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Willem Jan van den Berghe (1823 – Middelburg – 1901)
Portrait of a dog in an interior
Panel, 31 x 45 cm
In its original 19th Century gilded frame
Price: € 3,500
The oeuvre of the Dutch artist Willem Jan van den Berghe consists mainly of Alpine landscapes. He was a pupil of the Romantic painter Abraham van der Wayen Pieterszen (1817-1880) and studied at the Antwerp Academy from 1848 – 1849. Between 1847 and 1851 he travelled to the Ardennes, the Black Forest, Bavaria and Tyrol. In 1861 he lived in The Hague and in 1862, van den Berghe settled as a drawing teacher in Middelburg.
He exhibited in Rotterdam in 1848, in Antwerpen in 1849, in Leeuwarden in 1855 and in Amsterdam and The Hague between 1853 and 1884.
Examples of his work can be found in the Hamburg Museum, Germany, in the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague, the Zeeuws Museum in Middelburg and the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem. Drawings are being kept in the Teylers Museum in Haarlem, Museum Boymans van Beuningen in Rotterdam and the Rijksprentenkabinet in Amsterdam.
This fully signed antique dog portrait is a-typical within van den Berghe’s oeuvre that mainly consists of landscapes. The dog will have been somebody’s best friend and may have been portrayed on commission.
It proves hard to exactly determine its breed. If you look at old photos of dogs in the 19th century and compare them to photos of dogs in the 20th century and today, you will find that all breeds have changed, some radically. Most “toy breeds” of today were larger then, with longer legs and body, which would probably account for the difficulty identifying the breed of the dog in the painting if you are looking at modern examples. Interestingly enough, the body of this dog could be that of a Border Collie, but the head is all wrong and reminds of the famous King Charles Spaniel. The Friese Stabij, or Stabijhoun, an old local Dutch Frisian race that already is being mentioned in various 19th century texts, also comes to mind.
The position of dogs changed in the 19th century from useful animal to pet or companion, (our antique dog portrait is a case in point), it was then that dogs such as the King Charles Spaniel developed.
However, this was not the case with the Border Collie. Much the opposite. While working collies were being developed into the several different collie breeds of today (the Collie, Welsh Shepherd, and Border Collie in Britain, the Australian Shepherd, McNab, and English Shepherd in the United States, etc.), only one of them actually was developed as a show breed and companion back then, the Collie. The others continued to evolve into the working breeds they still are today. It is only today that fewer and fewer are being used as herding dogs, and more and more are being bred for show, sports, and as companions, and as they are, you can see the changes in their coats (becoming longer and heavier), their body shapes (becoming shorter and more stocky), and the length of their muzzles in one direction or another. This does seem to reflect what happened 150 years ago or so to many of the other breeds of dog.
Border collies have only been given that name for 100 years when the International Sheep Dog Society was founded in the Scottish Borders. Before that they were known as curs. The collie or cur is of mixed ancestry. It is obvious that setters, spaniels and pointers on large estates mated with the shepherds curs to produce the quality animal we have today. There are rough collies that have setter and spaniel characteristics and smooth collies with pointer and greyhound characteristics. (The black pointer was very popular on Scottish estates, they had greyhound blood in them and were bred from the 17th century.)
There is a very strong likelihood that our painting is of a lap dog type – King Charles spaniel crossed with a cur, or Dutch Barge dog. The ears are decidedly spaniel. Some collies have long ears – but never that long. The face shape and short leg also points to King Charles type. Collies NOT being suitable pets because of their instinct to work, in Victorian times were crossed with the Russian Borzoi to give us the present day rough collie as seen in films – i.e. Lassie.
We are grateful to Mrs. Betty K. Deemer, President of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, U. S. A, for her invaluable assistance in the writing of this entry.