The 17th-century artist Henri de Fromantiou enjoyed a successful career as a court painter to Frederik Willem I, Elector of Brandenburg, displaying a particular flair for still life. This month, the Bonnefantenmuseum will open the first ever retrospective of the artist’s work. We asked the curator, Lars Hendrikman, to tell us more about the Maastricht-born master.
Can you tell us a bit about the exhibition?
The exhibition is about Henri de Fromantiou, a completely forgotten master who was born in Maastricht. He worked in Amsterdam and The Hague before being appointed as court painter for Friedrich Wilhelm I, the ‘Great Elector’ of Brandenburg in Berlin/Potsdam.
What makes this a distinctive show?
It’s the first show ever about this 17th-century still life painter, accompanied by the first book about him ever, which fills an art historical lacuna. It confronts our public with magnificent yet mostly completely unknown paintings.
How did you come to curate this exhibition?
It had been presumed for a long time that Henri de Fromantiou was born in Maastricht. Further research provided documentary evidence for this, but already decades before that the museum bought two of his paintings. Considering that they are actually very good paintings, it was no more than logical to take them as the starting point for a monographic show in the town he was born.
What is likely to be the highlight of the exhibition?
The best paintings of Henri de Fromantiou are easily mistaken for works by his better known contemporaries. One outstanding flower still life was catalogued as Willem van Aelst until during cleaning the signature of De Fromantiou showed up. Also, two small paintings from American private collections are definitely worth the trip to Maastricht.
And what’s been the most exciting personal discovery for you?
The versatility of the painter. Even within the trammel of his genre he comes up with new themes and an intelligent way of quite geometrically composing pictures.
What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced in preparing this exhibition?
The challenge will not have been much different from those of colleagues working on old masters: Can I get all the works that make sense in the exhibition? Will lenders be prepared to lend for this particular purpose? Will we be able to afford our wish-list?
How are you using the gallery space? What challenges will the installation pose?
Actually not very many. Our museum is housed in a new and rather versatile building and we have an experienced and dedicated technical staff. The layout of the exhibition is pretty straight-forward.
Which other works would you have liked to have included?
As De Fromantiou is not a well-known name, most of his paintings were in the reserves of museums. Some of them really required full restoration before being able to travel, for which we did not have the required funding.
‘Henri de Fromantiou: Royal Illusions’ is at the Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, from 6 March–28 June.