Study of a Lumpsucker

attributed to Hendrick Goltzius’ circle

October 2015

Nationalmuseum has acquired a watercolour study of a male lumpsucker dating from the late 1500s. The drawing is closely connected with the group of nature studies executed by Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius at around the same time. These were especially popular among contemporary learned collectors of art and naturalia. The newly acquired study is a significant addition to the museum’s important collection of Old Master drawings, and brings new perspectives on the group of autograph Goltzius’ drawings.

This expressive, life-size study of a male lumpsucker from the renowned collection of Professor I.Q. van Regteren Altena was long attributed to Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617). In terms of technique, however, the newly acquired sheet differs from Goltzius’ nature studies, most of which are drawn in coloured chalks, with some wash. The drawing is, therefore, no longer considered to be a work by the Haarlem master, but rather by someone in his close circle. Executed almost entirely with a brush in watercolours and bodycolour, the new acquisition with its unique combination of transparency and opacity, renders the colour and special texture of the lumpsucker in a wholly realistic manner.

The lumpsucker, with its strange appearance and body shape, was generally regarded as a curiosity. The fish was, for example, represented in the collections of naturalia of the Theatrum Anatomicum in Leiden in the 1620s. Its thick skin lacks scales, and rows of wart-like lumps run the length of its sides and back, while the ventral fins form a sucking-disc on its stomach. The lumpsucker is found in coastal areas of the Atlantic. The fish is a poor swimmer and spends most of its life stuck in rocky crevices. The colour of its back is blue-gray, the sides are lighter. In the male the colours are at their most intense during the mating season, when its sides, stomach, and fins turn bright orange-red.

Picture: Hendrick Goltzius circle, Study of a Male Lumpsucker, the 1590s.

Hendrick Goltzius circle, Study of a Male Lumpsucker, the 1590s. Larger picture. 

Naturalistic studies of animals and plants had become an established genre by Goltzius’ time, with precedents in the art of Albrecht Dürer and Joris Hoefnagel. To represent different aspects of the visible world was an important part of humanism, and inspired contemporary art collectors’ to fill whole albums with nature studies and their cabinets with valuable specimens. These activities became increasingly important in the Netherlands during the last decades of the 16th century.  In addition to a growing interest in scientific pursuits, images of odd-looking creatures of all kinds could also have more negative associations to the occult. It is quite possible that the unusual appearance of the lumpsucker was interpreted as an ill omen.

The acquisition was made possible through a generous contribution from the Wiros-Fund. Nationalmuseum has no budget of its own for new acquisitions, but relies on gifting and financial support from private funds and foundations to enhance its collections of fine art and craft.

Inventory number: NMH 12/2015


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