Bath, Holburne Museum of Art, January 2007-Janury 2008, on loan;
Northampton, Museum and Art Gallery, 2008-9, on loan.
W. von Bode, Rembrandt und seine Zeitgenossen...., Leipzig 1906, p. 62;
Archibald Phillips, 16 Conduit Street, London W.1., Inventory and Valuation of the Household Furniture, Ornamental Effects, Pictures and other items at Easton Neston House, Towcester, Northants., February 1927, p. 8, no. 6, 'Oil painting Dutch Interior with figures by Francis (sic) van Mieris', (typed document, family archive, on loan to Northampton record office - v 998);
H. Avery Tipping, 'Easton Neston, Northamptonshire, The Seat of Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh, Bt.', in Country Life, 27th August, 1927, vol. LX11, p. 302, fig. 11, where illlustrated hanging in the smoking room at Easton Neston;
S. Gudlaugsson, `Kanttekeningen bij de ontwikkeling van Metsu', Oud Holland, LXXXIII, 1968, p. 16;
F.W. Robinson, Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667), New York 1974, p. 19, reproduced fig. 7.
Gabriel Metsu is often thought of as a painter of the Leiden School, and indeed he was a member of the Guild of St Luke there in from 1648 until 1650. He spent most of his career away from his native city however: from 1650 to 1652, when he probably spent some time in Utrecht; and after 1657 (and possibly as early as 1654), when he settled in Amsterdam, where he died in 1667. His probable sojourn in Utrecht is reflected in a number of Metsu's paintings from the 1650s which reflect the influence of painters there, such as Nicolaus Knüpfer and, of particular relevance here, Jan Baptist Weenix.1
This picture is on a larger scale than we associate with Metsu, but in this regard it is not unusual among his work in the first half of the 1650s. It shows that he was clearly aware of Weenix' work. The silvery tones that Metsu uses throughout, but especially in the goose and the whites of the clothes worn by the young woman are markedly Weenix-like, as is his broad-flat brushwork, and in particular his use of thick lead-white and vermillion to build up ruddy flesh-tones. The large robust figures and the distinctive physiognomy of the game-seller are particularly reminiscent of those of Weenix, and these characteristics all point to a dating of around 1653-4.2 The interest in the depiction of animals, though determined by the subject, is probably also due to Weenix' influence, in particular the goose with its pendulous head and neck.
In this regard a comparison with a later Metsu of a similar subject, the pair of paintings depicting poultry sellers in Dresden, Gemäldegalerie, is a salutary reminder of how Metsu developed as a painter.3 In the Dresden pair, works which epitomise the fijnschilder style which Metsu developed around 1660 when living in Amsterdam, the animals as well as the figures are painted on a smaller scale, and in a refined technique that is the antithesis of the broad confident brushstrokes with which he has created the present much more monumental work. Nonetheless, it is the first example of a subject type that recurs in Metsu's works thereafter, and his delight, evident here, in what Frank Robinson called "a disorderly profusion of shapes, textures and colours" that such subject matter affords never wanes. The unusually swift diminution of perspective, evident in the parallax effect of the arches behind the protagonists, pushes the subject outward towards us, heightening the immediacy of the scene depicted. Robinson suggests that Metsu did this deliberately to imbue this quotidian scene with as much tension and drama as the large-scale canvases of Biblical subjects that he painted around this time, such as the Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery probably dated 1653 in the Louvre, Paris, and the Dismissal of Hagar in the Lakenhal in Leiden, also painted circa 1653-4.4 Metsu did not seek to achieve this effect in his later market scenes.
The Dismissal of Hagar is of particular relevance to the present picture. Both works are set on a diagonal receding to the left, with a building behind the protagonists set on a slant. In the Hagar an arch frames the figure of Abraham whereas here twin arches appear above the hare, each framing a hind leg. The physiognomies of Hagar and the game seller are comparable and notably Weenix-like, and both adult figures in each picture share a pronounced monumentality, emphasized by the exaggerated perspective. If anything, the Dismissal of Hagar is rather more Weenix-like than the present picture, with its Italianate landscape and the porcine features of the child Ishmael.
Influences notwithstanding, the present picture reveals to us Metsu's consummate skill in the understanding of the way light falls on surfaces of objects, and how by illuminating them reveals their texture and their form, and conveys their bulk – for example the shimmering feathers of the goose which threatens to fall off the board supporting it. The seeming effortlessness of his characteristic fluid brushwork is unmistakable, and his understanding of his subject is unparalleled among his peers. The exaggerated gesture of the muscled left forearm of the game-seller, modelled by the strong light that falls on it, implies the strength needed by her other arm, hidden in shadow, which holds up the full length of the weighty body of the hare to be inspected by the young woman who, gazing at it, is about to buy it with the large coin that she is in the act of bringing forward. What Metsu is showing us is the act of sale; the moment when the young woman decides to buy, and the game-seller, looking directly at her, achieves the sale.
This picture will be included in Adriaan Waiboer's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the paintings of Gabriel Metsu. We are most grateful to Dr Waiboer for his help in cataloguing this lot.
1. Metsu's debt to Knüpfer is evident in certain other pictures, most strikingly in his Brother Scene in the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, which is a paraphrase of Knüpfer's work formerly in the Schloss collection, Paris.
2. Robinson rightly describes Metsu's robustness of form in the picture as "almost Rubensian"; see Robinson, 1974, p. 19.
3. See H. Marx, Masterpieces from Dresden, exhibition catalogue, London 2003, pp. 154-7, nos. 51-2, reproduced pp. 155-6.
4. Leiden, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, inv. no. 2209; see Robinson, 1974, pp. 17-19, reproduced figs 4 & 5.
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