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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Nicolaes Maes/Portrait of a Lady/1676,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, http://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/121137 (accessed December 02, 2016).

 

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Overview

Nicolaes Maes, one of the foremost portrait painters of the second half of the seventeenth century, began his career as a painter of religious subjects and genre scenes. These early works reflect the influence of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669), with whom he studied in Amsterdam between 1646 and 1653. Maes’ shift to portraiture occurred only after his return to his native city of Dordrecht in late 1653. Adopting the refined style of Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), Maes soon began to create elegant portraits of Dutch burghers dressed in fashionable clothing that reflected their wealth and status. In search of a greater pool of patrons, he returned to Amsterdam in 1673.

Maes has portrayed this unknown matron in a rather formal pose and with a neutral expression, but he softened and enlivened her image with the loose brushwork and vibrant reds of her shimmering gown. The double strand of pearls, emblems of virtue, and her sumptuous earrings proclaim the woman’s prosperity. The broad handling, a hallmark of Maes’ style, owes much to Van Dyck’s manner of painting, but rather than idealizing the sitter as Van Dyck would have done, Maes faithfully renders her countenance. The heavy gold curtain, used as a backdrop, is another reference to material wealth, while the large column and the arcadian landscape in the distance lend the whole scene a classical air.

Entry

Nicolaes Maes portrayed this unknown Dutch matron standing outdoors in a walled garden before a dark yet shimmering golden drape that wraps around a large marble column. The dark sky with its bands of red and orange light near the horizon signifies that it is evening, a time of day when one might imagine a woman presenting herself in such a setting in formal attire. As she gazes out at the viewer, she rests her right forearm on the base of the column while she gracefully fingers the deep folds of her rust-red velvety dress with her left hand. A sweeping diaphanous shawl covers her décolletage and softens her form. A double strand of pearls and elegant dangling earrings reinforce the impression of wealth and good breeding that her stern expression and strict bearing amply convey.[1]

The woman’s elegant clothing reflects contemporary fashion in the Netherlands during the 1670s, but is nonetheless generalized and simplified to give the sitter a more timeless, almost classical look, consistent with the idealized setting in which Maes has situated her. Marieke de Winkel has remarked that the sitter’s tucked-up white sleeves lack the cuffs and lace that would have been part of a woman’s ensemble in those years.[2] Maes has rendered the dress with remarkably free and flowing brushwork, suggestive of the imaginative nature of his design, and with reddish tonalities that echo the evening sky.

The woman’s features and flesh tones are rendered far more carefully than are the draperies. One can imagine that Maes’ restrained flair in these aspects of the portrait resulted directly from the force of the sitter’s no-nonsense personality. She probably also insisted that Maes accurately depict her fashionable headdress, a style that was in vogue for a short time in the mid-1670s. She wears a tipmuts, a black cap with a point at the forehead made of a transparent, gauzelike material. At the back her hair is done up in a wrong, a stiff structure in the form of a crescent (covered in silk the color of the lady’s hair) on which the plaits were coiled. The cap was then held on with gold or silver cords tied at the nape of the neck.[3]

Despite the sitter’s distinguished appearance and apparent social status, her identity has been lost over the course of time. The Camberlyn family, which owned the painting in the eighteenth century, wrongly identified the woman as Johanna Koerten (1650–1715) when the portrait was exhibited in Brussels in 1886.[4] However Koerten, wife of Adriaan Blok and renowned throughout Europe for her paper cuttings, had a smooth, round face, quite different in appearance from the woman portrayed here.[5] In 1676, moreover, Koerten would have been only twenty-six years old, much younger than Maes’ sitter. Although the identity of the sitter remains unknown, it does seem probable that she came from Amsterdam, where Maes had settled in 1673 to take advantage of the strong portrait market in that city.[6] It is possible that this portrait was originally paired with one of the woman’s husband, but the fact that she wears no ring probably indicates that she was unmarried.

Houbraken wrote that he knew of no portrait painter before or after Maes who was more successful in depicting a sitter’s appearance.[7] This same biographical account also makes clear that Maes was keenly aware of his clients’ wishes and was willing to adapt to changing styles and tastes.[8] For example, even though Maes was trained by Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606 - 1669), Houbraken noted that the artist soon realized that young women preferred to be portrayed in white rather than in brown.[9] Houbraken also stated that to learn a more elegant manner of portraiture, Maes traveled to Antwerp to study portraits painted by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577 - 1640) and Sir Anthony van Dyck (Flemish, 1599 - 1641).[10] Although Houbraken’s account has been questioned,[11] his recollections ring true with the radical transformation of Maes’ portrait style in the 1660s, from a Rembrandtesque mode to a more elegant and refined portrayal of his sitters, a change that reflected broader cultural patterns in the Netherlands during that period.

