Paulus Pietersz. Potter
- Paulus Pietersz. Potter
- Abraham at Sichem
- signed and dated lower right: paülus.potter/f.a. 1642
- oil on canvas
- 38 3/8 by 51 1/2 in.; 97.5 by 130.8 cm.
Sale, van der Schley, Amsterdam, 11 May 1801, lot 66, for Dfl. 99 to Pruysenaar;
Mr. Brooks, St. James's Gallery, no. 17 Regent Street, London;
His sale, London, Christie's, 29 April - 1 May 1871, lot 163, for 132 Guineas, 6 Shillings to Van Stalbert?;
His sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 3 June 1884, lot 3, for 6000 Fr;
J.N. Sepp, Munich, 1884-1889;
Heinrich Theodor Höch, Munich, 1889-1892;
His sale, Munich, Lempertz, 19 September 1892, lot 168, for DM 19,000 to Fleischmann;
A.C. Hencken, New York, 1894-1921;
By whose Estate sold, New York, American Art Association, 21 January 1921, lot 119 (as Noah Disembarking on Mount Ararat, unsold);
By descent to Hugh Hencken, Boston;
Mr. and Mrs. William S. Reid, by 1994;
Anonymous sale ("The Property of a Private Collector"), New York, Christie's, 31 January 1997, lot 72;
Where acquired by the present collector.
New York, The Fifth Avenue Art Galleries, Paintings in Oil and Watercolor Contributed by Holland to the World's Columbian Exposition, 29-30 March 1894, no. 153 (as Noah Disembarking the Ark on Mount Ararat);
The Hague, Mauritshuis, The Pleasures of Paulus Potter's Countryside, 8 November 1994 - 5 February 1995, no. 1;
St. Petersburg, Florida, Museum of Fine Arts, Treasure of the Month, December 1997;
St. Petersburg, Florida, Museum of Fine Arts, Story & Symbol: Dutch and Flemish Paintings from the Collection of Dr. Gordon and Adele Gilbert, 17 September - 4 December 2011, no. 33.
A. Von Wurzbach, Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon vol. 2, Vienna and Leipzig 1910, p. 352;
C. Hoftstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, vol. 4, London 1912, pp. 588-589, cat. nos. 1 and 2;
W. von Bode, Die Meister der Holländischen und Vlämischen Malerschulen, Leipzig 1917, pp. 221-222;
E. Michel, Paulus Potter, Paris 1930, p. 36;
R. Von Arps-Aubert, Die Entwicklung des reinen Tierbildes in der Kunst des Paulus Potter, Halles 1932, pp. 11, 35, cat. no. 1;
N.I. Romanov, "An Unknown Painting by G.W. Horst and its forerunners," in Oud Holland 51, 1934, pp. 278-279;
W. Martin, De Hollandsche schilderkunst in de zeventiende eeuw, Amsterdam, 1935-36, vol. 2, p. 329;
S. Nihom-Nijstad, Reflets du siècle d'or. Tableaux hollandais du dix-septième siècle. Collection Lugt, Paris 1983, p. 108;
A.L. Walsh, "Paulus Potter: His Works and their Meaning," PhD diss., Columbia University 1985, pp. 122-25, reproduced fig. B7;
L. Goosen, Van Abraham tot Zacharia. Thema's uit het Oude Testament in religie, beeldende kunst, literatuur, muziek en theater, Nijmegen 1990, p. 21;
C. Tümpel, Het Oude Testament in de schilderkunst van de Gouden Eeuw, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam 1991, pp. 28 and 48, note 27;
A.L. Walsh, E. Buijsen and B. Broos, in Paulus Potter: Paintings, Drawings, and Etchings, exhibition catalogue, The Hague 1995, pp. 22, 56-58, cat. no. 1, reproduced p. 57;
A.L. Walsh, in The Dictionary of Art, London 1996, vol. 25, p. 369;
I.A. Cartwright, in Story and Symbol: Dutch and Flemish Paintings from the Collection of Dr. Gordon and Adele Gilbert, exhibition catalogue, St. Petersburg, Florida 2011, pp. 86-87, cat. no. 33, reproduced.
The story of Abraham at Sichem is told in the Old Testament (Genesis 12:7). Abraham, patriarch of the Israelites, was ordered by God to leave his home in Ur and set off for a new land where he would be the founder of a great nation. Abraham obeyed, taking his family, his flocks and all his possessions into the land of Canaan. When he reached the holy place of Sichem, on the plain of Moreh, God spoke a second time to Abraham, proclaiming “To your offspring I will give this land.” It is this moment of God’s second appearance to Abraham that Potter has depicted. Abraham kneels, looking heavenward to God’s manifestation, represented by rays of light, while the other figures at left, including his wife Sara and nephew Lot, stare out in an almost trance-like state. Even at this early stage of Potter’s career, the animals, including cows, goats, and donkeys, are carefully portrayed, and imbued with great dignity and personality. Potter would go on to become the greatest animal painter of his age, making them the main focus of many of his paintings and elevating the animal piece to a new level of importance in Dutch art.
The young Potter was influenced by an older generation of painters such as Pieter Lastman and Claes Moeyeart, both of whom painted earlier renditions of this same subject.2 Moeyaert is thought to have been one of Potter’s teachers and his influence is evident in this work, especially in the treatment of the livestock. Moeyaeart‘s 1628 painting of Abraham at Sichem, while a far more crowded composition, also places the animals prominently in the center foreground (fig. 1). Potter has reduced the number of principal figures, placing them at far left and opening up the right side of the composition to depict a vast landscape filled with a procession of Abraham’s followers. The landscape design and some of the details, such as the ruined tower and wooden bridge, appear to be borrowed from an etching by Moyses van Wtenbrouck (fig. 2).
The faces of the figures at far right surrounding Abraham are highly individualized and are probably real portraits.3 Potter may have used the story of Abraham at Sichem to create a portrait historié, placing his subjects as participants in a biblical event.4 It has even been suggested that the figure of a young man standing behind Abraham may, in fact, be a self-portrait.
1. See A. Chong and P.C. Sutton, in Masters of 17th-Century Dutch Landscape Painting, Philadelphia 1987, p. 416.
2. See A. Walsh/E. Buijsen/B. Broos (under Literature) p. 56.
3. Both C. Hofstede de Groot and A. Walsh/E. Buijsen/B. Broos (under Literature) suggest that the figures may have been painted by Potter’s father, Pieter.
4. See A. Walsh/E. Buijsen/B. Broos and I.A. Cartwright (under Literature), p. 58 and p. 87, respectively.