There probably acquired by Kraft Ernst, Graf Oettingen-Wallerstein (1748–1802), later Reichsfürst zu Oettingen-Oettingen und Oettingen-Wallerstein, Hohenhaltheim, and so probably the picture by 'die Mahlerey Hans von Mecheln' for whose frame payment is recorded in the Court Accounts for 1776;
Acquired by the father of the present owner from the above in 1971;
Thence by inheritance.
E. Brochhagen, 'Zu Hans van Wechlin und Cornelis van Dalem', in Munchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, vol. XIV, 1963, pp. 92–104, reproduced fig. 1;
H.G. Franz, Niederlandische Landschaftsmalerei in Zeitalter des Manierismus, Graz 1969, vol. I, p. 229, and vol. II, reproduced fig. 400;
A. Wied, in De Bruegel à Rubens. L'école de peinture anversoise 1550–1650, exh. cat., Cologne, Antwerp and Vienna, 1992, p. 182.
This is one of three versions of this composition, and by common consent, the finest in quality and most likely prototype for the design. Another version on panel, signed with initials and of similar dimensions (38 x 52.6 cm.), was sold in these rooms, 1 April 1992, lot 57, and was later with Johnny van Haeften, London. This is broadly similar to the present panel, but includes the detail of two standing figures wearing black beside the cauldrons on the left of the picture. The third version, formerly in an English private collection was also signed HANS VAN WECHLIN but on canvas and larger (49.3 x 63.7 cm); this was sold in these rooms, 5 December 2007, lot 19. This differed from the present painting in the extension of the composition on both the left and right hand sides, and in numerous smaller details, notably the addition of a third tree in the left background. When it was published in 1963 Brochhagen suggested that the painting might be a collaborative work between Hans van Wechelen and the landscape painter Cornelis van Dalem (circa 1530–1573), who are thought to have worked together, but the signature and pictorial unity of the picture suggests that it is the work of only one hand.1 Suggesting a date for it is, however, more difficult. The question of whether or not Van Wechlen was directly influenced by the work of his contemporary, the great Pieter Breugel the Elder remains an open one. Some elements in the present work may be paralleled in that of Breugel, notably the poor family with their backs turned to the spectator, are reminiscent of the gypsies in Breugel's Preaching of Saint John the Baptist of 1566 now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest; this might suggest a date in the same decade, and recent dendrochronological analysis of the panel would confirm if not anticipate such as dating.2 But while Van Wechlen's work clearly belongs to the same tradition, his powers of observation and understated verisimilitude, lend this scene a particular charm. The large cauldrons in the left hand corner of the painting make a particular impression. As Alexander Wied has pointed out, the motif of the washing of the plates, seen in the second cauldron, is notable for its rarity.3
It seems probable that this painting was acquired by Prince Ernst Oettingen-Wallerstein in 1773. Although it would be highly unusual for an oil painting to be included in a Kunstboek sale (normally consisting of folios of individual prints and drawings), his court accounts from 1776 show a bill from the court sculptor Thomas Gesele dated March 24 1776 for a frame 'die Breite 2 sch: 3 Zl: die Hohe 1 sch. 10 Zl', for 'die Mahlerey des Hans von Mecheln'. ('width 2 ...and 3 ....: height 1 ... 10 ...for the Painter Hans von Mechelen').4
1. See, for example, the Road to Calvary attributed to both artists sold New York, Sotheby's, 11 January 1996, lot 78. Van Dalem was a gentleman amateur as a painter, but nevertheless ran an organised studio and included Bartholomaus Spranger among his pupils.
2. P. and F. Roberts-Jones, Pierre Bruegel L'Ancien, Paris 1997, pp. 251ff., reproduced fig. 284. Recent dendrochronological examination by Ian Tyers of the oak boards in the present panel suggests a likely felling date from circa 1546 onwards, and a likely usage date thereafter.
3. Wied 1992–93 p. 182.
4. See especially Brochhagen 1963, pp. 103–04, nos 11 and 35.
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