Emmanuel Noterman (1808 – 1863) specialised in paintings with monkey tricks: mild satirical scenes of monkeys foolishly copying human behaviour.
Flemish and after its independence in 1830 Belgian artists have always had a fair sense for surrealism; it is our second nature for dealing with whoever is in power.
This composition was inspired by 17th century Dutch tavern interior scenes.
About Emmanuel Noterman
Belgian painter and printmaker
Oudenaarde 1808 – 1863 Antwerp
Genre scene painter.
Son of a decorative painter.
Pupil at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent under Jean Baptiste Louis Maes (also known as Maes Canini, 1794 – 1856).
In Antwerp he also studied under Pierre or Petrus Kremer (1801 – 1888). A portrait drawn by Noterman of his master is in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Master of Jan Stobbaerts (1838 – 1914) and of his youngest brother Zacharie Noterman (1820 – 1890). Zacharie was strongly influenced by his brother, even in the choice of his subjects (singeries). He settled in Paris.
Emmanuel Noterman initially started with portrait painting. After his move to Antwerp in 1835 he specialised in genre scenes, especially in so-called “singeries”: humorous scenes with dressed monkeys engaging in human activities. He also often made paintings with cats and dogs.
Besides Emmanuel and Zacharie Noterman there was a third 19th century Belgian painter, Vincent de Vos (Kortrijk 1829 – 1875 Kortrijk), who also specialised in animal scenes with monkeys and dogs.
I should also mention Jos Schippers (1868 – 1950) who continued painting these subjects well into the 20th century.
About monkey tricks
“Singeries” or monkey tricks were a popular subject in Flemish painting during the 17th century and later in French (Rococo) painting during the 18th century.
Typical of the Flemish monkey scenes is their sense for satirical humour, often with a moralizing tendency, criticizing man’s (stupid) behaviour and his sense for social hierarchy. The best-known 17th century Flemish painters of “singeries” are David Teniers II, his brother Abraham Teniers and Ferdinand van Kessel.
Later in French painting these subjects got, typical of the Rococo period of course, a more decorative and less sharp meaning, often in combination with Chinese decors.
I should also mention in applied arts the famous porcelain monkey orchestras produced in Saxony, Germany, at the Meissen factory from around the middle of the 18th century onwards.
It is rather surprising to us that, long before Darwin, painters turned to monkeys imitating man’s basic behaviour. Since Antiquity monkeys were considered stupid animals who, with their eyes wide open, are merely copying human foolish behaviour, without actually understanding it.
It is striking how many Flemish, and later Belgian (Belgium as an independent country was created in 1830), painters turned to this subject.
The reason is of course historical: Flanders was since the Middle Ages one of the richest regions of Europe, but it had most of the time been in the hands of foreign powers. Mild forms of satire and sense for “surrealism” were and still are a second nature for our writers and artists.
About the subject of our painting
Our singerie represents a first half 17th century Dutch tavern interior. Indeed the left monkey is an officer of the Dutch army, who is playing dice on a military drum. Until 1648 the Eighty Years’ War was fought, which one may call the Dutch war of independence from Spain.
It ended with the final recognition, by Catholic Spain, of the independent, largely Protestant Republic of the Seven United Provinces. Flanders remained Spanish and Catholic.
Before the end of the 17th century there existed no military uniforms yet. The Dutch orange sash around his middle and the plume on his hat with the colours of the Dutch flag identify the side he belonged to. As to the iron breast plate that would by the second quarter of the 17th century have been considered a rather old-fashioned defensive element.
Following the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 it was decided by the important European nations that present-day Belgium should be incorporated into the Dutch Republic to form a buffer between France and N. Germany. This union only lasted for 15 years until 1830 when Belgium successfully fought for its independence. Noterman, who was born in 1808, would have known both periods.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is a magnificent, mildly humouristic, little painting.