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OLD MASTERS FROM THE VAN DEDEM COLLECTION

Jacobus Vrel
A COBBLED STREET IN A TOWN WITH PEOPLE CONVERSING
Estimate
300,000400,000
LOT SOLD. 838,000 GBP
JUMP TO LOT
36

OLD MASTERS FROM THE VAN DEDEM COLLECTION

Jacobus Vrel
A COBBLED STREET IN A TOWN WITH PEOPLE CONVERSING
Estimate
300,000400,000
LOT SOLD. 838,000 GBP
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Old Masters Evening Sale

|
London

Jacobus Vrel
ACTIVE C. 1654 - C. 1662
A COBBLED STREET IN A TOWN WITH PEOPLE CONVERSING
indistinctly signed lower right: VREL
oil on oak panel
39 x 29.3 cm.; 15 3/8  x 11 1/2  in.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

Provenance

The Marquesses of Bute by 1903;

Thence by descent until sold by order of the Executors of the 6th Marquess of Bute, London, Christie's, 8 December 1994, lot 19, for £110,000, to Baron van Dedem.

Exhibited

London, Agnew’s, Dutch and Flemish Pictures from Scottish Collections, 8 November – 8 December 1978, no. 8, reproduced.

Literature

K. Roberts, ‘Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXX, no. 909, December 1978, p. 863, reproduced fig. 8;

'The Arts reviewed', Connoisseur, December 1978, p. 291, reproduced;

P.C. Sutton, Dutch & Flemish Paintings, The Collection of Willem Baron van Dedem, London 2002, pp. 270–75, no. 59, reproduced.

Catalogue Note

We know nothing at all about Jacobus Vrel’s life, where he lived or where he worked, but his quiet and unaffected street scenes such as this speak to us across the centuries in a way that is strangely affecting. Their narrow cobbled medieval streets with their humble shop fronts – here a barbershop and a bakery – with a scattering of simple townsfolk describe a plain and unadorned everyday life. Vrel’s works are now rare – around thirty eight are now known, consisting mostly of interior scenes, street views and one church interior, of which nearly half are signed while dated examples range only from 1654 to 1662. This first date belies the common misconception that his art was linked to that produced in Delft from later in the 1650s by his more celebrated contemporaries Pieter de Hooch and in particular Jan Vermeer, to whom many of his works were formerly attributed. Vrel's painting technique – a straightforward manner without glazes or other refinements – complements his unpretentious subject matter and suggests that he was quite possibly self-taught. Though many locations from Friesland to the Rhineland have been sought for his street scenes, they are, in fact, likely to be imaginary. 

The enigmatic Vrel did not share his fellow Dutch painters’ love of surface and incidental detail. His street scenes are unusual in their anonymity, showing unremarkable back streets and ordinary people. Many of these share the present picture’s view down a narrow street with tall and narrow dark buildings on either side, seen under an overcast sky. Among them may here be glimpsed a bakery, with its wares open for inspection and a barber’s shop with balls suspended from a pole. Another shop front is announced by a long vertical pole painted in red and white stripes. The fact that these same shops, or more accurately variations upon them, appear in two other closely related street scenes by Vrel, namely those in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson collection (fig. 1),1 and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (fig. 2),2 suggests that they may all have been constructed in the artist’s imagination. The street in the Philadelphia picture even shows a large church at its end, but this has not been identified. One possible clue is afforded by the fact that two of his street scenes, those in the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford,3 and that formerly in the McIlhenny collection in Philadelphia,4 show pairs of hooded Capuchin monks. This detail suggests that those scenes originated outside the United Provinces, where the monastic orders had been abolished. Indeed, in the background of the present picture a figure can be seen turning a corner, also wearing what also seems to be a hooded or cowled robe. This might suggest that Vrel may therefore have lived in a small town close to the border with either the lower Rhineland or the Catholic southern Netherlands. The latter possibility is supported the fact that his Interior with a woman at a window of 1654, in Vienna,5 was in the collection of the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm as early as 1659, which shows that Vrel’s unique qualities were evidently appreciated by collectors at a very early date. 

An eighteenth-century label on the reverse, written in French, records an earlier attribution of this panel to Jan Steen, and an amusing if imaginative interpretation of the painting’s subject. The location of the street is given as Leiden, and is said to illustrate two apocryphal stories about Steen recorded by Houbraken in his Groote Schouburgh of 1721. According to the legend, this was Steen’s own street, and the bakery shown on the left is the ‘Boutique de Boatz’, which supplied him and his family with bread. The label also claims that the figure in black wearing a hat in the background of the picture is none other than Steen himself. According to Houbraken, after the death of his first wife, Steen was encouraged by his religiously-minded sister to woo the wealthy widow Maritje Herculens, a prosperous seller of pigs’ trotters. The man disappearing around the corner in front of him is therefore no Capuchin, but a porter carrying a sack of bonbons intended for the object of Steen’s attentions. A date of 1651 recorded by the label is no longer visible.

A tree-ring analysis of the single plank of Baltic oak panel conducted by Dr Peter Klein reveals an earliest date of use of 1627 and a more plausible date of use from 1633 onwards.

Dr Bernd Ebert has kindly confirmed that this picture will be included in his catalogue raisonné of Vrel's paintings, planned for publication in Autumn 2020.  

 

1 Sutton 2002, p. 272, reproduced fig. 59a.

2 D. Lokin, 'Views in and of Delft, 1650–1675', in Delft Masters, Vermeer's Contemporaries: Illusionism Through the Conquest of Light and Space, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof, Delft, 1996, pp. 103, 105, fig. 88.

3 E. Haverkamp-Begemann (ed.), Wadsworth Atheneum Paintings. The Netherlands and the German-speaking Countries. Fifteenth–Nineteenth centuries, Hartford 1978, p. 200, reproduced plate 101.

4 Reproduced in G. Régnier, ‘Un Vermeer du pauvre’, in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 71, May–June 1968, p. 281, fig. 15.

5 Inv. no. 6081. Exhibited in Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting, Royal Academy, London; Philadelphia Museum of Art; and Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1984, no. 123, reproduced plate 111.

Old Masters Evening Sale

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London