Mieris, Frans van
Dutch, 1635 - 1681
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Biography

Frans van Mieris, born in Leiden on April 16, 1635, came from a family of gold- and silversmiths. The son of Jan Bastiaensz van Mieris and his second wife, Christina van Garbartijn, he was initially drawn to the family profession, and briefly apprenticed with his cousin Willem Fransz van Mieris before turning to painting.[1] From about 1649 to 1654 Van Mieris trained with three artists in his native Leiden, the most important being the influential fijnschilder (“fine painter”) Gerrit Dou (1613–1675), who described him as “the prince of his pupils.” In 1657, just a year before Van Mieris joined the Leiden Guild of Saint Luke, he married Cunera van der Cock (1629/1630–1700). The couple had five children, two of which—sons Jan (1660–1690) and Willem (1662–1747)—also became painters.

Van Mieris spent his entire career in Leiden, where he gained well-deserved fame and fortune. He initially adopted Dou’s fine manner of execution and humble subject matter, but he soon developed an interest in social interactions generally absent in Dou’s work, and turned to peasant family scenes by Adriaen van Ostade (1610–1685) for inspiration. In the late 1650s, Van Mieris became aware of the evocative paintings of Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1617–1681) and also began to depict more sensual narratives—a style he developed in concert with his good friend Jan Steen (1625/1626–1679). By 1660, Van Mieris’s small genre pictures, portraits, and occasional history pieces displayed meticulous detail and a sparkling play of light that “would surpass Gerard Dou as the archetype of the fijnschilder style.”[2]

According to Arnold Houbraken, Van Mieris “found admirers and patrons from the very beginning.”[3] Van Mieris, indeed, became one of the best-paid painters of the Dutch Golden Age, boasting a clientele that ranged from affluent Leiden citizens, such as the town councilor Cornelis Paets (1636–1694), to Cosimo III de’ Medici (1642–1723), Grand Duke of Tuscany. His most important patron was a professor of chemistry and medicine at the Leiden Academy, Franciscus de le Boë Sylvius (1614–1672), who owned seven of his works.[4] Van Mieris was also paid an annual fee by Pieter Spiering (c. 1594–1652), an envoy of Queen Christina of Sweden in The Hague, for the first right of purchase of his works.[5]

Despite his extraordinary success, Van Mieris seems to have been inept in finance, a shortcoming exacerbated by his alcohol consumption. Documents from the time describe him deeply in debt to landlords, innkeepers, and even fellow artists. In 1675 Van Mieris’s wife, Cunera, went so far as to request payment from a patron for her husband’s fee and stipulated that it be sent directly to her and without his knowledge, because the money would otherwise disappear “like acid on an etching plate.”[6] Van Mieris died in debt on March 12, 1681, and was buried in the Pieterskerk.

Notes

[1] Arnold Houbraken, De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen, 3 vols. (Amsterdam, 1718–1721; rev. ed., The Hague, 1753; reprint, Amsterdam, 1980), 3:2.

[2] See Otto Naumann, Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635–1681), 2 vols., (Doornspijk, 1981), 36.

[3] “Dat hy van den beginne af aan beminnaars en begunstigers vont.” Arnold Houbraken, De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen, 3 vols. (Amsterdam, 1718–1721; rev. ed., The Hague, 1753; reprint, Amsterdam, 1980), 3:2.

[4] For Sylvius’s estate inventory, see Regionaal Archief Leiden, NA not. A. den Oosterlingh, inv. 1073a, deed 66, September 6, 1673.

[5] Quentin Buvelot, “Frans van Mieris’ Reputation,” in Quentin Buvelot et al., Frans van Mieris (1635–1681) (The Hague, 2005), 16.

[6] Otto Naumann, Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635–1681), 2 vols. (Doornspijk, 1981), 1:183–84.

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