Lot 39
  • 39

Gerrit van Honthorst

300,000 - 500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Gerrit van Honthorst
  • A woman tuning a lute
  • signed and dated upper left: G. Honthorst fe. 1624
  • oil on canvas


Possibly Frederick Hendrik, Prince of Orange, Noordeinde, The Hague, by 1632;
Acquired by the ancestor of the present owner in the second half of the 19th century.


label on the reverse of the frame: n°52, la Guitariste, Gerard van Honthorst


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 work has a mid-20th century glue lining, and this lining is effective. The painting itself has probably become slightly dirty over time. It will certainly respond to cleaning. This picture seems to only have very few retouches. There are a couple in the figure's cheek, three or four tiny spots in the lute, and a diagonal line of retouching in the lower right background. There is thinness in the background on the left side, and slight thinness in the neck and head of the lute. However, given that the painting is essentially un-retouched, the condition is particularly good. A fresh varnish and accurate retouches would make a significant difference.
"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

An important rediscovery, Gerrit van Honthorst's Woman Tuning a Lute is a hitherto unrecorded work, whose recent emergence from a French private collection raises new and vital questions as to its place in the important lineage of Honthorst's oeuvre. The picture may now be recognized as a possible pendant to one of Honthorst's best known single figure musician pictures, Woman Playing Guitar (Bandola) (Musée du Louvre, on loan to the Ministry of Finance, Paris, inv. no. 1369). Though the Ministry of Finance picture has traditionally been paired with Honthorst's Woman Tuning a Lute, also signed and dated 1624 (Musée du Louvre, on loan to Fontainebleau, Musée du Château (no. 1368)), an examination of the relationship between both this picture, and that in Fontainbleau reveal a strong argument in favor of a reassessment of this long standing belief. 

Both the Fontainbleau and Ministry of Finance pictures, which are the same size, complement each other in orientation and attitude, and though they gesture towards each other in an assumed musical duo, their eyes do not connect. This is a key fact given that for a musical pairing, one would expect the sitters to share a direct connection. Furthermore, the Fontainebleau picture is executed in much darker colors and less intense light than the Ministry of Finance Guitar Player, which is bathed in strong white light with light colors. Given such critical stylistic and compositional differences, a secure connection between the two works must remain hypothetical.2 It may be feasible, given the rediscovery of the present picture, that it once served as the pendant to the Ministry of Finance canvas. Such a hypothesis would seem all the more plausible given the direct eye contact between the two subjects when seen side-by-side (fig.1).

Honthorst's importance to northern European genre painting cannot be overstated. After his return from Italy, where he spent the majority of the 1610s, he developed the tradition of low-life genre scenes that had their origins in the paintings of Bartolommeo Manfredi and his fellow followers of Caravaggio in Rome. Along with Hendrik Ter Brugghen (1588-1629) and Dirck van Baburen (circa 1594-1624), Honthorst was largely responsible for bringing this new style to the Netherlands and, in particular, to Utrecht whose school of painting would be dominated by it throughout the following decade. 

Honthorst's first single-figure musicians, a Singing Elder with a Flute in Schwerin and another Merry Violinist in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, date from 1623, the year before he painted the present work.1  In the form of a flute, a violin or any type of instrument, music is a common element in these and indeed the majority of such works by the so-called Dutch Caravaggisti. Since the Renaissance, any reference to music in painting had been interpreted as a symbol of love. Here, the sexual overtones are quite subtle; the lute player's clamorous laugh and direct glare out of the picture dynamically engage her partner as they partake in a jovial celebration of the senses. 

A note on the provenance:
A Woman Tuning a Lute may possibly be identified as "no. 50" among the paintings hanging in Noordeinde, one of the palaces in The Hague belonging to the Dutch Prince of Orange (and Stadholder), Frederick Hendrik (1584-1647) and his consort, Amalia van Solms (1602-1675). Their 1632 inventory states, “In the gallery of His Excellency, a painting of a nymph playing a lute with an ebony frame, made by Honthorst.”That listed picture has traditionally been identified as the above discussed Fontainebleau Woman Tuning a Lute, but given the discrepancy between it, and no. 51 in that inventory, the aforementioned A Woman Playing a Guitar in the  French Ministry of Finance, it may be possible that the present work is the true pendant to the Fontainbleau canvas, and thus the picture once in the Prince of Orange collection.3  If indeed this work is to be connected with the Prince of Orange collection, it would have later entered the collection of the Prussian King, Frederick II (also known as Frederick the Great; 1712-1786), as he was awarded several residences of the Princes of Orange and all of their remaining contents in the wake of the death of Willem (or William III) in 1702, including Honselaarsdijk, and with it, Honthorst’s painting. There is no evidence, however, that A Woman Tuning a Lute, along with a number of other pictures, were ever shipped to Berlin, as no mention was made of them in the Prussian King’s various inventories.4 The painting in question, which may possibly be this work, would again revert to Orange ownership in 1754, when Willem V (1748-1806) purchased Honselaarsdijk and several other residences and what remained of their contents from the Prussian ruler. A catalogue of the Prince’s collection, published in 1793, lists the painting as follows: “Cabinet of the paintings from the Palace at Honselaarsdijk no. 63 A Woman who plays a lute, on canvas, in a black frame by Honthorst 96 x 74 cm.5 At this time, the canvas appears to have been reunited with its pendant of A Woman Playing a Guitar, which is listed as no. 64 in the inventory.6

We are grateful to Wayne Franits for supporting the attribution to Honthorst, and for his assistance in the cataloguing of this lot. Dr. Franits is planning a forthcoming article on the picture.

1. See J.R. Judson and R.E.O. Ekkart, Gerrit van Honthorst, Doornspijk 1999, p. 192, no. 244, reproduced plate 137, and pp. 190-91, no. 241, plate 138, respectively. 
2. See S. W. A. Drossaers and Th. H. Lunsingh Scheurleer, Inventarissen van de inboedels in de verblijven van de Oranjes en daarmede gelijk te stellen stukken, 3 vols., The Hague 1974-1976, vol. 1, p. 183 no. 50. This inventory is cited by Richard Judson and Rudolf E. O. Ekkart, op. cit., p. 176 in connection with another painting of a Woman Tuning a Lute (their no. 222; plate 117).
3. For this latter picture, see Judson and Ekkart, p. 175, no. 220, plate 118.
4. See H. Börsch-Supan, “Die Gemälde aus dem Vermähtnis der Amalia van Solms und aus der Oranischen Erbschaft in den Brandenburgh-Preussischen Schlössern,” in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 30, 1967, pp. 143-198.
5. Catalogus van het kabinet schilderijen van zijne doorl: hoogheid den Heere Prince van Oranje en Nassau enz. in ‘s Gravenhage, 1793, no. 63; quoted by Judson and Ekkart, p. 176. See also  Drossaers and Lunsigh Scheurleer, vol. 3, p. 215 no. 63. Admittedly, there are discrepancies in size between the picture listed in the inventory and the present picture but this might be the result of an incorrect measurement on the part of the person or persons who compiled the inventory.
6.  Judson and Ekkart, p. 175. A Woman Playing a Guitar might have spent the intervening years in another one of the palaces owned by the Princes of Orange.