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PROPERTY FROM A DUTCH PRIVATE COLLECTION

Jan Lievens
A TRONIE: STUDY OF THE HEAD AND SHOULDERS OF AN OLD BEARDED MAN, WEARING A CAP
Estimate
2,000,0003,000,000
LOT SOLD. 2,505,250 GBP
JUMP TO LOT
19

PROPERTY FROM A DUTCH PRIVATE COLLECTION

Jan Lievens
A TRONIE: STUDY OF THE HEAD AND SHOULDERS OF AN OLD BEARDED MAN, WEARING A CAP
Estimate
2,000,0003,000,000
LOT SOLD. 2,505,250 GBP
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Old Master and British Paintings Evening Sale

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London

Jan Lievens
LEIDEN 1607 - 1674 AMSTERDAM
A TRONIE: STUDY OF THE HEAD AND SHOULDERS OF AN OLD BEARDED MAN, WEARING A CAP

Provenance

The Most Hon. the Marquis of Cholmondeley, London, by 1821;
His sale, London, Christie's, 9 July 1886, lot 218 (as Rembrandt);
With Charles Sedelmeyer, Paris, by 1887, by whom sold before 1894 to
E.G. Fabbri, Florence, by 1894 and later in New York, probably until at least 1932, when noted there by Schneider (under literature);
With D. Katz, Dieren;
D.G. van Beuningen, Rotterdam, probably after 1948, since omitted from his catalogue of that year;
His deceased sale, London, Sotheby's, 7 July 2004, lot 7, for £1,650,000;
With Johnny van Haeften, London, from whom acquired by the present collector.

Exhibited

London, British Institution, 1821, no. 78 (as by Rembrandt);
Naples, 1879 (presumably as by Rembrandt).

Literature

W. Bode, Studien zur Geschichte des holländischen Malerei, Braunschweig 1883, p. 609, no. 379 (as by Rembrandt);
A. von Wurzbach, Rembrandt Galerie, 1886, no. 362 (as by Rembrandt);
E. Michel, Rembrandt. His life, his Work, his Times, London 1894, vol. II, p. 245 (as by Rembrandt);
W. Bode (with C. Hofstede de Groot), Rembrandt.  Beschreibendes Verzeichnis seiner Gemälde..., Paris 1897-1906, no. 33 (as by Rembrandt);
C. Sedelmeyer, Illustrated Catalogue of 300 Paintings by Old Masters, Paris 1898, no. 109 (as by Rembrandt);
W.R. Valentiner, Klassiker der Kunst. Rembrandt. Des Meisters Gemälde, Stuttgart/Leipzig 1908, p. 46, reproduced (as by Rembrandt);
A. Bredius, in Oud Holland, vol. XXIX, 1911, p. 194 (as by Jan Lievens(?));
C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné..., London 1915, p. 220, no. 410 (as Rembrandt, not seen by the author, and "regarded by some as the work of [Lievens]");
W.R. Valentiner, Klassiker der Kunst. Rembrandt, Wiedergefundene Gemälde, Stuttgart 1921, p. 123, add. 46 (as by Rembrandt);
W.R. Valentiner, Klassiker der Kunst. Rembrandt, Des Meisters Gemälde, 4th edition, Stuttgart 1923, under Supplement to earlier editions (as much more like Lievens, and signed by him);
J.C. van Dyke, Rembrandt and his School, New York 1923, reproduced plate XXVI, fig. 102 (as by Lievens);
H. Schneider, Jan Lievens Sein Leben und Seine Werke, Haarlem 1932, pp. 133-4, no. 164 (as by Lievens, and so described in all subsequent literature);
K. Bauch, Die Kunst des jungen Rembrandt, Heidelberg 1933, p. 220;
K. Bauch, in Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, vol. XI, 1939, p. 259;
K. Bauch, in Pantheon, vol. XXV, 1967, pp. 262-3;
R.E.O. Ekkart (ed), H. Schneider, Jan Lievens. Sein Leben und Seine Werke, Amsterdam 1973, pp. 133-4, 330, no. 164;
R. Mezzetti, in Rubens e l'incisione, exhibition catalogue, Rome 1977, p. 14, under no. 2, and p. 95, under no. 192;
Rubens and his Engravers, exhibition catalogue, London, P. & D. Colnaghi, 1977, unpaginated, under no. 5;
R. Klessmann, Jan Lievens, ein Maler im Schatten Rembrandts, exhibition catalogue, Braunschweig, 6 September - 11 November 1979, p. 74, under no. 20;
W. Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, Landau/Pfalz 1983, vol. III, p. 1796, under no. 1240.

