Alexander Keirincx

Distant View of York


Alexander Keirincx 1600–1652
Oil paint on oak
Support: 529 × 687 mm
frame: 700 × 855 × 60 mm
Purchased 1986

Display caption

This view of York was commissioned by Charles I as part of a group of ten paintings of towns and castles in the north of England and Scotland. It is dominated by the west front of York Minster. As the political situation deteriorated in the run-up to the Civil War, Charles I travelled north to confront hostile Scottish rebels at Berwick in May 1639. The artist may have accompanied him on this expedition. Keirincx was born and trained in Antwerp, later moving to Utrecht. He worked in Britain from 1638 to 1641, living in Orchard Street in Westminster.

Gallery label, February 2016

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Catalogue entry

Alexander Keirincx 1600–1652

Distant View of the City of York
Oil on oak panel
529 x 687 x 6 mm
Inscribed ‘AK’ in monogram centre right foreground in pale, partly transparent paint; branded with royal cipher – ‘CR’ surmounted by a crown – on reverse of panel
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1986

Ownership history
Probably one of a set of four views of northern towns by Keirincx recorded in van der Doort’s catalogue (completed 1639¿–40) of Charles I’s pictures at Whitehall; …; probably part of a set of ten views ‘of the King’s houses and townes in Scotland’ by Keirincx at Oatlands palace, sold in two lots at the Commonwealth sale on 3 May 1650 (39, two works) and 3 May 1651 (44, eight works) both bought by Remigius van Leemput; …; F. Quinones of Palma, Spain (who also owned lot 3, View of an English Royal Castle by Keirincx in the same sale) sold Christie’s, London, 11 April 1986 (2, as View of Pontefract from the East, Yorks) bt Leggatt on behalf of Tate.

Exhibition history
Royalist Refugees: The Rubenshuis Years of William and Margaret Cavendish, 1648–1660, exhibition catalogue, Rubenshuis, Antwerp 2006, p. 154, no.34 reproduced (colour).

M.Whinney and O. Millar, English Art 1635–1714, Oxford 1957, p.261, n.1; O. Millar, ‘Abraham Van der Doort’s Catalogue of the Collections of Charles I’, Walpole Society, vol.37, 1960, pp.159, 160; O. Millar, ‘The Inventories and Valuations of the King’s Goods, 1649–1651’, Walpole Society, vol.43, 1970, p.278; Y. Thiery and M.K. de Meerendre, Les Peintres flamands de paysage du XVIIe siècle, Brussels 1987, pp.54–5, reproduced; The Tate Gallery 1986–88: Illustrated Biennial Report, London 1988, p.127 (as Distant View of a Town (called ‘Pontefract’); R.P. Townsend, ‘Alexander Keirincx 1600–1652’, unpublished thesis, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1988, pp.22–35 and n.103; R.P. Townsend, ‘The One and Only Alexander Keirincx: Correcting the Misconceptions’, Apollo, vol.38, October 1993, pp.220–3, fig.1; Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986–88, London 1996, pp.40–2; Richard P. Townsend, ‘Alexander Keirincx’s Royal Commission of 1639–1640’, in Juliette Roding and others (eds.), Dutch and Flemish Artists in Britain 1550–1800, Leiden 2003, pp.137–50.

This work once belonged to King Charles I, and his crowned ‘CR’ cipher is branded on the back of the panel.

In the late 1620s the painter Alexander Keirincx, who was born and trained in Antwerp, moved to Utrecht where he first collaborated with Cornelis van Poelenburch. From 1638 to 1641 both artists were working in London, living alongside each other in Orchard Street, Westminster. Subsequent references reveal that at this time King Charles I commissioned ten landscape views from Keirincx. At present the locations of only six of these are known. This is one of these works, all of which are painted on wooden panel, are of roughly the same dimensions, and bear Charles I’s monogram on the back. All present a distant view of a castle or town in the north of England or in Scotland, set in its surrounding countryside.

The present work, which is signed in monogram ‘AK’, was acquired by Tate at auction in 1986, as a view of Pontefract in Yorkshire. With the assistance of Richard Green, formerly of York City Art Gallery, it was subsequently identified as a view of the city of York.1

Charles I’s commission for this group of landscapes seems to have arisen from the deteriorating political situation in his kingdom. In February 1639, the Scots responded to Charles I’s imposition of governmental and liturgical changes by drawing up a Covenant which affirmed the identity of the Church of Scotland and the right to political self-rule. Charles set off with an army to subdue the rebels. Humiliatingly outnumbered, he confronted them at Berwick on 28 May 1639. On 18 June 1639 the Treaty of Berwick was signed, which resulted in the disbandment of both armies and the restoration to Charles of his royal castles.

