This is a tronie, or fancy-dress study, based on a real likeness. Rembrandt developed the tronie and painted many of them from his Leiden period onward, though they fell out of fashion after the 1640s. Students and studio assistants as well as friends and family no doubt provided his models, but many tronies, both by Rembrandt and his pupils, are of identified persons, of whom the most famous is Rembrandt's first wife Saskia Uylenburgh. Many of Rembrandt's self-portraits also take the form of tronies, and these, in which fancy caps and lavish costumes feature strongly, are how we tend to visualize him, at least in the 1630s. Flinck, along with many of Rembrandt's pupils from the first decade of his Amsterdam period, continued to produce tronies in large numbers, presumably to meet the great demand for them. Simon Schama no doubt had the Rembrandtesque tronie at the forefront of his mind when he recently remarked to camera "Dutch art has a very large hat department."1
This tronie, of a young woman in a large red cap embellished with a feather, lavishly dressed with a fine chemise, a red cloak and a gold chain around her neck was once thought to be a portrait by Flinck of Rembrandt’s wife Saskia. It has more recently been suggested by Dudok van Heel and others, that the young woman depicted is Govert Flinck’s wife Ingertje Thovelingh.2 It was long considered a pendant to a work that is a self-portrait by Flinck, signed and dated 1643 (Leiden Gallery, New York), and the two hung as pendant portraits then identified as depicting Rembrandt and his wife Saskia at Normanby Park until sold in 1943 as consecutive lots, and thus separated.3 The present picture however had been enlarged on all four sides and given a faux-arched top, probably to make it match the dimensions and shape of the self-portrait. The enlargements do not appear to be 17th Century, so it is unlikely that they were created separately but made into a pair, for example upon their marriage. A further, though lesser objection to the identification as Flinck’s wife is that while the couple were married on 16th June 1645, the present picture is more consistent with Flinck’s work in the early 1640s, although a date as late as 1645 is certainly conceivable. In the absence of a positive identification of the sitter, this work should best be considered an outstanding example of his tronie painting in the first half of the 1640s.
This painting has recently been returned to its original size and shape. The enlargement with strips of oak on all four sides was done long ago, probably in the 18th Century, and the upper corners cut to give the impression of a curved top, the curvature mostly delineated in the added strip. The additions appear to have pinioned the panel, causing it to develop vertical cracks along the grain. A cradling affixed to the reverse, perhaps with the intention of remedying the cracks caused them instead to open further. In the summer of 2015 the painted surface was cleaned by Simon Folkes, and the cradling and additions removed by Simon and Tom Bobak.4 This allowed the cracks to knit back together almost perfectly, revealing a painted surface preserved in remarkably good order. It is now apparent that the top corners were not originally curved, but were adapted later.
2015 is the 400th anniversary of Govert Flinck's birth, and his quadricentenary has been marked by two exhibitions commemorating his achievements as an artist. One is in his birthplace of Cleves: Museum Kurhaus Kleve, Govert Govert Flinck - Reflecting History, 4 October 2015 - 17 January 2016, curated by Tom van der Molen, and with a catalogue edited by him (we are most grateful to him for his help in cataloguing the present lot). The other is in Birmingham, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Flinck in Focus, 23 October 2015 - 24th January 2016 (without catalogue).
1. In The Face of Britain, broadcast BBC2, 28th October 2015.
2. See under literature J. Bruyn and N. Birnfeld repeated this view.
3. Currently exhibited in Cleves, Museum Kurhaus Kleve.
4. Their reports are available upon request.
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