PROPERTY FROM CASTLE HOWARD. FROM THE COLLECTIONS OF THE EARLS OF CARLISLE
Ferdinand Bol was born in Dordrecht to Balthasar Bol, a prosperous surgeon, and is thought to have been apprenticed to Jacob Gerritsz. Cuyp (1594–1651), the father of the landscape painter Aelbert Cuyp, who was at that time the most prominent and versatile artist in Dordrecht. When Bol was nearly twenty years of age, he eschewed the customary trip to Italy expected of a young painter and left for Amsterdam, where he entered Rembrandt’s studio. Bol was apprenticed to his famous master between 1635 and 1641, and, unsurprisingly, this was to be a formative influence upon his subsequent career. Upon the death of his father and the ensuing receipt of some funds, Bol established himself as an independent artist at the age of 25, and his first signed and dated works appear from 1642 onwards.
Bol was certainly one of Rembrandt’s most talented pupils, and, it is said, was also his favourite. His early portraits were naturally executed in the style of Rembrandt and it was only in 1649, with his first major commission for the group portrait of the Four Regents of the Amsterdam Lepers’ House (Amsterdam, Historical Museum) that Bol began to break away from his master’s influence and develop a more individual style. By the time this portrait was painted in 1652, Bol’s career was in the ascendancy. He had recently become a Burgher of Amsterdam, and the following year in 1653 he was to marry Elisabeth Dell, whose family connections to the Wine Merchants Guild and Admiralty of Amsterdam would lead to prestigious commissions. By 1655, for example, he himself was head of the Wine Merchants Guild and among the painters commissioned to decorate the new Town Hall designed by Jacob van Campen. A highly popular and successful artist, due in no little measure to his efficiency, Bol was to receive more official commissions than any other painter in Amsterdam.
This portrait undoubtedly reflects the new found confidence in Bol’s work of the early 1650s. In its choice of format alone, it stands apart from most contemporary portraiture. The full-length portrait on the scale of life was seldom practised in Holland in the 17th century. Such works were disproportionate to the size of most houses and they were naturally very expensive. It was rare inside the Netherlands for any non-aristocratic sitter to be thus portrayed, but it may be that Bol's young sitter was drawn from the ranks of the increasingly affluent and influential merchant class. Although traditionally said to be Bol's son, his identity has never been satisfactorily resolved.1
The format of the full-length portrait offered considerable opportunities for embellishment, and Bol has here seized the opportunity with both hands. Rembrandt’s influence is seemingly lessened, and instead Bol’s portrait is completely conversant with the prevailing new trends in Dutch art. Beginning to move away from the more sombre colours and chiaroscuro effects of his teacher, Bol has here adopted the increasingly modish light palette of the mid-century, with its brighter and stronger colours and more elegant figures. The boy’s relaxed, almost informal air recalls that of Bol’s Toper of 1650–51 now in the Wallace Collection in London (fig. 1), not just in its pose, but also in the resplendent scarlet of the toper’s coat and the magnificent rug draped across the table here. Similarly the beautifully rendered still life that adorns the table appears to be unique in Bol’s oeuvre and adds a dramatic richness of colour. It is tempting to speculate whether this lovely passage of painting reflects the immediate impact made in Amsterdam in the early 1650s by the arrival of the still-life painter Willem Kalf (1619–1693) from Hoorn. Kalf’s interest in the lustre of metal and glass, displayed alongside or upon oriental carpets (fig. 3), was to prove enormously influential upon his contemporaries and is here paralleled in Bol’s rendition of the lemons upon their silver dish.2 The table upon which they sit is draped with an oriental rug which Bol has clearly taken some delight in painting. Such carpets were to be a favourite device in Bol’s art and appear in at least fourteen of his works. The carpet here is comparable to that draped over the balustrade beneath the lovers hands in the Couple on a Terrace, painted two years later in 1654 and currently in the Louvre, Paris (fig. 2).3 Ydema identifies the type shown as being of Indo-Persian origin.4 It was following the founding of the Dutch East-India Company in 1602, and its monopoly of the eastern trade routes by 1620, that Indo-Persian rugs begin to appear in Netherlandish art. Such richly designed patters and curious ornaments strongly appealed to the taste of European painters and the value of such carpets was such that they were rarely subjected to the wear of use as everyday floor coverings; they were usually treated carefully and used as table-covers, as in this scene, or to cover other pieces of furniture such as chests.
