It is hardly surprising that this intimate family scene was formally attributed to Willem van Mieris (1662-1747), teacher of Hieronymus van der Mij and director of the Leiden Drawing Academy. At first glance, the signature and date of 1735 do not cast doubt on Van Mieris' authorship, as it clearly fits his Fijnschilder style and subject, albeit substantially late in date. It was listed as such in the Bentinck Collection, at Weldam Castle (see Provenance), where it was recorded until 1942. A study done by Wansink in 1985 however, focusing on the hitherto lesser known Hieronymus van der Mij, revealed a group of eighteen works attributable to this artist, often re-attributing works, previously known as autograph works by Willem van Mieris.1
In her study Wansink rightly re-attributes the present painting to Hieronymus van de Mij. She compares it with the earliest dated picture by Van der Mij, in the Royal Collection of Queen Elisabeth II, representing A family group with a nursing mother. That painting too had for a long time been regarded as a Willem van Mieris, until the Van der Mij signature and date of 1728 were revealed, after cleaning.2 Looking at both pictures, one clearly sees the likeness, not only in the subject matter of the nursing mother, but also in the handling of the fabrics and other materials, the details on both tables, as well as some compositional resemblances; both figure groups are placed in the foreground of the picture plane, almost mirrored to each other. These well proportioned figures in both pictures are characteristic of Van der Mij and show an overall softness in the modelling, that is often lacking in the detailed paintings of his teacher Willem van Mieris, whose figure types with somewhat broad bodies and small heads are different.
Besides Wansink's stylistic comparisons, she was also able to come forward with two old auction records, in which the present painting was sold, first in 1743 and later in 1879 (see Provenance). In both sales the work is recorded as by Hieronymus van der Mij, without mention of a Willem van Mieris signature. Microscopic examination of the current signature shows that it is not an original. The fact that both sale records fail to mention it, reinforces this outcome and leads us to conclude that the signature probably did not appear on the picture before 1879. Therefore, it can be neglected as a reliable indication of authorship.3
We are grateful to Prof. Dr. Eric-Jan Sluijter for confirming the attribution on the basis of first hand inspection.
This work will be included in the dissertation by Junko Aono, at the University of Amsterdam, on Dutch genre painting from the late 17th to the first half of the 18th Century.
2.Op. cit. pp. 204-6.
3. The old auction records give both such extensive descriptions that there is little doubt it is the present painting that was then sold.
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