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.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale