Artists throughout the centuries, particularly the Dutch, have delighted in creating works that deceive a viewer into mistaking a painted image for reality itself. Illusionistic paintings are quite varied in character, but some of the most successful are images of relatively flat, inanimate objects, such as this extraordinary example of a print attached to a wooden plank with a red wax seal. One of the reasons this painting's illusionism is so exceptional is the extraordinarily good condition the work, in which the subtlety of the artist's strokes has remained intact.
The realism of this painting is enhanced by the way the painter has rendered the etching's crinkles and creases so convincingly that it looks like a real piece of paper. He has also created a range of shadows caused by light falling across the irregular surface of the etching. The artist, moreover, masterfully imitated the look of the pine wood panel with its rough grain and knots with toned glazes, and carefully built up the red pigments to approximate the texture of a wax seal. The etching depicted is one of Ferdinand Bol's (1616–1680) earliest prints, "Old Man with a Flowing Beard and Velvet Beret." The painter carefully included Bol's signature and date in the upper right of the etching: "f. bol. f /1642." Bol executed the etching shortly after leaving the studio of Rembrandt, whose influence is evident in the delicate strokes and careful detailing around the man's eyes.
Although the artist of this remarkable trompe l'oeil painting is still unknown, stylistic evidence and dendrochronology of the panel indicate that it was made in the mid-1670s. A number of late 17th-century Dutch artists made comparable trompe l'oeil paintings for courtly patrons in Scandinavia, Germany, and Austria around the same time. Since this work comes from an old Viennese family, it may have been made for one such collection in eastern Europe. Various names have been unconvincingly associated with the work, including Sebastian Stoskopff and H. Drost, both of whom executed trompe l'oeil prints attached to wood panels. Even without a firm attribution, it is an exquisite example of this creative genre that is otherwise unrepresented in the Gallery's northern Baroque paintings collection. Thanks to the generosity of a fund given in honor of Derald Ruttenberg's grandchildren, this work is a wonderful addition to our cabinet galleries.
upper right of the etching depicted in the painting: f. bol. f / 1642
Dr. Friedrich Tröster [d. 1956], Vienna; by inheritance to his daughter, Dr. Sieglinde Kretschmer, Vienna; sold 2015 to (Galerie Nissl, Eschen, Liechtenstein); purchased 19 February 2016 by NGA.
- Loan to display with permanent collection, Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna, 2005-2015.