Lot 31
  • 31

Jan Cossiers

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
662,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Jan Cossiers
  • The parable of the Prodigal Son
  • oil on canvas


By tradition with Beeckmans, Antwerp;
Bought from the above by Henry Temple, 2nd Viscount Palmerston (1739–1802), circa 1789;
Henry, 3rd and last Viscount Palmerston, K.G.;
His wife Emily Mary, Countess Cowper;
By descent to her second son by her first marriage, William Francis, 1st and last Lord Mount Temple;
His nephew, the Hon. Evelyn Ashley;
His son, Wilfred William, 1st and last Lord Mount Temple (of the second creation);
His elder daughter Edwina Ashley, Countess Mountbatten of Burma;
With Agnew's, London (their label affixed to the stretcher);
In the collection of the family of the present owners for over two generations.

Catalogue Note

This hitherto unrecorded and extremely well preserved canvas is an important addition to Cossiers' known oeuvre. The subject is taken from the well-known parable of the Prodigal Son, which is taken from Saint Luke (15: 11–32). The younger son is shown here squandering his inheritance by feasting and drinking, unaware that his pocket is being picked as he does so. In the background he is seen being expelled from the inn. Cossiers was trained first under his father Anton Cossiers, and then under Cornelis de Vos (1585–1651), before spending a period in Aix-en-Provence with Abraham de Vries (1590–1650). He later travelled to Rome where he is recorded in October 1624. This painting probably dates to the 1630s or early 1640s after his return to the north, when he seems initially to have made a speciality of genre scenes of this type, perhaps inspired by Caravaggesque low-life subjects he had seen in Italy or their northern counterparts. Up to 1640 he worked closely with Rubens in Antwerp, working with him on the decorations for the Triumphal Entry into Antwerp of the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand and designs for the Torre de la Parada hunting lodge of Phililp IV of Spain near Madrid. His later works, though very freely painted, quite lack the colour of earlier pieces such as this. 

Although very few if any works by Cossiers attained this level of quality, another very similar feasting scene, perhaps representing the Five Senses, in which the principal figures are composed along very similar lines and which has also been attributed to him, was with Richard Green in London.1 The composition of the present painting seems to have been very well known, for several old copies of it survive. One, in which the far landscape is replaced by the sea, was sold Rotterdam, Van Marle, de Sille and Baan, 15 July 1942, lot 156, with an incorrect attribution to Cossiers' contemporary Gaspar de Crayer (1584–1669). Another was sold London, Philips, 29 October 2011, lot 133 (as circle of Cornelis de Vos) and a third in Paris, Ader Picard Tajan, 12 December 1982, lot 109 (as Cossiers). Another is in the Museo Naçional de Bellas Artes, Havana, Cuba (inv. 90-3351), again with an attribution to Cossiers. Lastly, a reduced copy was sold in these Rooms, 9 April 1986, lot 47, as by Simon de Vos, with a label proclaiming it to be the painting by de Vos recorded as no. 241 in the inventory of Rubens' studio and sold after his death.

This may be one of nine paintings which Viscount Palmerston is recorded as buying from the dealer Beeckmans in Antwerp in 1789, at which time it probably carried an attribution to Simon de Vos (1603-1676).2 A gregarious and highly cultivated man, he was a member of the Society of Dilettanti and of the Royal Society, numbering Johnson, Voltaire, Reynolds and Garrick among his friends. Palmerston was a great traveller, making his Grand Tour in 1763–64 and thereafter returning to the Continent on a regular basis, usually acquiring works of art on the way. His purchases were intended for his house at Broadlands, which had been purchased by the 1st Viscount and re-modelled by Capability Brown between 1767–68. These included Jospeh Wright of Derby's Iron Forge (London, Tate Gallery) and Philips de Koninck's great Panoramic river landscape sold in these Rooms, 9 December 1992, lot 20. 

1. Exhibited, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, The Age of Rubens, 22 September 1993 – 2 January 1994, cat. no. 62.
2.  For Palmerston's activities as a collector, see F. Russell, 'A Connoisseur's taste: Paintings at Broadlands', in Country Life, clxxi (January 1982), pp. 224–26. A copy of a note written by the curator of the Broadlands collection, dated October 1952, records the possible Beeckmans provenace. To judge from old photographs, the picture remains in its original Broadlands frame.