Catalogue Note

Long considered to be by Rembrandt, and widely published as such, this picture was first identified as the work of Jan Lievens by Abraham Bredius in 1911 (see Literature).  It dates from circa 1629, when both Rembrandt and Lievens, together in Leiden, painted numerous such studies of old men and women, of which the subject can be said to be old age itself.  The evidence for dating this and similar works by both artists to this brief period is considerable, but in the case of Lievens, a study of an aged Capuchin monk in the collection of the Marquess of Lothian, Monteviot, signed and dated 1629, provides a key comparison.1

Both Rembrandt and Lievens, and sometimes other artists in their close Leiden circle, often used the same model for different studies - the most famous of these is the old woman popularly known as "Rembrandt's mother".  Lievens made another study of the same bearded ancient portrayed here, seen from the same angle, but hatless, in the Herzog-Anton-Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig (see fig. 1).2  He used the same model in his depiction of The Apostle Paul writing to the Thessalonians, now in the Kunsthalle, Bremen. Rembrandt also used the same model in his painting of Two Old Men Disputing, possibly Saints Peter and Paul, in Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, dating from 1628 (detail here reproduced fig. 2).4    It is possible that Rembrandt's painting of Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem, circa 1630, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, uses the same model, who has the same distinctive nose with a bulbous bridge, but Jeremiah's head is seen at a steep angle from above, and the identification must remain speculative.

The fanciful studies from life, often exotically costumed, that Rembrandt, Lievens and their followers painted in large numbers, are not portraits as such and are known as tronies, the term for them that was in use at least by 1630.  Those depicting old bearded men are sometimes known generically as prophets: here old age is associated with wisdom, not folly.  Constantijn Huygens' autobiographical account of 1629-31 records that a number of Lievens' tronies had already found their way into prominent collections, including those of the Stadholder Prince Frederik Hendrik, his treasurer, Thomas Brouart, the artist Jacques de Gheyn III, and the Amsterdam tax collector Nicolaas Sohier.5  Huygens continues: "There are works of inestimable value and unrivalled artistry.  May their maker be preserved for us in the length of days".6

Rembrandt and Lievens' outburst of intense activity in the last years of the 1620s has been much commented on.  Clearly, both artists knew each other very well, were rivals, but influenced and perhaps taught each other, and both were becoming aware of their own potential.  With wisdom of hindsight, it seems to us that bereft of Rembrandt's influence, Lievens' subsequent work lacked direction and his career faltered, but without wisdom of hindsight, there is little evidence to determine in the febrile years of 1628-9 which would be the greater artist.  In his manuscript autobiography, written in 1629 when he was only 33 years old, Constantijn Huygens, secretary to the Stadholder Frederik Hendrik, one of the most exceptional figures of the Dutch 17th Century, and by the late 1620s already one of the most influential figures in the cultural life of the Netherlands, wrote extensively about Lievens and Rembrandt, whom he bracketed together.  Huygens knew both painters and had presumably visited them in Leiden in 1628.   Lievens' portrait of him, painted in 1629, is in the Musée de la Chartreuse, Douai, and Rembrandt's portrait is in the Dulwich Art Gallery.  Huygens' famous observation that neither artist found it necessary to spend a few months on a tour of Italy – despite he and others exhorting them to go – was qualified in his own following paragraph: "they claim to be in the bloom of youth and wish to profit from it; they have no time to waste on distant travel".  He goes on to add, in a passage that might falsely appear to the modern reader to have been written to explain both painters' obsessive interest in the depiction of the physical and psychological nature of old age in pictures such as the present one:  "I feel it incumbent upon me to state that I have never observed such dedication and persistence in other men, whatever their pursuits or ages.  Truly, these youths are redeeming the time ... That is their sole consideration.  Most amazingly, they regard even the most innocent diversions of youth as a waste of time, as if they were already old men burdened with age and long past such follies.  Such indefatigable application to diligent labour may well yield great results quickly...".7  

