PROPERTY FROM A DUTCH PRIVATE COLLECTION
Possibly Jan Steen, Leiden (1625/6-1679);
Possibly his deceased sale, Alkmaar, 12 August 1750, lot 8 (according to Von Moltke, no. 148a, see Literature below);
Anthonie H.G. Fokker (1890-1939), by whom acquired at an unidentified sale in Amsterdam circa 1938;
Thence by descent to the present owner.
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 1939–1945, lent by the heirs of A.H.G. Fokker.
J.W. von Moltke, Govaert Flinck 1615-1660, Amsterdam 1965, pp. 97-8, no. 147 and possibly no. 148a, reproduced plate 30;
A. McNeil Kettering, 'Rembrandt’s Flute Player: a unique treatment of pastoral', in: Simiolus, IX, no. 1, 1977, pp. 41-42, reproduced fig. 24, where dated circa 1654;
W. Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, vol. II, Landau/Pfalz 1983, p. 1025, no. 635, reproduced, as dated 1654 (as incorrectly in the collection Smeulers, The Hague, according to the present owner).
This picture has not been seen in public since the late 1930s and is thus an important rediscovery: it is the only large-scale multi-figured pastoral subject by the artist, painted in the fashionable Flemish-like academic style of the period.
Govaert Flinck was an ambitious painter, striving for recognition and success throughout his life, and from the 1640s onwards he showed himself ever more adaptable to the changing tastes of the public. This evolution of taste, caused the ‘clair obscur’ executed by Rembrandt and his pupils, of whom Flinck had been one, to be supplanted by a preference for an academic Flemish style, such as seen in the works of Sir Anthony van Dyck and others. Flinck’s adaptation to the new style did not go overnight. Houbraken recalls that it cost Flinck a great deal of trouble ‘to undo himself of the style of painting he had learned at Rembrandt, while even before Rembrandt’s death, the world had opened her eyes for the Italian way of painting, favoured by the true connoisseurs, thus bringing a more fluid painterly style into fashion’. In the fluid handling of the brush and the use of a warm colour scheme, the present picture is a demonstration of Flinck’s capacity to paint in the Flemish academic style. The landscape background is particularly Flemish in spirit.
However, as McNeil Kettering has pointed out, Flinck’s point of departure for this composition was not found in Flanders but in the etching of the Flute Player of 1642 by Flinck’s former master Rembrandt. Here Houbraken’s remarks receive confirmation, since it seems that Rembrandt never fully lost ground in Flinck’s development; the younger painter, even in his later phase, frequently drawing on his Master as a source of ideas. In the present composition all the main elements in Rembrandts etching have been taken over: the shepherdess making a garland of flowers, the shepherd playing the flute and the flock grouping together in the background. Yet, Flinck changes the mood of boldly erotic in the etching – the shepherd is bending forward to have a look underneath the skirt of the shepherdess - to playful, more subdued flirtation and leisure in his painting, making it more suitable for a patrician or even an aristocratic commissioner.
Pastoral themes, such as depicted in the present picture, were highly popular in Dutch painting of the 17th Century. The growth in popularity of this genre in painting went hand in hand with the proliferation of pastoral plays, songbooks and belletrie in the 17th Century, and was first developed in Utrecht in the early 1620s by Dutch Caravaggist artists such as Hendrick Terbrugghen, Paulus Moreelse and Gerard van Honthorst, who all painted single figured shepherds and shepherdesses at half lengths, sometimes with overtly sensual appearances, against neutral backgrounds. Abraham Bloemaert introduced the multi-figured pastoral in landscape settings in paintings of the late 1620s. In Amsterdam, the genre was taken up by Rembrandt in the early 1630s in his two pictures of Saskia as Flora of 1634 and 1635, and received its major interpreters with Jacob Adriaensz. Backer and Flinck. Flinck painted single-figured shepherds and shepherdess throughout his life, the earliest being the picture of 1636, of Rembrandt as a shepherd in the Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam, and one of the latest being the Shepherdess from 1650. The paintings read as a pattern card of Flinck's stylistic development over the years; the present picture being the last of the kind and the only one with a multi-figured composition.
The exact date of execution of the present picture is unfortunately obscured by the unreadable, last digit of the date. McNeil Kettering, probably unaware of signature and date and probably basing herself on the stylistic characteristics of the picture, proposed a dating of circa 1654, while Sumowski thought the picture to have been painted in 1654. Circumstantial support is provided by the fact that by 1654 Flinck was at the height of his success as a painter, commissioned by Amalia van Solms to paint the Allegory on the Commemoration of Stadholder Frederik Hendrik for one of the rooms at Huis ten Bosch. In this circumstance and given the scale and style of the painting, the present picture is also perhaps the result of a prestigious commission, one in which Flinck tried to compete with the painters from Utrecht, who until then had exclusively painted these pastorals on horizontal formats.
 See Von Moltke under Literature, pp. 27 a.f, and also Sumowski, under Literature., pp. 1000ff.
 A. Houbraken, De Groote Schouburgh, etc., Amsterdam 1719, vol II, p. 21.
 See under Literature, p. 41. The etching is Bartsch 188.
 See A. McNeil Kettering, The Dutch Arcadia: Pastoral Art in its Audience in the Golden Age, Zwolle 1983.
 Now in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg and the National Gallery, London; see J. Bruyn et.al., A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, II, The Hague 1986, no. A. 93 and III, 1989, no. A 112.
 See Sumowski, op. cit., nos. 655 & 684.
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