Lot 142
  • 142

The Master of the Female Half-lengths

100,000 - 150,000 USD
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  • The Master of the Female Half-Lengths
  • The Magdalene Writing a Letter
  • oil on panel


J. Laverge, Rotterdam, circa 1900;
Pieter Nubel, Michigan;
With Richard Green, London;
From whom acquired by the present owner on March 21, 1992.


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com , an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This painting has probably been restored within the last twenty years. It is painted on a single, un-reinforced piece of oak. The reverse is showing some effects of woodworm on the left side, yet this does not appear to have restored into any damage of the paint layer itself. In the lower right there is a vertical crack running through the circular cylinder on the table top, but the paint layer is stable throughout. In the figure's forehead there are a few retouches which are slightly discolored and also in the cheek on the right. There are a few spots of restoration in the right hand and the glaze in the purple table cloth seems also to have been knitted together. There are a few tiny spots of restoration in the chest and in the white letter on the table top, small cracks and tiny losses have been retouched here and there. The main focus of the restoration is in the background where losses and thinness have been addressed. The restorations that do exist do not appear to address any instability to the paint layer. For a picture of this period, the detail is extremely well preserved and the condition may be considered to be very good and the restoration to be very sympathetic.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

The present panel is typical of much of the work of this unknown artist, who seems to have specialized in small scale paintings in a courtly style, depicting elegant women reading, writing or making music in intimate interior settings.  Stylistically close to the Bruges painters such as Adriaen Isenbrandt, the Master is more typically associated with the city of Antwerp.  Although a greater number of devotional, mythological and landscape paintings have been recently attributed to his hand, the Master is still most well-known for his sumptuously dressed, demure female figures.

This work is one of several versions of the subject attributed to the Master.  Although all of them depict the figure turned to the right, writing at a table, they differ widely in the details of hairstyle, costume, and in the other items depicted in the room and on the desk.  The presence of the golden chalice half visible at the right seems to associate the elegant young woman with the image of the Magdalene, who is invoked as the traditional subject of these images.  While other versions tend to include more details -- a window to the left, books, candles, or other small luxurious items on the table -- the present work makes such elements seem superfluous.  The sparseness of the compostion, with its velvety black background, heightens the serenity of this jewel-like scene. 

We are grateful to Suzanne Laemers of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague for confirming the attribution to the Master of the Female Half-Lengths based on photographs.