National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek Sir Peter Paul Rubens (artist)
Flemish, 1577 - 1640
The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, c. 1626
oil on panel
overall: 65.5 x 82.4 cm (25 13/16 x 32 7/16 in.) framed: 96.8 x 113.4 cm (38 1/8 x 44 5/8 in.)
Gift of Syma Busiel
On View
From the Tour: Sir Peter Paul Rubens
Object 6 of 8


Possibly Palacio Nuevo, Madrid.[1] possibly Jean de Jullienne [born 1686], Paris, by 1753; (his estate sale, Paris, 30 March-22 May 1767, no. 98); J.B. Horion, Brussels; (his sale, Brussels, 1 September 1788 and days following, no. 20); probably (G.J. de Loose, Brussels).[2] Lady Stuart, by 1830;[3] (her estate sale, Christie's, London, 15 May 1841, no. 73); (Charles J. Niewenhuys, Brussels and London); Sir Thomas Baring, 2nd bt. [1772-1848], London; (his sale, Christie & Manson, London, 3 June 1848, no. 121); purchased by (Charles J. Niewenhuys, Brussels and London) for Sir Thomas' son, Thomas Baring [1799-1873]; by bequest to his nephew and heir, Thomas George Baring, 1st earl of Northbrook [1826-1904]; by inheritance to his son, Francis George Baring, 2nd earl of Northbrook [1850-1929]; sold September 1929 to (P. & D. Colnaghi, London); sold 1936 to Mr. and Mrs. Walter J. Stoye, Oxford;[4] (sale, Sotheby's, London, 2 July 1958, no. 44); purchased by (Carstairs Gallery, New York) for NGA with funds provided by Syma Busiel.

[1] The painting was first noted to have been in the Palacio Nuevo in the 1885 catalogue of the collection of a later owner, Thomas G. Baring, 1st earl of Northbrook. The information was repeated in exhibition catalogues of 1899, 1938, and 1953.

[2] The literature on the Gallery's painting has always connected it to the painting in the De Jullienne and Horion sales. Jean Baptiste Descamps, La Vie des Peintres Flamands, Allemands et Hollandois, 4 vols., Paris, 1753-1763: 1(1753): 316, describes among three paintings by Rubens in De Jullienne's collection "le belle Esquisse finie," which is possibly the depiction of Abraham and Melchizedek. There were, however, more than three Rubens paintings in De Jullienne's 1767 estate sale, including other sketches, so it is not certain that De Jullienne owned the painting in question as early as 1753, or even if it is the same painting. The dimensions of the painting listed in the 1767 and 1788 sale catalogues, given as 24 x 30 pouces and 24 x 30 1/2 pouces, respectively, are fairly close to those of the Gallery's painting. However, these dimensions are also close to several copies of this scene, among them the version in the John G. Johnson Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In addition, the 1767 catalogue describes the painting as being on canvas and depicting Achimelec and David, and the 1788 entry says it had been engraved by Witdoock. The Gallery's painting is on panel, and the engraving by Witdoock is after an earlier Rubens painting of Abraham and Melchizedek now in the Musée Caen. Julia Armstrong-Totten of the Getty Provenance Index has kindly supplied the probable name of the buyer at the 1788 Horion sale, and the information that he was an auctioneer and dealer in Brussels. Max Rooses, L'Oeuvre de P.P. Rubens: Histoire et Description de ses Tableaux et Dessins, 5 vols., Antwerp, 1886-1892: 1(1886): 63, under no. 46, spells the name Looze.

Despite these inconsistencies, assuming the painting in the 1767 and 1788 sales is the Gallery's, its provenance between 1788 and 1830 is not known with certainty. A complicating factor is that a number of paintings depicting Abraham and Melchizedek and attributed at the time to Rubens appeared in British sales in the early 19th century. The existence of several copies of the Gallery's painting, and the lack of descriptions and size information in the sales catalogues, makes identifying these paintings a challenge. Both Nora De Poorter, The Eucharist Series (Corpus Rubenianum Ludwi Burchard, Part 2), London and Philadelphia, 1978: 110, no. 7c, and Peter C. Sutton and Marjorie E. Wieseman, et al., The Age of Rubens, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Toledo [Ohio] Museum of Art, 1993: 271, no. 21, include in their provenance of the Gallery's painting the following sequence of ownership, and incorrectly identify the lot in the Dyson sale as no. 14: Simon M'Gillivray; (his sale, Christie's, London, 6-7 May 1825, 2nd day, no. 25); Dyson; (his sale, Christie's, London, 18 June 1825, no. 34); Crawford; Lady Stepney; (her sale, Christie's, London, 1 May 1830, no. 93, bought in). (The 1889 Northbrook catalogue entry for the Gallery's painting mentions the M'Gillivray and Dyson names and related sales in a note, but adds that these "probably refer to another, or to other pictures.")

