Sir Peter Paul Rubens and Studio
- Sir Peter Paul Rubens and Studio
- Portrait of a Lady, possibly Isabella Brant (1591 – 1626), as a Shepherdess
- Oil on oak panel
- 68 by 58 cm
Possibly recorded as still in the Lunden collection, by C.P. Mensaert in 1763: ‘Je vis de plus dans cette meme camber (in the house of M. de Lunden in Antwerp) quatre portraits, dans l’un eft coeffé d’un chapeau de paille…’
Possibly sold from the collection by 1771, when J.F.M. Michel, Histoire de la Vie de Rubens, 1771, p. 360, noted only three portraits of women by Rubens in the van Havre collection, Jean-Michel-Joseph van Havre having married one of the Demoiselles Lunden in 1763;
Acquired in 1785 by the Antwerp dealers Pilaer and Beeckmans, who wrote, 5 August 1785: ‘Nous venons de faire la plus belle acquisition possible d’un beau Rubens, c’est le portrait de Helena Froment (sic),…elle est vetu en bergere avec un chapeau de paille, on voit le corps en profil et elle a la Tete tournée aux spectateurs…et paroit etre peinte a l’age de 16 a 18 ans…’ (mss. in the Rembrandt-Huis, Amsterdam);
Sold by them to Mr. Dulac of Paris by 23 October 1785;
Whence probably acquired by the dealer Daignez-Dulac;
Probably his deceased sale Paris, 5 February 1821 (Lugt. No. 9951);
Recorded in the Schamp d’Aveschoot collection, Ghent, by Smith;
M. Schamp d’Aveschoot sale, Regemorter, Ghent, 14 September ff. 1840, lot C, ‘Un costume de bergere…ajoute singulierement a l’effet de cette gracieuse et spirituelle figure. Un petit chapeau de paille, orné de quelques fleurs et coquettement relevé d’un blond chatain descend sur les épaules; des manches buffantes et largement plissés se detachment parfaitement sur son corset. Elle est vue de grandeur naturel, en buste et de trois quarts.’, on panel, 25 by 19 pouces, where bought in;
Thence by descent with the family until sold through Sotheby’s to the present owner in 2009.
Rubens e il Suo Secolo, Mexico City, Museo Nacional de San Carlos, 5 November 1998 – 28 February 1999, Ferrara, 28 March – 27 June 1999, no. 14, as Rubens.
Brussels, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rubens et l’atelier du Genie, 14 September 2007 – 27 January 2008, no. 30, as Rubens.
J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné..., London 1830, vol. II, p. 261, no. 882 (as Helena Fourment);
J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné.., London 1842, vol. IX Supplement, p. 272, no. 103, as a copy;
M. Rooses, L’Oeuvre de P.P. Rubens…, Antwerp 1890, vol. IV, under no. 952, as a copy after his plate 1187, as Rubens;
L. Burchard, Nachtrage in Gustav Gluck, Rubens van Dyck und ihr Kreis, Vienna 1933, p. 389 (W), correcting Rooses and identifying the present lot as that offered in the Schamp d’Averschoot sale, as Rubens;
H. Vlieghe, ‘Une Grand Collection Anversoise Du Dix-Septieme Siecle: Le Cabinet d’Arnold Lunden Beau frere de Rubens’, in Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, vol. XIX, 1977, pp. 190-1, reproduced figure 13, as Rubens;
W. Sauerlander, review of the Antwerp exhibition of 1977, Pantheon, vol. XXXV, 1977, p. 340, as Rubens;
M. Jaffé, Exhibitions for the Rubens Year-I, The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXIX, 1977, p. 625, as Rubens;
K. Renger, P.P. Rubens Oldbilder Skizzen Zeichnungen…, Kunstchronik, vol. XXXI, 1978, p. 5, as Rubens;
J. Foucart, ‘Rubens: l’année du quadricentenaire’, in Encyclopedia Universalis, 1978, p. 512, as Rubens;
H. Vlieghe, ‘Some Remarks on the Identification of the Sitters in Rubens Portraits’, in The Ringling Museum of Art Journal, 1983, pp. 107-8, as Rubens;
H. Vlieghe, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, vol. XIX, Portraits II, London 1987, pp. 105-7, no. 101, as Rubens.
