Overview

Toward the end of his early Leiden period, Jan Lievens created a series of tronies, or head studies, of older men and women. Even though he based them on the features of live models, these tronies were character studies rather than formal portraits. Looking up to the left, an old man has parted his lips as if he has been interrupted in mid-sentence. The man’s beret may indicate that Lievens meant to depict a scholar or artist. By 1631 tronies by Lievens had already found their way into prominent collections, including that of Frederik Hendrik (1584–1647), Prince of Orange. Constantijn Huygens (1596–1687), quintessential Renaissance man and secretary to the Prince of Orange, thought so highly of Lievens’ ability to render the human face that he urged Lievens to specialize in portraiture.

Daring and innovative as a painter, draughtsman, and printmaker, Lievens created character studies, genre scenes, landscapes, formal portraits, and religious and allegorical images that were widely praised and highly valued during his lifetime. In the 1620s Lievens and his Leiden colleague Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) developed a close, symbiotic relationship that influenced both artists in terms of style and subject matter. They appear as models in each other’s paintings and may have shared a studio. By the early 1630s their manners became so similar that even contemporaries were unsure of the correct attributions of their paintings.

Inscription

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Marks and Labels

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Provenance

Estate of Marion Louise Nichols, Cambridge, Massachusetts;[1] private collection, Boston, from 1975; consigned by (Michael Filades, Boston) to (Hoogsteder-Naumann, Ltd., New York);[2] sold 6 June 1986 to George M. and Linda H. Kaufman, Norfolk; transferred 31 August 2005 to the Kaufman Americana Foundation; gift 2006 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1990
Great Dutch Paintings from America, Mauritshuis, The Hague; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1990-1991, no. 39, repro.
2008
Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Milwaukee Art Museum; Museum Het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam, 2008-2009, no. 20, repro.

Bibliography

1983
Sumowski, Werner. Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler in vier Bänden. 6 vols. Landau, 1983: 3:no. 1253, repro.
1990
Broos, Ben P. J., ed. Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat. Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The Hague and Zwolle, 1990: 318-321, no. 39, color repro. 219.
2008
Doyle, Margaret. Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered. Exh. brochure. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2008: unpaginated, fig. 2.
2008
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Jan Lievens: a Dutch master rediscovered. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum Het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam; Milwaukee Art Museum. New Haven, 2008: no. 20, 120-121.

Conservation Notes

The painting was executed on an oak[1] panel composed of two vertically grained planks. The planks vary in thickness slightly, and the reverse of the panel is beveled. There are two very thin ground layers: a red one on top of a white one.[2] Infrared reflectography at 1.5 to 1.8 microns[3] and examination with a stereomicroscope revealed that the artist had laid in the basic composition with a brushy sketch in fluid brown paint. The sketch was allowed to show through the paint in places. The final image was executed with rich paint that was blended and smudged using both brushes and fingers. The paint in the sitter’s face was applied wet-into-wet with some impasto in the highlights. The artist dragged the back end of his brush through the wet paint and in some places even the ground to create the highlights in the sitter’s hair, beard, and eyebrows. Artist’s changes are visible in the contours of the figure and at the junction of his hair and face.

The painting is in very good condition. A fine craquelure pattern can be seen in the brown sketch paint. The varnish is slightly uneven in gloss. No conservation treatment has been undertaken since its acquisition.

 

[1] The characterization of the wood as oak is based on visual observation only.

[2] The two ground layers were confirmed by cross-sections taken by the NGA Scientific Research department (see report dated March 20, 2007, in NGA Conservation department files).

[3] Infrared reflectography was performed using a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera fitted with an H astronomy filter.

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