Anneke Wertheim has further identified the painting from the 1830 Lady Stepney sale as lot 51 in the London sale of the collection of W.H. Trant, Esq. by Edward Foster on 9 and 11-12 June 1832. Further research has determined that the painting in the two 1825 sales could not be the same as the painting in the 1830 and 1832 sales, and that the latter (Stepney) painting could not be the one in the earlier 1767 and 1788 sales. The 1830 Lady Stepney sale catalogue states that the painting "was formerly the property of John, Lord Trevor, and bought at the sale of his widow's effects in 1782," and this information is partially repeated in the 1832 Trant catalogue, where the entry reads "Formerly the property of Lord Trevor, and bought at the sale of his effects in 1782," leaving out mention of his widow. Ann Davies, whose ancestor was housekeeper for the great-granddaughter of Catherine, Lady Stepney, has generously provided information about two Lady Stepneys, as well as Lord Trevor and his wife (correspondence of December 2004 and January 2005, in NGA curatorial files). John, Lord Trevor of Bromham, died in 1764, and his widow Elizabeth died 1 January 1782; therefore his ownership and his widow's 1782 sale (as yet unidentified, despite the kind efforts of Lynda McLeod, Librarian, Christie's Archive, London) conflict with the Jullienne/Horion ownership of between at least 1767 and 1788. Catherine, Lady Stepney (née Catherine Pollok) was born in 1778, and is therefore unlikely to be the buyer only four years later at Lady Trevor's sale.

However, it is quite possible that the buyer in 1782 at the sale of either Lord Trevor's or his widow's effects was an earlier Lady Stepney. This was Elizabeth, Lady Stepney (née Elizabeth Lloyd) who was born in 1733, widowed in 1772, and whose younger son, Sir Thomas Stepney (1760-1825), inherited most of her property at her death in 1795. Sir Thomas succeeded his unmarried older brother, Sir John Stepney, as Baronet of Predergast in 1811, and in 1813 he married Catherine Pollok Manners after her divorce from her first husband, Russell Manners. A note in Christie's archive in London, kindly provided by Julia Armstrong-Totten, reads: "Lady Stepney, consigns Rubens, Abraham and Melchisideck [sic] on June 4, 1812, delivered to Mr. Watson [Watson and Wheeler, undertakers], Bridge St. Westminster on Sept. 18." Although there was technically no Lady Stepney alive in 1812, the consignor was likely Sir Thomas Stepney, disposing of some of the property he had inherited from his mother. The Getty Provenance Index could not locate the painting in an 1812 sale, so presumably it did not sell.

When the painting appeared later in the "Lady Stepney" sale of 1830, the owner was probably Catherine, Lady Stepney, who had presumably inherited the painting after her husband's death in 1825. The auctioneer's copy of the 1830 sale catalogue confirms that the painting was bought in for 80 guineas. It is not known when Mr. Trant acquired the painting, but he may have had a financial arrangement with Lady Stepney, as nearly half of the unsold paintings from her 1830 sale appeared in the Trant sale two years later, seven of which she bought back. The Rubens was not one of them, and although none of the surviving copies of the 1832 catalogue indicate the buyer, the auctioneer's copy lists a price of £14.14. (Both auctioneer's catalogues are in the Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, London; correspondence from May 2004 and January 2005 with Julia Armstrong-Totten is in NGA curatorial files.) Since the painting listed in the 1830 and 1832 sales is the same, it cannot be the painting cited by Smith in 1830 (see note 3) as the one owned by Dowager Lady Stuart, which is securely documented as the Gallery's painting by virtue of its unbroken provenance from that date.

[3] The painting was first cited in the literature when it was identified in the collection of "Dowager Lady Stuart" by John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters, 9 vols., London, 1829-1842: 2(1830):142, 184, no. 641.

[4] The dates of sale to Colnaghi and to the Stoye family are found in the statement by G. Keller of Sotheby's in defense of granting the export license for the painting after the 1958 sale (copy in NGA curatorial files).

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