Probably Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland (1640-1702), Althorp, Northamptonshire (see note);
The Earls of Spencer, Althorp from at least the mid-18th Century (perhaps no. 185 in the inventory drawn up at the death of The Hon. John Spencer in 1746: A Girl's Head in an Oval by Bremar);
Thence by descent at Althorp until the mid-1980s;
With Johnny van Haeften, London, 1987 from whom bought by a German private collector;
By whom sold, New York, Sotheby's, 22 January 2004, Lot 62, for $1,350,000, when bought by the present owner.
London, Thos. Agnew & Sons, Exhibition of Pictures from Althorp, February-March 1947, no. 31;
London, Johnny van Haeften Gallery, 1987, no. 2;
Kassel, Staatliche Museen Kassel, Schloss Wilhelmshohe, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, on loan from the late 1980s until 2002 (inv. L. 1106).
Salomon de Bray and his son Jan were the leading history painters in Haarlem in the mid-17th Century, and were foremost among the Dutch classicist painters. Salomon painted history pieces throughout his career, and his style evolved towards the more formal, classical manner of his paintings from the later 1640s and 50s, but his earlier work is less easy to categorize. Depicting heads in profile, as he has done here, was a favored trait of the classicist painters, who certainly knew that by following a form that originated with Roman coinage, they were inviting comparisons with the Antique. On the other hand, the vigorous, painterly brushwork of this exquisite little picture has nothing to do with such a tradition, and is much more modern. The way that De Bray painted it reveals a clear awareness of Rembrandt's work of the first half of the 1630s, such as his profile portrait of Saskia van Uylenburgh in Kassel, Gemäldegalerie, done a year or two earlier, or the profile portrait of Amalia van Solms of 1632, in Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André. The strong, dramatic lighting, the handling of light on the sitter's face and the way it illuminates her blonde curls is strongly reminiscent of Rembrandt's work in the mid-1630s. It also recalls the work of Jan Lievens, and the type of fanciful depiction of this young woman with a fur collar - not a formal portrait, but not an invention either - has the character of a trony. In few if any other works does De Bray achieve such a purity of vision and unhesitancy of execution.
Von Moltke records a pendant to the present picture, a profile study of a boy facing left, also oval, signed and dated 1636, and of identical dimensions, which was in the Corstius sale in Geneva, 27 October 1934, lot 72, and which was seen with the dealer Paech in Amsterdam in the same year (reproduced fig. 2).1
Bernhard Schnackenburg has suggested that the same model was used in a profile portrait by De Bray's fellow Haarlemmer Pieter Fransz. de Grebber which was sold in these Rooms, 30 October 1991, lot 79, (see fig. 1).2 De Bray himself certainly used the same model for the figure of Judith in his Judith with the Head of Holofernes in the Prado, which he painted in the same year.3
A note on the Provenance:
Ellis Waterhouse, in his review of the Althorp exhibition at Agnew's in 1947, mentions the present picture as one of four Salomon de Brays bought by Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland for Althorp, which he inherited in 1662.4 The accompanying reproduction of it shows it in a baroque frame which would appear to date from the 17th Century, although it is not of the type, known as a Sunderland frame, that Lord Sunderland had made in Italy and Spain in about 1680. Given the clarity of De Bray's signature on this work, its likely mis-attribution to Bramer in the 1746 inventory may seem odd; however, of the other three Althorp De Brays, two were also repeatedly catalogued as by Bramer: in the 1750, 1802 and 1851 lists.
1. See Von Moltke, 1938/9, under Literature, p. 387, no. 90, reproduced fig. 47 ).
2. Schnackenburg, 1993, under Literature. p. 92, reproduced.
3. See P. Biesboer et al, Painting Family: the De Brays, exhibition catalogue, Zwolle 2008, pp. 42-3, reproduced. The painting is not dated, but a drawn ricordo (of a type both De Brays made often) is dated 1636.
4. See Waterhouse, 1947, under Literature.
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