HUMAN REFLECTIONS: PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
A soft light illuminates this setting from left, highlighting the cheek of an elderly sitter, his wispy gray mustache and whiskers, the thin rim of the spectacles that he holds in his right hand which is resting on the ledge, and the wood of his cane that leans against his shoulder. Wearing a black doublet and a large black hat, he looks to the viewer’s right, with small and pensive eyes, a furrowed brow, and pursed lips. Although the identity of the sitter remains unknown today—having once been described as Rembrandt’s brother, Adriaen van Rijn—he is rendered with such a palpable degree of familiarity that the sitter was possibly intimately known to the artist.
Formerly given to Rembrandt by Bode, Valentiner and Hofstede de Groot, Bredius was the first of the early Rembrandt scholars to identify this panel as by Karel van der Pluym. An artist from Leiden, Van der Pluym was born to a master craftsman and a woman named Cornelia van Suytbroek, Rembrandt’s first cousin. Considering his familial connection and his Rembrandtesque style, it is probable that Van der Pluym trained as a young artist in Rembrandt’s studio in Amsterdam in the late 1640s. By 1648, he was back in Leiden and joined the Guild of Saint Luke, later becoming a master in 1651 and its dean in 1654. His life as an artist, however, was shared with his life as a public official within in Leiden, and this detail that may help explain his more limited, though incredibly refined, artistic output. Rembrandt and van der Pluym seem to have maintained their relationship from afar, for Van der Pluym left Rembrandt’s son, Titus, a large sum of money in his will of 1662, and was also made Titus’ legal guardian in 1665. Titus died in 1668, the year before Rembrandt passed away, while van der Pluym lived until 1672.
In composition, lighting, and application of paint, this work can be compared to other works by van der Pluym, including his signed Portrait of a man in a fur cap, also titled A Geographer (fig. 1), today in the Art Institute of Chicago,1 as well as his Old Woman with a Book (present whereabouts unknown),2 the latter of which long served as a pendant to the present work. The two were sold together in the 1891 sale of the property of the 5th Marquess of Ely and remained together until the early twentieth century. They likely separated while in the collection of Jules Porgès, or very soon after.
In 2011, Professor Werner Sumowski reconfirmed the attribution of the present lot on the basis of photographs.
1. Oil on panel, 71.3 by 54.8 cm, inv. no. 1988.265, formerly in the collection of Mr. Chester Tripp.
2. Oil on panel, 56 by 43 cm., See Sumowski, in Literature., p. 2375, cat. no. 1593
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