- Jan Lievens
- Portrait of a young man in a beret
- signed centre lower left: L
- oil on oak panel
His deceased sale, Nürnberg, Roths, 2 May 1786, lot 27 (as Rembrandt), to Wild, for 75.12 florins;
Johann Hermann Wild (d. 1792), Nürnberg;
His posthumous sale, Nürnberg, date unknown, 1793, lot 5 (as Rembrandt);
In an Austrian noble collection since 1870;
Anonymous sale, Vienna, Dorotheum, 1 October 2003, lot 85;
With Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd., London, 2003–09;
From whom acquired by the present owner.
M. Hale in Jan Lievens: a Dutch master rediscovered, exh. cat., A. Wheelock and S. Dickey (eds), Washington 2008, p. 108, cat. no. 14, reproduced p. 109 (with incorrect dimensions);
B. Schnackenburg, Jan Lievens, friend and rival of the young Rembrandt, Petersberg 2016, p. 300, cat. no. 115, reproduced in colour p. 301.
Valentin Daniel Preisler, 1763, in mezzotint (as after Rembrandt).
"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."
Schnackenburg observed that the painterly execution with the reddish brown priming is derived from Lievens’ Portrait of Rembrandt in fancy costume in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam,1 and notes the close relationship in size and composition with another portrait of a man in profile in the Spicer Collection, London. The Spicer portrait, like the present painting, depicts the sitter's head in over life-size dimensions; both men are lent a monumental status by Lievens, and yet he seems to have purposefully differentiated their dispositions and character. The Spicer portrait depicts an older man, ruddy of complexion and with a furrowed brow; he is depicted in broader brushstrokes, the reddish ground visible throughout, heightening his seemingly hot and rough skin. This portrait however, is painted in fine, short, layered and hatched strokes that create a smoother surface and emphasises the still calm of the sitter’s features. The vibrancy of his fur is created by the scratching of the butt of the artists brush through the violet-black paint to reveal a glowing gold ground underneath: a favourite technique of Jan Lievens. Schnackenburg writes that through adjustments in his technique and brushwork Lievens seems to have intended to contrast two different temperaments; the melancholic and the choleric. Because the two sitters face the same way, they cannot be considered pendants. They belong instead to the group of pictorially related pairs that are typical of the artist.2
Lievens is credited with playing a central role in the creation of the genre of the autonomous tronie. Whilst his contemporaries Peter Paul Rubens, and Anthony van Dyck were producing head studies in anticipation of use in larger compositions, Lievens was creating paintings of heads and characters that were marketable pictures in their own right, often painted from life. Meredith Hale writes that there is no mistaking the individuality of this sitter and that it was clearly painted from life.3 Tronies, literally meaning 'head', 'face' or 'facial expression' in Dutch, are not portraits or part of any other established genre, but simply a means to master the art of characterisation, as Lievens has done in this gentle and melancholic youth. Lievens’ tronies were enormously influential, their impact spread throughout the Netherlands and today are best, or perhaps more usually, appreciated within the œuvre of Lievens’s childhood friend Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. According to some sources Lievens and Rembrandt collaborated between 1624 and 1632 in their early investigations into the technique of engraving.
At the time of the 2003 Vienna sale Professor Werner Sumowski was thanked for confirming the attribution to Jan Lievens and for identifying it as an early work by the artist.
Note on Provenance
Until now, the only known provenance of this painting before the late nineteenth century was garnered from an inscription on Preisler’s 1763 mezzotint. Preisler had noted that the painting (at that time thought to be by Rembrandt) was from the collection of the Conseiller de Hagen, Oberburg. We now know that the owner in 1763 was Johann Georg Friedrich von Hagen, an art collector based in Oberburg in a house that he had inherited, along with an already formed art collection, from his father Justus Jakob von Hagen. When Johann Georg died childless and in a significant amount of debt, an auction was held in Nürnberg town hall and his collection of 715 paintings was sold. Nearly all of the buyers at the sale were locals, but the Nürnberg art dealer Johann Hermann Wild came away with 54 paintings, including the present work. In the sale catalogue this painting was described as a ‘Portrait eines Mannes in Profil von ohngefehr 30 Jahren von Rembrand’; the pictures measurements were given in Schuh and Zoll, ‘2 Schuh hoch, 1 Schuh 8 Zoll breit’.5 When Wild died the picture was again auctioned in 1793, surfacing next in an Austrian noble collection 70 years later.
1. Inv. No. C1598; see Schnackenburg 2016, p. 256, cat. no. 74, reproduced p. 257.
2. Schnackenburg 2016, p. 303.
3. Hale 2008, p. 108.
5. 1 schuh = 28.8 cm; 1 zoll = 0.26 cm.