Richard Townsend has suggested that Keirincx travelled in Charles’s retinue on this expedition north. The artist and engraver Wenceslaus Hollar is certainly known to have down so.2 If so, Keirincx would have toured the various northern sites during May and June 1639 and begun work on his paintings in July or August. This and the three other views of Yorkshire must have been delivered by the end of the year, because they are recorded then as hanging at Whitehall Palace by Charles I’s curator Abraham van der Doort (‘ffower lanskipp pecees of one Bigness Being the Nordron towne ...’).3

However, as curator Elizabeth Einberg pointed out in her 1988 entry on this work, there are a number of details in this representation of York that are vague or inaccurate, and difficult to reconcile with the known topography. She therefore proposed that Keirincx, who was in any case primarily a painter of picturesque landscapes rather than of topographic views, may never have visited York but based his view on topographical drawings supplied by someone else. A hint that this could be so is given in Van der Doort’s catalogue of the collections of Charles I, completed towards the end of 1639. A draft list of the contents of the Cabinet Room at Whitehall records as ‘in Store in severall places and ... yet unplaced’ a number of paintings which include ‘baeht bij te king au M karings / Item ffower lanskipp pecess of one Bigness / Being the Nordron towne paynted. Bij stalbents drauwings’.4 This could mean that the set of four landscapes of northern towns bought from Keirincx by the King were stored next to drawings by Stalbemt, or that these were paintings by Stalbemt bought from Keirincx. However, it could also signify that the paintings were made by Keirincx after drawings supplied by Adrian van Stalbemt (1580–1662). This Flemish painter is known to have worked at the court of Charles I, and although nothing is known about his movements outside London, he could have accompanied the King on his journey that year to Scotland to be crowned, visiting York en route.

Six views belonging to the same set turned up on the art market towards the end of the twentieth century. Five of them are now identified as views in Scotland and Yorkshire, suggesting that Keirincx may indeed have accompanied the King on his journey to Scotland in 1639. The three other securely identified views, Falkland Palace, Fife and Seton Palace and the Forth Esturary (both Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh) and Richmond Castle, Yorkshire (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven), are thought to be accurate representations of their localities. The View of an English Royal Castle offered in the same sale as the Tate picture, but not sold, is now thought to represent Helmsley Castle in Yorkshire (it was offered again at Christie’s, London, on 8 May 1987, lot 155, reproduced, bought in; and again at Sotheby’s, Amsterdam, 14 November 1988, lot 225, reproduced). It is also possible that Keirincx either for some reason did not visit all of the sites of which paintings were required, or perhaps lost the sketches he made, and thus had to resort to drawings made earlier by Stalbemt. It should be added that no relevant drawings by Stalbemt are known.

Landscape painting was at this date only very rarely practised in Britain, and this commission appears to have been unique. Charles I is, however, known to have owned a considerable number of imported Netherlandish landscapes.

In summer 1649, following the execution of Charles I, Parliament instructed a team of Trustees to make an inventory of all the King’s possessions and to value them in preparation for their sale to pay the King’s debts and to raise money for the Commonwealth. This was done in 1649–50, and the sales were held over the next two years. It seems reasonable to assume that the four pictures listed by Van der Doort resurface as part of a set of ten views of Scotland by Keirincx in the inventory of works at Oatlands Palace, in Surrey.5

In ye Kings Galleries at Oatelands…
Sold 39: Two landshapes after ye life. Being Kings houses.
Of Scotland. Done by Carings. at 06:00:00
Sold to Leemput 3 May 1650 for £7

Sold 44: And 8 pictures of Kings houses and townes in
Scotland done by Carings at 24:00:00
Sold to Leemput 3 May 1651 for £26

The valuations and prices suggest that all ten paintings were of the same size, and the finer points of whether the views were of towns in Scotland or the north of England might have been easily overlooked in the immense task facing the cataloguers. The buyer, Remigius Van Leemput (1609–1675), was an Antwerp painter and dealer who worked in London, and was best known as a skilful copyist of works by Van Dyck. He bought, among other things, most of the paintings by Keirincx (a fellow Antwerpian) in the royal collections, and it is quite possible that he disposed of them abroad.

It is notable that the painterly landscape element predominates over topographic clarity in all the panels from this set, and that there is a complete absence of any hint that might connect them with a military campaign. Small rustic figures, some possibly by Cornelius van Poelenburgh, with whom Keirincx is known to have collaborated at other times, dot the peaceful and pastoral landscape, while in the most recently discovered view of an as yet unidentified town (sold Christie’s on 15 April 1992, lot 108), an artist is seen sketching in the foreground.

Karen Hearn
June 2009


1 For a full account of the evidence, see Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986–88, London 1996, p.40.
2 See R.P. Townsend, ‘Alexander Keirincx 1600–1652’, unpublished thesis, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1988; R.P. Townsend, ‘The One and Only Alexander Keirincx: Correcting the Misconceptions’, Apollo, vol.38, October 1993, pp.220–3; Richard P. Townsend, ‘Alexander Keirincx’s Royal Commission of 1639–1640’, in Juliette Roding and others (eds.), Dutch and Flemish Artists in Britain 1550–1800, Leiden 2003, pp.137–50.
3 Cited in Townsend 2003, p.142.
4 M.S. Ashmole 1514, Bodleian Library, fol.157.
5 Millar 1972, p.278.


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