Jan Havicksz. Steen
- Jan Havicksz. Steen
- The Doctor's Visit
- signed lower left: JSteen (JS in ligature)
- oil on oak panel
His posthumous sale, The Hague, 23 July 1743, lot 179, for 280 florins;
Johan van der Marck Aegidsz. (1707–72), Burgomaster of Leiden;
His posthumous sale, Amsterdam, de Winter Yver, 25 August 1773 lot 304, for 526 florins to Vlaardinge;
Diederik van Leyden (1744–1810), Amsterdam;
His sale, Paris, Paillet, 15 November 1804, lot 82, for 1,980 francs, to Paillet;
Friedrich Kalkbrenner (1785–1849), Paris;
Madame Rouchon, Paris, 1816, bought or sold for 2916 francs (see Hofstede de Groot, Literature);
M. Héris, Brussels;
His sale, Paris, Paillet, 25–26 March 1841, lot 30;
Charles Piérard, Valenciennes;
His posthumous sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 20–21 March 1860, lot 77, for 5,890 francs to Van Loo;
Christophe van Loo, Ghent;
His posthumous sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 25 May 1881, lot 30, for 7,000 francs;
With Charles Sedelmeyer, Paris (bears their seal on the reverse of the panel);
Alfred Beit (1853–1906), London, by 1900;
By inheritance to his younger brother Sir Otto Beit (1865–1930), by 1909;
By inheritance to Sir Alfred Beit (1903–1994), London, Cape Town, and after 1952 Russborough House, County Wicklow, Ireland, until 1959;
Sidney van den Bergh (b. 1929), Wassenaar, until 1966;
With Dr Otto Wertheimer, Paris, 1966;
Private collection, Switzerland;
With Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna, by 2007;
From whom acquired by the present owner.
London, The Dowdeswell Galleries, Loan Exhibition of Pictures by Jan Steen, May – June 1909, no. 20;
On loan, Cape Town, National Gallery, 1952;
Leiden, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, 17de eeuwse meesters uit Nederlands particulier bezit, 5–30 August 1965, no. 42.
J. Smith, Supplement..., vol. IX, London 1842, p. 478, cat. no. 12;
T. van Westrheene, Jan Steen, Etude sur l ‘Art en Hollande, The Hague 1856, cat. no. 246;
W. Bode, Catalogue of the Alfred Beit Collection in London, London 1904, p. 59;
C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné..., vol. l, London 1908, pp. 48–49, cat. no. 134;
D. Bax, Hollandse en Vlaamse Schilderkunst in Zuid-Afrika, Amsterdam and Cape Town 1952, p. 58, reproduced fig. 24;
K. Braun, Alle tot nu toe bekende schilderijen van Jan Steen, Rotterdam 1980, p. 118, cat. no. 232, reproduced p. 119.
Braun dates this work to circa 1664–68. The construction of the composition, with the principal figures brought to the fore and others more cursorily defined in the background, is typical of Steen’s mature work. Notwithstanding the farcical subject, Steen’s characteristic mastery in the rendering of the variety of textiles, still-life objects and interior details here is fluent and accomplished. The rich, iridescent fabric of the young lady’s skirt is picked out with delicate highlights in every crease, without losing the form of her legs beneath. This is in contrast to the woven carpet on which she reclines, which in turn is juxtaposed with the plain matting on the stark wooden floor, and the minutely painted details of the solid earthenware brazier, leather shoe and metallic plate and jug. Steen’s characterisation of the different figures is also as sophisticated as it is comic – from the swooning young woman, to the concerned but knowing older woman, to the conceited doctor - dressed in a fanciful antiquated costume as if just retrieved from a dressing-up chest - and the delighted figures behind him, Steen dramatises the tableau vivant, as if it has just been revealed for our amusement by the curtain of the canopy drawn back over the bed.
Steen’s contemporary audience was evidently familiar with this satirical subject, which was treated not only by a number of artists, including Gerrit Dou, Frans van Mieris and Gabriel Metsu, but in many theatrical productions. It has been suggested that the trope of doctors as figures of amusement was particularly favoured in these artists' native Leiden, where the medical faculty at the university drew doctors from all over Europe. The malady from which the young lady is suffering here would have been instantly recognisable to a seventeenth-century Dutch viewer, medically-trained or not, who would have known that there was no scientific cure for the girl's ailment – lovesickness, brought about by an absent lover (though, in this case, perhaps also pregnancy). Despite the obvious lampooning of spurious medical practice here, a number of contemporary treatises did in fact discuss this social disease that seemed to affect large numbers of Dutch women at the time, thought to result from a disequilibrium of the Four Humours, which would induce this state of melancholia – the cure most often prescribed, the lover himself and marriage. In others of Steen’s paintings of the subject he even includes a scrap of paper on which is written the adage: 'Medicine is of no avail when love’s sweet pain is the ail.'1
Early examples of 'The Doctor’s Visit' in emblemata and book illustrations depict the scene far more explicitly. Jacob Cats' print of 1637, for instance, pictures a lovesick woman lying with an arrow through her heart, Cupid standing beside her bed with his bow.2 Steen's approach is perhaps more urbane, though no less full of symbolism. He portrays the doctor as a stock figure in outdated, theatrical costume, which identifies him as the disingenuous quack that he is – comically solicitous and attentive while the figures in the background revel, unconcerned. He takes the patient’s pulse, which, if accelerated, would be a sure sign of her secret feelings of love. The dog licking itself, the foot warmer box and the abandoned shoe point blatantly to the absence of any real gravity in the girl’s lamentable state, and the possible, more lascivious causes and remedies. The burning string in the brazier may refer equally to a belief in noxious fumes to cure lovesickness, or to a dubious medical test for assessing pregnancy.
Note on Provenance
Alfred Beit began collecting in around 1888, when he decided to settle permanently in England, leaving South Africa. He was advised above all by Wilhelm von Bode (1845–1929), Director of the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum, Berlin, from 1890, and Director General from 1905–1920. His first purchases were of predominantly small-size Dutch and Flemish pictures to furnish his house in Park Lane. By 1904, when Bode wrote the catalogue of Beit's collection, he had already acquired a stunning collection of paintings by Rembrandt, Metsu, Ruisdael, Ostade, Hobbema, Van Goyen, Teniers, and of course the present work by Steen, as well as fine Venetian vedute by Guardi and English portraits by the likes of Gainsborough. Alfred's paintings passed to his younger brother Sir Otto, and then to Sir Otto's younger son, Sir Alfred Beit, who both added to the collection.
1. See for example, the paintings today in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, inv. no. VdV 76, and in The Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati; see respectively Braun 1980, p. 120, cat. nos 241 and 242, reproduced p. 121.
2. 'A Doctor tending to Rhodophis in bed', from 's Werelts begin, midden, eynde besolten in den trou-ringh, met den proef-steen van den selven, Dordrecht, 1637.