Lot 36
  • 36

Jan Miense Molenaer

700,000 - 900,000 USD
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  • Jan Miense Molenaer
  • The duet: a self portrait of the artist with his wife, Judith Leyster, probably their marriage portrait
  • signed lower right: IM [in ligature] MOLENAER
  • oil on panel


Richard, 2nd Earl of Clancarty (1767-1837), Gorbally, Galway, Ireland;
Lady Katherine Anne Le Poer Trench;
Her sale, London, Christie's, 10 July 1953, lot 45; 
With Arthur Tooth and Sons, London and Paris;
Lady Duke-Elder, London;
By whom sold, London, Sotheby's, 5 July 1989, lot 32, reproduced in color;
Peter Eliot, New York, by 1991;
With Richard Green, London;
From whom purchased by the family of the present owner.


Raleigh, N.C., North Carolina Museum of Art, Jan Miense Molenaer:  Painter of the Dutch Golden Age, 13 October  2002 - 5 January 2003, no. 24;
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Judith Leyster, 1609-1660, 21 June - 29 November 2009 (as collection Eric Noah, a pseudonymous designation).  


J.A. Welu, Vermeer and Cartography, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Boston University, 1977, p. 14, fig. 18;
P. Sutton, in Great Dutch Paintings from America, exhibition catalogue,The Hague and San Francisco 1991, p. 110, reproduced;
D.P. Weller, Jan Miesne Molenaer (ca. 1609/10-1668):  The Life and Art of a Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painter, umpublished doctoral disseration, University of Maryland, 1992, pp. 20-21, 27-28, 343,reproduced  fig. 2;
C. Kortenhorst-von Bogendorf Rupprath, in Judith Leyster:  A Dutch Master and Her World, exhibition catalogue Haarlem and Worcester, Ma., 1993, p. 289, note 9;
C. Ishikawa et al., A Gift to America:  Masterpieces of European Painting from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, exhibition catalogue, New York 1994, p. 163, reproduced;
G.F. van der Ree-Scholtens, Dengd boven geweld:  Een geschiedenis van Haarlem, 1245-1995, Hilversum 1995, pp. 291, 297, reproduced fig. 12.28;
D.P. Weller, Jan Miense Molenaer:  Painter of the Dutch Golden Age, exhibition catalogue, Raleigh, N.C. 2002, pp. 86, note 3, 87, 130, 136-138, cat. no. 24, reproduced in color pp. 138, 192 and on the dust jacket of teh hard-cover edition and the cover of the soft-cover edition;
F. Fox Hofrichter, Judith Leyster, 1609-1660, exhbition brochure, Washington, D.C. 2009, reproduced in color p. 9, fig. 13.


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 on an oak panel is made from two pieces of wood joined horizontally though the top of the table. The panel is flat and un-cradled. The paint layer is stable. The join is slightly visible, but can easily be adjusted. Retouching is not clearly visible under ultraviolet light, but there is certainly restoration across the original join. The condition seems to be excellent to the naked eye and under close inspection, showing only slight weakness in the wall in the upper right and in a few spots along the bottom edge where the panel grain has become slightly more noticeable over time.
"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 charming panel of a young couple making music is both a double portrait of the artist and his wife-to-be, Judith Leyster, and an allegory of conjugal harmony.  It dates from the mid-1630s, his most productive and creative period, and is the last and finest of a small number of paintings in which Molenaer combined portrait and genre elements in order to enlarge and enrich the meaning of his compositions.1  Similar works include the Self Portrait as a Lute Player, on loan to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Woman Playing a Virginal, on loan to the Rijksmmuseum, Amsterdam, Three Women at a Virginal, in a private collection, and Self Portrait with Family Members, on loan to the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, all of which include himself or members of his family.

The Duet shows two well-dressed young people in a somewhat sparsely but, nonetheless, expensively furnished interior.  The young man plays a lute and the woman a cittern – an instrument like the lute, dating from the Renaissance, but with brass rather than gut strings, giving it a brighter, louder sound.  It is played with a plectrum, which we can see in the woman’s hand, rather than being plucked with the fingers.  The young man has been convincingly identified as Molenaer himself, based on comparison to his Self Portrait as a Lute Player of circa 1635 and his Self Portrait with Family Members of circa 1636 (fig. 1).  In the latter he casts himself in the elegant attire of a cavalier, standing slightly apart, as if introducing the rest of the family to the viewer.  Here, as in the other two pictures, he has a cleft chin, slightly bulbous nose, upturned moustache and curly brown hair.  His companion is Judith Leyster, a fellow painter from Haarlem, whom he married in June 1636.  With her heart-shaped face, wide forehead and small rounded nose, she is striking similar to Leyster’s Self Portrait of circa 1632-33, (fig. 2) in the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., and the Woman Playing the Virginal of circa 1635, on loan to the Rijksmuseum. 

In the 17th century, paintings of couples making music could be interpreted in various ways:  they could signify illicit erotic pleasure, conjugal harmony or the curative effects of sweet sounds.2  The present work would seem to fall into the second category.  There is no hint of an improper sexual relationship between the figures, instead  they are in a respectable setting, sit a suitable distance from each other, and even the remains of the meal on the table are relatively modest with no suggestion of over-indulgence.  Their companion is a dog, a symbol of fidelity, who appears ready to drift off to sleep.  The very simplicity of the furnishings and the heavy curtain above suggest a stage set, as does the placement of the sitters, who both turn to face the viewer.  The overall effect is to transform the subject into something more important than a simple musical interlude or even a representation of marital harmony.  Rather, as Weller proposed, it is very likely that this was Molenaer’s and Leyster’s marriage portrait.3

The Duet is datable to circa 1635-36, by which time Molenaer had largely abandoned the broad style influenced by Frans Hals for a greater refinement, both in technique and subject matter.  His sitters and subjects are more prosperous and his brushwork more controlled, though still very energetic, the small strokes now reminiscent of Dirck Hals.  We can see here the verve with which he paints Molenaer’s stockings or the sheen of Leyster’s skirt, and though it is less obvious in the darker areas, like the dog’s coat or frame of the map, he uses impasto as a means of defining and accenting elements of the composition.  He delights in detail, like the elaborate ribbons at Molenaer’s knees, the fine gold pin in Leyster’s hair or the curling string at the lower corner of the lute. 

The curling lute string and other, larger motifs, like the instruments themselves, the lion-headed chairs and the black trunk, reappear in other works during this period.   It is, in fact, possible to trace identical pieces of furniture and clothing – evidently studio props – in the paintings of both Molenaer and Leyster during the 1630s, suggesting they knew each other for a number of years before their marriage.  We have no concrete information about when they met, but they were both young painters in Haarlem and would surely have been acquainted with each other.  Around the time of their marriage they moved to Amsterdam, perhaps because of Molenaer’s financial difficulties or to have access to a larger audience for their paintings, or both.  They had five children, only two of whom survived childhood, and Leyster predeceased Molenaer by nine years.  In the inventory of his estate are “Two Portraits of Jan Molenaer and his wife;” it is tempting to think that this is one of them.4

1. Weller, op. cit., p. 136.
2.  Ibid., p. 137.
3.  Ibid.
4.  Ibid., p. 138:  “Twe Conterfijtsels van Jan Molenaer ende sijn huysvrou."