Lot 166
  • 166

Michael Sweerts

100,000 - 150,000 USD
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  • Michael Sweerts
  • Portrait of a Gentleman
  • oval, oil on canvas, with corners made up


Robert Brooke Campbell Scarlett, 6th Baron Abinger (1876 – 1927), Inverlochy Castle, Inverlochy Castle, Invernesshire;
Thence by descent to his brother, Hugh Richard Scarlett, 7th Baron Abinger (1878-1943), Inverlochy Castle, Invernesshire;
By whom sold on behalf of his brother's estate, Glasgow, Wylie and Lochhead Limited, February 17, 1932, lot 100 (as by school of Van Dyck);
In the family of the present owners since the 1960s.


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 attractive painting has not been restored for many years. At some point it was an oval and more recently the spandrels in each corner have been extended to make the picture a rectangle and it is therefore assumed that the paint in all four corners is not original to the remainder of the picture. There is a lining on the reverse of the canvas which is most likely employed to support these additions but the paint layer seems to be on the verge of becoming unstable again and a fresh lining is suggested. The paint layer is extremely dirty yet beneath all of the dirt and yellow varnish is a very healthy paint layer with no visible damage or loss. There may be restorations in the upper right of the hair where some slightly uneven passages exist, but in the face, the clothing and the bulk of the hair, the condition looks excellent. Whether this picture should be returned to its oval state, we strongly support the condition.
"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

This enigmatic depiction of an elegantly dressed young man is a beautiful example of the half-length portraits that Sweerts produced in the mid-1650's.  It may be compared to other similar portraits showing young men with their head turned three quarters to the left, gazing into the distance; these include the young gallant in the small copper panel of the Procuress (Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. R.F. 1967-11); the Gentleman in a Red Cloak (London, Wallace Collection, inv. P241); the Portrait of a Man (Le Puy, Museé Crozatier, inv. 829.2), and even bears comparison with some of the portrait prints which were produced by the artist most likely after his return to Brussels in 1655 (for example, see R. Kultzen, Michael Sweerts, 1996, illus. 128, where the composition is reversed).  This pose is a compositional device Sweerts also used in paintings which are more properly considered subject pictures rather than portraits; in addition to the Louvre Procuress, Sweerts produced single head studies of young children and other archetypes, the most famous being perhaps the Boy with a Hat in the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford (inv. no. 1940.198).  The handling of paint in the present composition is also typical of Sweerts' technique of these years.  The head of the sitter is rendered with great assurance and modeled with subtlety, while his eyes and nose are painted with liquid highlights.  In addition, the attention to detail in the young man's costume, particularly in the gold braid as well as the tassels of the sitter's starched white collar, is seen in a number of other pictures by the artist.  These passages are painted with a much less smooth finish, with globs of color mixed with white pigment dabbed onto the canvas, as can also be seen in some of the pictures mentioned earlier, but also in the Portrait of a Gentleman, possibly a Member of the Deutz Family, in the Dallas Museum of Art (inv. no. 1987.25) which has been dated to the artist's Roman period.

Previously unknown to Sweerts scholars, this portrait had remained in private British and American collections associated with the name of van Dyck rather than Sweerts since at least the early 20th Century.  A label with the arms of the Barons Abinger is affixed to the stretcher, and in fact the present work was included in the sale of the old master paintings belonging to Robert Brooke Campbell Scarlett, 6h Baron Abinger (1876-1927) removed from Inverlochy Castle after his death for sale in Glasgow, where it was misidentified as a portrait of the English Parliamentarian Sir Henry Vane, painted by a follower of Van Dyck.  However, the composition was known in another version, now in the collection of the Justinus Kerner Haus, Weinsberg.1 That painting was published as a re-discovered Sweerts by Gudlaugsson in 1957; however, this attribution has subsequently been doubted, with some scholars preferring to give it to a follower or to another artist.2  The two compositions are quite close, and of almost the same size, and of the same format, depicting the sitter in a painted oval.  This is particularly interesting, however, given the fact that in the present portrait, the canvas on which the portrait has been painted is actually oval and has been subsequently set into a rectangular canvas, with the corners made up.  This was done some time ago, but also raises interesting questions about the relationship of the two paintings, and whether the present painting may have been altered at a later date, as ovals are not typical of Sweerts' portrait style.

We are grateful to Peter Sutton and Frits Duparc who based on first hand inspection have confirmed the attribution to Sweerts.

1.  See 1.  R. Kultzen, Michael Sweerts, Ghent 1996, cat. no. R.32.
2.  S.J. Gudlaugsson, "Een onbekend werk van Michael Sweerts," in Oud-Holland, 72, p. 198, fig. 1; J. Kosten had attributed the Weinsberg picture to Jacob van Oost I.