Maes’ full adaptation of the international Flemish style of portraiture is evident in this elegant and refined portrait, not only in the outdoor garden setting, with streaks of red and orange enlivening the evening sky, but also in the broadly brushed, shimmering drapery wrapped around the marble column signifying the sitter’s social standing and upright character. Even the woman’s pose, as she rests her arm on the base of the column, is drawn directly from Van Dyck prototypes, although this pose is found more often in portraits of men.[12] Maes’ palette is, however, quite distinct from that of Van Dyck. Nowhere in the Flemish artist’s work does one find the brilliant rust-colored reds seen here in the woman’s dress. Maes’ careful rendering of her face also differs from Van Dyck’s more generalized and idealized portrayals of his sitters. In this strict adherence to reality, Maes remained true to his firm roots in Dutch pictorial traditions.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014

Inscription

lower right: NMaes 1676

Inscription

Provenance

Possibly Joseph Guillaume Jean Camberlyn [1783-1861], Brussels.[1] Camberlyn d'Amougies collection, by 1886;[2] Dowager Camberlyn d'Amougies, Pepinghen, near Brussels, by 1897 until at least 1915;[3] her son, Joseph Camberlyn d'Amougies; (sale, Frederik Muller, Amsterdam, 13 July 1926, no. 618, as Portrait de Johanna Koerten, Femme d'Adriaan Blok); De Haan. (sale, Sotheby's, London, 16 November 1960, no. 90a); (Appleby Brothers, Ltd., London). Mrs. Albert Heyse, Ghent; (Heyse sale, M. Dragonetti, Ghent, 13-15 May 1963, 2nd day, no. 345).[4] Joseph F. McCrindle [1923-2008], New York; gift 2001 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1886
Exposition de tableaux de maîtres anciens organisée au profit de la Caisse centrale des artistes belges, Academie Royale de Belgique, Brussels, 1886, no. 128, as Portrait de Johanna Koerten Blok.
1962
First Exhibition of Dutch and Flemish Oil Paintings of the 17th and 18th Century, Appleby Brothers. Ltd., London, 1962, no. 17.
Bibliography
1886
Hymans, Henri. "Correspondance de Belgique: L’exposition rétrospective de Bruxelles, II." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 34, no. 5 (1886): 434, as Portrait de Johanna Koerten Blok.
1897
Moes, Ernst Wilhelm. Iconographia Batava. 2 vols. Amsterdam, 1897–1905: 1(1897):523, no. 4246.
1907
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. 8 vols. Translated by Edward G. Hawke. London, 1907-1927: 6(1916): 530, no. 201.
1907
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907-1928: 6(1915):no. 201.
1915
Bijleveld, W. J. J. C. "Een merkwaardige verzameling oud-Nederlandsche kunst in België." Oud Holland 33 (1915): 161-164.
1962
Appleby Brothers Ltd. First exhibition of Dutch and Flemish oil paintings of the 17th and 18th century. Exh. cat. Appleby Brothers Ltd., London, 1962: 34-35, no. 17, repro.
1963
Hall, H. van. Portretten van Nederlandse beeldende kunstenaars: repertorium. Amsterdam, 1963: 171-172, no. 1157.1.
2000
Krempel, León. Studien zu den datierten Gemälden des Nicolaes Maes (1634-1693). Studien zur internationalen Architektur- und Kunstgeschichte 9. Petersburg, 2000: no. A185, fig. 252.
2012
Grasselli, Margaret M., and Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., eds. The McCrindle Gift: A Distinguished Collection of Drawings and Watercolors. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2012: 19, repro. 185.
Technical Summary

The support is a medium-weight, plain-weave fabric. It has been lined and the tacking margins have been removed, but the X-radiographs show faint cusping along all four edges. The current stretcher is approximately ¼ to ½ inch larger than the painted dimensions in the vertical direction, along the top of the painting. This area has been filled and inpainted to integrate it into the composition, though the current frame conceals it. The ground is a red layer of medium thickness. The paint was applied both wet-into-wet and wet-over-dry. The image was created by building up multiple thin layers of paint. Glazes were used to define the shadows and create the sitter’s red dress. Aside from highlights in the sitter’s jewelry and dress, there is almost no impasto.

The painting is in fairly good condition. Losses are found in the paint and ground along the bottom edge and a diagonal tear exists in the gold drapery to the left of the sitter’s knee. Maes used a fugitive red lake pigment in the sitter’s face but not in her neck and décolletage. Unfortunately, this pigment has faded, causing the sitter’s face to appear paler than her chest and neck.[1] The painting was treated between 2002 and 2003 at which time discolored varnish and inpaint were removed and a red glaze was applied to the sitter’s face to minimize the color discrepancy and return the painting to its original appearance.

 

[1] This information was obtained through analysis of cross-sections and dispersed pigment samples by the NGA Painting Conservation department in conjunction with the NGA Scientific Research Department (see report dated January 29, 2003, in NGA Conservation department files).

 

Related IconClass Terms
41D
fashion and clothing +nobility and patriciate
44B011
aristocracy
46A12
nobility and patriciate
48A91
International style
48B
artist +Peter Paul Rubens + influence of
61B2
portrait