In his catalogue of Bol's work, published in 1982, Albert Blankert listed only six paintings in which children are the main focus. He observed that 'the artist felt more at ease when his models were children, that he could identify himself with them better perhaps than with their elders.'5 By this he probably meant that the faces in Bol’s child portraits often seem to express more personality than his adult sitters. The boy in the present painting is certainly sympathetically portrayed and also has an air of calm about him, a dignity and maturity of pose, that might usually be more expected in depictions of adults. His small collar, tasseled bandstrings, puffy shirt sleeves and petits oies, or ribbons, on the front of the breeches are all typical of Dutch costume around 1650.6 Bol arranges the interior behind the boy with a draped curtain of heavy gold brocade, on the right there is a tall, wide brimmed hat perched on the back of the folding X-chair. Since antiquity, this type of folding chair has served as a seat of honour for emperors and bishops. Usually, there was only one such chair in a room and it was reserved for a person of standing. Perhaps as a result of his subsequent wealth and popularity, Bol would never again quite recapture the bravura and assuredness that are the hallmarks of this, his finest likeness, and by contrast his later portraits lack the same conviction and sympathy.
The early history of this portrait is not yet known. In 1801 it was sold at auction in London by the Fagels, a prominent family from The Hague. Gaspar Fagel (1634–88) had been a diplomat, writer and statesman in the service of Willem III, Prince of Orange, and had been appointed Griffier – Secretary to the States General – in 1672. Following the death of King Willem III, both Francois Fagel (1659–1746) and his nephew Hendrick (1706–90) played important roles in securing Dutch mediation in the Spanish court and directing Holland's foreign policy throughout the years of the second stadtholderless period of Dutch government between 1702–47. Francois was a renowned collector of art and particularly of medals. The collection passed to his nephew Hendrik II (1706–90), who was visited by Sir Joshua Reynolds on his tour of the Low Countries in 1781.7 Whilst it is not yet clear at what time Bol’s portrait entered the Fagel collections, we know the sale of the family’s collection was orchestrated by Hendrick Fagel III (1765–1838), who was the sixth member of his family to hold the title of Griffier. At the height of the Napoleonic wars Hendrick was effectively exiled to London along with the supporters of the House of Orange, and his reduced financial circumstances led him to sell the family collection and library. Sold over 3 days in May 1801, the latter consisted of over 10,000 volumes, and was purchased by Trinity College, Dublin, where it remains today.
Frederick Howard, 5th Earl Carlisle (1748–1824), who bought this picture at the sale, was a collector of very considerable refinement, and it was he who was to be responsible for the acquisition of most of the Old Masters that hung at Castle Howard. He had first started collecting on an extravagant scale in the 1770s immediately following his return to England from the Grand Tour in 1769. His taste seems to have been more inclined towards the Italian and French School from the outset, and among his most remarkable purchases in this field were Guercino’s Tancred and Erminia of 1651, now in Edinburgh, Orazio Gentileschi’s Finding of Moses, now in the National Gallery in London, and Nicolas Poussin’s Inspiration of the epic Poet of 1631–32, now in the Louvre. Although briefly forced by his debts (over £290,000 by 1775) to halt his buying, the slump in the Paris art market as a consequence of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars brought numerous opportunities, and he returned to collecting with a vengeance in the 1790s. In 1798, the syndicate he formed with his wife’s uncle the Duke of Bridgewater and Lord Gower famously purchased all the Italian and French pictures from the Orléans collection. As the portrait here by Bol indicates, he was not however averse to some very astute purchases of Dutch and Flemish pictures. In 1793 he acquired Van Dyck’s Portrait of the painter Frans Snyders, today in the Frick Collection in New York (fig. 4).8 Two years later, in 1795 he bought from the dealer Michael Bryan for 500 guineas Jan Gossaert’s Adoration of the Magi, today in the National Gallery in London.9
1 When exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1952 the subject was described as ‘the son of the artist’, but as Bol was still unmarried in 1652 there seems no proof to support this assumption. In correspondence preceding the 1801 sale between Hendrick Fagel and his brother Jacob, the former doubts whether this was a family portrait. No boys were born into the Fagel family in the years 1644–45.
2 Although he had probably settled in Amsterdam by 1650–51, Kalf’s earliest dated work in the city is from 1653.
3 Blankert 1982, p. 153, cat. no. 174, reproduced plate 186.
4 Ydema 1991, p. 155, no. 356.
5 Blankert 1982, p. 67.
6 We see the same costume in Michael Sweerts' Portrait of Joseph Deutz, of about 1648–49, today in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
7 Sir Joshua Reynolds, A Journey to Flanders and Holland, ed. H. Mount, Cambridge 1996, p. 90.
8 S. Barnes, N. de Poorter, H. Vey and O. Millar, Van Dyck. A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven and London 2004, p. 100, no. I.106.
9 L. Campbell, 'Jan Gossaert. The Adoration of the Kings', in National Gallery Catalogues: The Sixteenth Century Netherlandish Paintings with French Paintings before 1600, London 2011.
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