Exhibition catalogue, Rubens e il Suo Secolo, Mexico City, Museo Nacional de San Carlos, 5 November 1998 – 28 February 1999, Ferrara, 28 March – 27 June 1999, pp. 96-7, no. 14, reproduced, as Rubens;
Exhibition catalogue, Rubens et l’atelier du Genie, Brussels, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 14 September 2007 – 27 January 2008, p. 129, no. 30, as Rubens;
Forthcoming exhibition, Rubens in Private. The Master Portrays his Family, Antwerp, Rubens House, 28 March - 28 June 2015.
In the catalogue to the exhibition Rubens et l’atelier du Genie, held at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Brussels in 2007/2008, Dr. Nora de Poorter first proposed the identification of the present sitter as Isabella Brandt. Previously the painting had been believed to represent Suzanna Fourment through its erroneous association with a work described in the 1692 inventory of Arnold Lunden (grandfather to the Arnold Lunden who married Suzanna Fourment) as: ‘Autre [portrait] de la même [Suzanna Fourment] en bergère par le même [Rubens].’ On that basis the present work was believed to have been executed by Rubens around 1622, the year in which Suzanna Fourment and Arnold Lunden were married, yet Rubens scholars are now generally of the view that the aforementioned description refers not to our painting but the celebrated portrait of Suzanna known as ‘Le Chapeau de Paille’, today in the National Gallery, London. On stylistic grounds the present work clearly pre-dates 1622 and is characteristic of Rubens’ rapidly developing style around 1613-15, whilst furthermore the brown-eyed sitter in the guise of a Shepherdess bears little resemblance to the blue-eyed Suzanna depicted in the London portrait.
A direct comparison of our sitter with Rubens’ portrait of himself and the eighteen year old Isabella (the so-called ‘Honeysuckle Bower’), painted to mark the occasion of their marriage on 3 October 1609, appears to convincingly identify our sitter as Isabella herself. The facial type is unmistakable, with large oval brown eyes, a long
straight nose that protrudes at the end, pursed rose-bud lips, and a distinct dimple to the chin. De Poorter also points to the close resemblance between the sitters’ straw hat in each painting, albeit in the pastoral portrait a posy of wild flowers has replaced the ribbon in the more formal Munich portrait.
The earliest reference to the present work is in a letter from the Antwerp art dealers Pilaer and Beeckmans, dated 5 August 1785, in which it is described in glowing terms (although erroneously identifying the sitter as Helena Fourment) to a prospective buyer Thomas Harvey of Norwich: ‘Nous venons de faire la plus belle acquisition possible d’un beau Rubens. C’est le portrait de Helena Froment (sic.), une des femmes de ce peintre. Elle est vêtue en bergère avec un chapeau de Paille, on voit le corps en profil, et elle a la tete tournée aux spectateurs…’ In the correspondence they also recount that Sir Joshua Reynolds had tried to buy the painting but the 100 guineas he had offered for it was too little. In the event, the painting was bought by Mr Dulac of Paris by 23 October 1785 and it subsequently entered into the Schamp d’Aveschoot collection, Ghent, in whose sale it was offered in 1840. At the sale the painting was withheld and remained with the family, passing by descent until it was acquired by the present owner in 2009.
As pointed out in the catalogue to the recent exhibition on Rubens in Private: The Master Portrays his Family, in his will of 27 May 1640 Rubens stipulated that the portraits of his two wives should go to their respective children. It seems likely therefore that the present work belonged to either of Rubens and Isabella’s two surviving children Albert or Nicolaes and may have passed down through their families before being acquired sometime on or before 1785 by the Antwerp dealers Pilaer and Beeckmans. The very nature of pastoral portraits, as images of love and implied fecundity, in itself has a tendency to obscure the identity of those depicted, however the striking similarity of the Shepherdess with the likeness of Isabella Brant in Rubens’ marriage portrait ‘The Honeysuckle Bower’ would seem to provide compelling evidence that in the features of this wonderfully direct and intimate portrait the great master was depicting his own wife Isabella.
 See the exhibition catalogue, op. cit., pp. 178-180, reproduced.
 See op. cit., p. 181, no. 20b, reproduced.