Lot 20
  • 20

Willem Drost

400,000 - 600,000 USD
4,625,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Willem Drost
  • Flora
  • oil on canvas
  • 39 by 33 in.; 99 by 84 cm.


By descent in a European family.

Catalogue Note

William Drost’s enchanting Flora was painted during the artist’s brief stay in Venice during the 1650s and has hitherto remained unknown to scholars.  The work should be considered one of Drost’s very best paintings, comparable to his undisputed masterpiece, the Bathsheba in the Louvre (fig. 1). It is a remarkable synthesis of the artist’s early training in Amsterdam under Rembrandt and the more mature style he developed in Venice, when he came under the direct spell of Titian, to whom this work is a clear homage. Titian's own Flora (fig. 2) is known to have been in Amsterdam in the collection of Alfonso López, a Spaniard in the service of Cardinal Richelieu, but Drost probably did not see it in person. Rembrandt almost certainly did, and Drost would very likely have been aware of the design through drawings and prints of it. It is only once Drost arrived in Venice that he finally would have had direct access to a multitude of works by the Venetian master. Drost's interpretation of the subject thus successfully combines elements from the most important school of painting from the Dutch 17th century with the legacy of Venice's greatest artist.

Venetian art of the 16th century was certainly quite widely known in artistic circles in Amsterdam when Rembrandt and Drost were active. Several works are recorded in some of the leading collections of the day and the dissemination of prints meant that Italian art was studied with some ease and with great interest by northern artists. Venetian depictions of courtesans by masters such as Paris Bordone and Palma Vecchio (fig. 3), were a repeated source of inspiration, as both the Louvre Bathsheba and the Young Woman in a brocade gown in the Wallace Collection, London, would suggest.2 Drost’s Young Woman with Pearls in Dresden, particularly in its depiction of the puffed sleeve hanging over the balustrade, is a clear response to Titian’s Portrait of a Man, formerly thought to depict the poet Ariosto which is today in London’s National Gallery but which also belonged to López.3 That picture was certainly known to Rembrandt too, for his Self Portrait, also in the National Gallery, London, once more pays direct homage to Titian’s portrait.

Drost's Bathsheba in the Louvre is signed and dated 1654, and so was painted very shortly before the artist's trip to Italy. It is of little surprise then that the present Flora should display a number of striking similarities to the Paris picture, and these extend well beyond the fact that both figures are shown bare-breasted. Both compositions are characterised by a circular movement which traces its motion through the arms. The figures are shown close to the picture plane and fill the pictorial space. The heads are tilted in the same alluring and seductive way. The expansive white sleeves glow in the warm light which allows the highlights of the hair to shimmer and emerge from the darkness behind the heads. Similar brushwork can be found in the ex-Rothschild Man with a plumed beret sold in these Rooms in 1997.5

The rediscovery of the present work allow us to re-evaluate Drost’s stylistic development in Italy, for his Italian oeuvre reveals a strong affinity for the Tenebrist style prevalent in Venice at the time. Indeed, his Italian paintings have at times been confused with the work of the German artist Johann Carl Loth, who was active in Venice and perhaps best exemplifies Venetian tenebrism.  As Dr. Jonathan Bikker, author of the catalogue raisonné dedicated to Drost, notes, it had been assumed based on the extant paintings from the artist’s Italian sojourn that Drost had lost interest in the 16th century Venetian prototypes which had so informed his style while he was still in Amsterdam. However, the present Flora, which was almost certainly painted in Venice, directly contradicts that idea and confirms that Titian continued to be a crucial source of inspiration.

We are grateful to Dr. Jonathan Bikker for endorsing the attribution following first-hand inspection and for his kind assistance in cataloguing the work.

1. See J. Bikker, Willem Drost, A Rembrandt Pupil in Amsterdam and Venice, Yale 2005, pp. 55-57, cat. no. 2, reproduced in color.
2. Ibid., pp. 69-72, cat. no. 8, reproduced in color.
3. Ibid., pp. 67-69, cat. no. 7, reproduced in color; see P. Humfrey, Titian, The Complete Paintings, Bruges 2007, p. 61, cat. no. 24, reproduced in color.
4. P. Lecaldano, L'opera pittorica completa di Rembrandt, Milan 1969, p. 109, cat. no. 233, reproduced.
5. Bikker, op. cit., pp. 81-84, cat. no. 14, reproduced in color.