 (Van der Woude) or even 94 (Montias) appears to be too high. An average amount of 25 paintings per year for the whole of the 17th century results in an average production of 675 (=25 x 27) paintings per artist. This still seems to be much, but we should not forget that we are talking about an average for the whole group of painters of the entire Dutch Republic; this also concerns approximately a thousand less famous painters of which we often do not know of what quality their paintings were or how many were sold because these paintings were often not mentioned in household effects. The division over the three periods, namely 28 paintings per year in 1600-1635, 30 paintings per year in 1636-1670 and 12 paintings per year in 1671-1700 is, in my opinion, a reasonable division that can be explained as follows. The period of 1600-1635 was one of an emerging and fast growing economy of the Republic, in which well-off craftsman, farmers, commoners, merchants, ‘regenten’, and nobility decorated their interiors with paintings. The period afterwards saw an even larger growth and thus a larger demand for paintings. The supply was not only extended because of a larger group of painters, but also because these artists pushed their average production per painter from 28 to 30 per year. However, with such a large supply a saturation of the market will occur, enhanced by a diminishing economic growth in the period 1671-1700. Paintings are still being sold during that time, but mainly to those buyers that have enough money to extend their art collection. Others, with less purchasing power, will keep their acquisitions but can hardly enlarge their collection if at all. This is also the period of refinement and elegance, of colourful, technically advanced paintings. Not only the number of painters is reduced, the average production has become lower as well. The production comes, on average, to a level that we can see in the second halve of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th as well. In this period, we see a growing economy because of technical innovation, but the average production of a painter remains between five and ten works per year; partially because the people with purchasing power already have an inherited collection and partially because they can buy 17th and 18th century paintings at auctions and such. Based on aforementioned numbers, I tend to assume that an average production of 25 paintings per year is more realistic than 75 paintings or more. Finally, I would like to comment on the method with which the amount of preserved paintings in museums, churches (semi) governmental building and private dwellings is calculated. In museums over the whole world one will often find paintings of the Old Masters that are somewhat famous. These will probably be painters ‘from the top five hundred’. This most likely also applies to national and international collectors of Old Masters. Families that are not part of the richest classes and that have inherited paintings or bought them at a local auction ‘because it is such a nice picture’ will mainly have paintings of less famous painters or paintings of which the maker is unknown. In these cases, however, it concerns roughly two thirds of all paintings from the Golden Age, which makes it impossible to use this method to take stock of the whole amount of paintings that were made in the 17th century. Based on the comparative analysis I will hold on to my estimation of one million paintings because the components/variables of my research show consistency.

Nothing may be taken from my master’s thesis without clearly mentioning my name and the title of my thesis in addition to a link to this website.