Lot 113
  • 113

CORNELIS NORBERTUS GYSBRECHTS | Trompe l'œil of an open cabinet

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
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  • Trompe l'œil of an open cabinet
  • oil on canvas
  • 94.4 x 80.3 cm


Mrs David Pleydell-Bouverie, New York, 1949;
Anonymous sale, Amsterdam, Sotheby's Mak van Waay, 22 April 1980, lot 24 (as E. Collier), when acquired.


San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Illusionism & trompe-l'œil, 3 May – 12 June 1949 (as E. Collier);
On loan, Münster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, inv. no. 1623LG;
Rotterdam, Kunsthal, At Home in the Golden Age, 9 February – 18 May 2008, no. 76;
Hamburg, Bucerius Art Forum, Täuschend echt. Die Kunst des Trompe l'œil, 23 February – 24 May 2010, no. 160;
‘s-Hertogenbosch, Het Noordbrabants Museum, Schijn Bedriegt, 12 October 2013 – 26 January 2014;
Leverkusen, Bayer Kulturhaus, 14 September 2014 – 4 January 2015; Liesborn, Museum Abtei Liesborn, 8 November 2015 – 10 January 2016, Wahrheiten. Werke aus der SØR Rusche Sammlung Oelde/Berlin;
Nuremberg, Auf AEG, Gute Kunst? Wollen!, 19 September – 17 October 2015;
Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Gutes böses Geld. Eine Bildgeschichte der Ökonomie, 5 March – 19 June 2016, unnumbered.


California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Illusionism & trompe-l'œil, exh. cat., San Francisco 1949, reproduced p. 40 (as E. Collier);
P. Gammelbo, 'Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts og Franciscus Gijsbrechts', Kunstmuseets årsskrift 1952–55, Copenhagen 1956, p. 146, cat. no. 12;
M. Braun, Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts und Franciscus Gijsbrechts, doctoral diss., Berlin 1994, pp. 95, 106, cat. no. 1.3.3, reproduced;
Nuremberg, Auf AEG, Gute Kunst? Wollen!, 19 September – 17 October 2015, pp. 134–37, cat. no. 26, reproduced in colour;
Nuremberg, Auf AEG, Gute Kunst? Wollen!, 19 September – 17 October 2015, pp. 84–85, cat. no. 76, reproduced in colour;
H. Bündge and L. Heese (eds), Gutes böses Geld. Eine Bildgeschichte der Ökonomie, exh. cat., Bielefeld and New York 2016, reproduced in colour p. 101.


The canvas is lined, the paint surface is relatively clean and the varnish only slightly discoloured. The varnish fluoresces opaquely under ultraviolet light, but some retouchings are visible: along the upper and left margins and in the upper right corner, and in a spot of more recent retouching upper right, just left of the hinge. It is difficult to discern intervention in the central composition, although there may be a small retouching in the letter, upper left, above the almanac, and a handful of pinprick retouchings in the envelope, lower left. In overall good condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This painting is one of very few trompe-l’œil cupboard paintings by Gysbrechts, which are virtually all on almost square canvases, such as the painting in the Musées des Beaux-Arts, Rouen.1 The picture represents a cabinet containing objects, including an overflowing pouch full of coins and pieces of writing equipment, which are visible through the open door, the panes of glass at an angle creating an illusion of depth. Conversely, a letter knife stuck into the bottom of the frame and the key in the lock appear to stand proud of the picture plane, as do the written and printed papers tucked into the horizontal lead bar, meaning the illusion created is both behind and in front of the surface of the real canvas. Among the documents is a copy of The London Gazette, a publication that was initiated in 1666, having started as The Oxford Gazette in 1665. Its inclusion provides a terminus post quem for the painting, despite the date of 1653, which appears on the central letter, and the MDCLVII (1657) on the Almanac. This Almanac is virtually identical to that, also dated 1657 and from Liège, which appears in Gysbrechts' painting of 1665, sold at Sotheby's, New York, 3 June 2010, lot 52. Edwaert Collier, to whom the present painting was previously attributed, painted The London Gazette in several compositions, folded in half in this manner, though only from 1693, meaning that this work may well be the earliest painted image of the oldest English newspaper. Curiously, there is no record of Gysbrechts ever having travelled to England.

Having been employed as motifs since Antiquity, in the decoration at Pompeii for example, illusionistic wall cupboards or niches were subjects that gained considerable popularity in the Renaissance, particularly in intarsia (mosaic woodwork) decoration, and were again addressed in the mid-17th century by artists such as Samuel van Hoogstraten, whose paintings of illusionary windows and cabinets undoubtedly provided inspiration for Gysbrechts in works such as the present painting.

The market for trompe-l’œils grew in strength in the second half of the 17th century and Gysbrechts himself developed the genre to an unprecedented degree, producing ever more complex compositions and astonishing, original motifs, particularly during his employment at the Danish court between 1668–72 under the patronage of Kings Frederik III and Christian V. While there, Gysbrechts executed twenty-two trompe-l’œil paintings for the royal Kunstkammer and Rosenborg Castle – works designed to deceive and delight the visitor to the home of rulers fascinated by both science and art – including an illusionistic easel, a painting representing the reverse of a framed canvas, and a trompe-l’œil cabinet with actual hinges and keyhole that can really be opened.2

1 Signed and dated 1665; see O. Koester, Painted Illusions. The Art of Cornelius Gijsbrechts, exh. cat., London 2000, p. 40, reproduced in colour p. 41, fig. 12.
2 All in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, inv. nos KMS5, KMS1989 and KMS3076, respectively; see O. Koester et al., Illusions. Gijsbrechts Royal Master of Deception, exh. cat., Copenhagen 1999, pp. 164–67, cat. no. 12; pp. 176–79, cat. no. 15; and pp. 206–07, cat. no. 29, all reproduced in colour.