Lot 30
  • 30

JACOBUS VREL | Street scene with two figures walking away

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
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  • Street scene with two figures walking away
  • signed in monogram middle right: JV
  • oil on panel 
  • 14 by 11 in.; 35.7 by 27.8 cm.


Samuel Woodburn, London;
His estate sale, London, Christie's, 15-19 May 1854, lot 799 (as van der Meer);
There acquired by Beriah Botfield;
Thence by descent to the Marquess of Bath, Longleat House, until 1986;
With Otto Naumann Ltd., New York, 1987;
From whom acquired by the present collector. 


C. Wright, Vermeer, London 1976, p. 10, reproduced, fig. 4;
P.C. Sutton, Pieter de Hooch, Oxford 1980, reproduced fig. 59;
A. Jensen Adams, Dutch and Flemish Paintings from New York Private Collections, exhibition catalogue, New York 1988, pp. 136-137, cat. no. 56, reproduced. pp. 122.


The following condition report has been provided by Kirsten Younger of Kirsten Younger Paintings Restoration, 212-288-4370, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. The painting is in very good condition overall. The finely painted details of the buildings are in exceptionally beautiful state throughout. The delicate textures of the bricks and roof tiles are remarkably well preserved. There is some thinness in the dark glazes in the windows and roof at the top left corner and in the dark windows at the lower right that is retouched. The figures are well preserved with only a few tiny retouches. The blue sky and the clouds with touches of yellow are in beautiful state overall with scattered areas of slight thinness that are retouched. The cobblestones are well preserved overall with some small retouches. The monogram appears to be intact. The wood panel is in flat and stable condition. There is an old fill along a vertical line near the right edge, a slight dent in the paint surface that extends into the sky at the edge of the roof and a fine crack that extends down from the top edge near the left corner to the top of the roof. On the back of the panel there are two large inscribed circles with the mark of a compass point in the center. The painting is in remarkably beautiful condition overall with delicate detail intact throughout.
"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

An enigmatic and mysterious master, Jacobus Vrel painted quiet street scenes that speak to us across the centuries in a way that is strangely affecting. Their narrow cobbled medieval streets with their humble shop fronts with a scattering of simple townsfolk describe a plain and unadorned everyday life. Vrel’s works are now rare – around thirty eight are known, consisting mostly of interior scenes, street views and one church interior, of which nearly half are signed while dated examples range only from 1654 to 1662. This first date belies the common misconception that his art was linked to that produced in Delft from later in the 1650s by his more celebrated contemporaries Pieter de Hooch and in particular Jan Vermeer, to whom many of his works were formerly attributed (no doubt owing in part to their shared initials). Vrel's painting technique – a straightforward manner without glazes or other refinements – complements his unpretentious subject matter and suggests that he was quite possibly self-taught. Though many locations from Friesland to the Rhineland have been sought for his street scenes, they are, in fact, likely to be imaginary.  The enigmatic Vrel did not share his fellow Dutch painters’ love of surface and incidental detail. His street scenes are unusual in their anonymity, showing unremarkable back streets and ordinary people. Many of these share the present pictures’ view down a narrow street with tall and narrow buildings on either side. The quality of light which washes over each scene here is particularly noteworthy and reminiscent of Vrel’s exalted contemporary Johannes Vermeer. Specifically, this and the following lot recall Vermeer’s The Little Street (fig.1, Rijksmusuem, Amsterdam) in their featuring of similar brick walls and clean, uniform lighting which highlights each specific detail on the whitewashed surfaces. The compositions of these two works are particularly quiet in their construction. Though such harmoniously simple views are now considered Vrel’s hallmark, there are indeed examples which feature recognizable commercial shops, such as that which sold most recently at Sotheby’s, London, 4 July 2018, lot 36, for $1,100,000. The architectural elements, as a whole, which unite Vrel’s output of street scenes, are however very consistent. Works by the artist which include variations on buildings found throughout his corpus, such as those in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson collection1 and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles,2 suggest that they may all have been constructed in the artist’s imagination. The latter example shares with the present work similar low hanging tiled awnings. The street in the Philadelphia picture even shows a large church at its end, but this has not been identified. One possible clue is afforded by the fact that two of his street scenes, those in the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford,3 and that formerly in the McIlhenny collection in Philadelphia,4show pairs of hooded Capuchin monks. This detail suggests that those scenes originated outside the United Provinces, where the monastic orders had been abolished. This might suggest that Vrel may therefore have lived in a small town close to the border with either the lower Rhineland or the Catholic southern Netherlands. The latter possibility is supported the fact that his Interior with a woman at a window of 1654, in Vienna,was in the collection of the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm as early as 1659, which shows that Vrel’s unique qualities were evidently appreciated by collectors at a very early date. 

Dendrorchronological analysis of  both works conducted by Dr. Peter Klein confirms that each is executed on single planks of Baltic oak. Street Scene with Couple in Conversation reveals an an earliest date of use of 1643, with a more plausible date of use from 1649 onwards. Street Scene with Two Figures Walking Away reveals an earliest date of use of 1652, with a more plausible date of use from 1658 onwards.  

Both works by Vrel in this catalogue have been requested for the forthcoming monographic exhibition on the artist, scheduled for 2019 - 2020, organized by the Alte Pinakothek (Munich), the Fondation Custodia (Paris) and the Mauritshuis (The Hague).

1. Sutton 2002, p. 272, reproduced fig. 59a.
2. D. Lokin, 'Views in and of Delft, 1650–1675', in Delft Masters, Vermeer's Contemporaries: Illusionism Through the Conquest of Light and Space, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof, Delft, 1996, pp. 103, 105, fig. 88.
3. E. Haverkamp-Begemann (ed.), Wadsworth Atheneum Paintings. The Netherlands and the German-speaking Countries. Fifteenth–Nineteenth centuries, Hartford 1978, p. 200, reproduced plate 101.
4. Reproduced in G. Régnier, ‘Un Vermeer du pauvre’, in Gazette des Beaux-Arts,71, May–June 1968, p. 281, fig. 15.
5. Inv. no. 6081. Exhibited in Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting, Royal Academy, London; Philadelphia Museum of Art; and Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1984, no. 123, reproduced plate 111.