A modern analysis of what distinguished the two painters might not accord with Huygens' subsequent thumbnail sketch of each.  He characterizes Lievens for his grandeur in conception and his daring of subjects and forms; he probably had works from a year or two earlier in mind, since his description matches Lievens' paintings of 1625-7.  The present picture, on the other hand, which is highly characteristic of Lievens' production at the end of the decade, is contemplative in its character and modest in its scale and scope; it strives for a depth of understanding of the character of the sitter and the nature of his condition through a very detailed depiction of his physical state, albeit painted with an unhesitating virtuousity.  His left eye is reddish and the muscles of his left cheek are slack, suggesting that he might have had a stroke.  Its concentration, sensitivity, and absence of grandiosity and pretension, and these characteristics in other of his works at the end of the decade, suggest the question: did Lievens respond to Huygens' criticisms of him by adopting more of how Huygens characterised Rembrandt's approach to painting?  Huygens did admire Lievens' abilities as a portraitist when he wrote: "in painting the human countenance he wreaks miracles".

Both Lievens and Rembrandt painted in a remarkably similar way at this date.  Both worked extensively with the handle of the brush into the wet paint, a technique that does not easily allow for cautious working or revision, since it depends on the malleable consistency of the un-dried paint.  This can easily be seen in the present work, for example in the beard.  Both painters favoured strong diagonal lighting, so that here the left hand part of the sitter's face is in strong direct light, the area between the nose and his left cheekbone partly lit, and the remaining left cheek and temples, and the side of the nose in full shadow, painted in half-tones, using strong reddish-brown pigments.  Both artists, and Rembrandt's pupil Gerrit Dou, painted studies of single figures that are not formal portraits in 1627-30, but on the whole Lievens' studies, like the present work, are on larger panels, and with the exception of Rembrandt's self-portraits, are on a larger scale, filling the greater portion of the painted surface.

Several copies of this picture are known: Schneider mentions one with the dealer Denekamp, Scheveningen; Ekkart/Schneider thinks this is probably the same copy that was later in an auction in The Hague, Pulchri Studio, 10 March 1959, lot 128, and then with F.H. Enneking, Amsterdam, and identifies a further copy, with J. Gans, The Hague, 1938 and 1959.8

1.  See Sumowski under Literature, 1983, p. 1795, no. 1238, reproduced p. 1877.
2.  Signed, oil on panel, 54 by 42 cm.; see Sumowski, op. cit., p. 1801, no. 1263, reproduced in colour p. 1902),
3.  Unsigned, oil on canvas, 110.5 by 101.5 cm.; idem,  p. 1796, no. 1240, reproduced p. 1879).
4.  See J. Bryun et al, (Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project),  A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 1, The Hague etc 1982, pp. 159-168, no. A  13, reproduced.
5.  See V.C. Treanor, in A.K. Wheelock Jr., Jan Lievens.  A Dutch Master Rediscovered, exhibition catalogue, New Haven & London 2008, p. 120, under no. 20.
6.  See Wheelock, above, p. 287, Appendix.
7.  Idem.
8.  See under literature, 1973.

Old Master and British Paintings Evening Sale

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London