A Portrait of a Boy
Signed with initials lower right: G.S.
On copper, oval, 7¼ x 5¾ ins. (18.5 x 14.6 cm)
One of a pair, see: Portrait of a Girl
Private Collection, Wassenaar
From which acquired by Saam and Lily Nijstad before 1995
Nijstad Collection until 2011
These charming bust-length portraits of two children were clearly intended as pendants and almost certainly portray a brother and sister. However, as so often happens, their identities have been lost in the mists of time. The boy, who looks no older than twelve-years-old, is clad in a blue satin doublet, with a fine, lace-trimmed cravat at his neck. His brown hair falls to his shoulders and a sash of red silk is loosely draped about his shoulders. His slightly younger sister is similarly swathed in a length of blue satin, over a gown of brown patterned silk, with sheer white fabric at the neck. Her wavy brown hair is drawn off her face and held in place by a net of black lace. She wears a pair of pendant earrings and a double row of coral beads around her neck. Both children are dressed more or less in the same manner as adults in contemporary portraits. Their sumptuous costumes are doubtless a reflection of their privileged background as the children of well-to-do citizens of Dordrecht or the surrounding region.
Godfried Schalcken produced portraits, genre scenes and history subjects. He completed his training with Gerrit Dou in Leiden, before establishing himself as an independent painter in his hometown of Dordrecht. Initially, he based his style on that of Dou and the Leiden school of 'fine painters', adopting their meticulous technique, small formats and subject matter. Soon, however, he developed a freer and more elegant manner, probably under the influence of his fellow townsman Nicolaes Maes, but also in response to international trends in art that were infusing the native tradition in the third quarter of the seventeenth century. Following Maes's departure for Amsterdam in 1673, Schalcken became the city's leading portrait painter. He was highly successful in this capacity and he also gained an international reputation for his virtuoso depictions of interior scenes lit by candlelight.
A significant portion of Schalcken?s production was devoted to small or medium-sized likenesses of individuals, represented either bust-, half- or three-quarter-length. During his period in England from 1692-95, he also produced some portraits on a larger scale. His oeuvre includes a number of self-portraits and also likenesses that exploit his ability to render the red, glowing light of a candle or other artificial sources of illumination. The oval shape seen here was particularly favoured by the artist and a large number of his portraits are in this format. Also typical is the choice of copper as a support: Schalcken often used this medium owing to the exceptional smoothness of the metal which was ideally suited to his sophisticated painting technique.
This intimate little pair reflects the vogue in the Netherlands and throughout Europe for small, finely-painted images. On the grounds of style and costume they probably date from the late 1670s. Compare them, for example, with a slightly smaller pair of pendants of Martijn and Gesina Goris and a single portrait of an unidentified lady, which are dated by Thierry Beherman to the same periodi. Schalcken's skill at rendering the softness of the children's pale skin, the innocence of their wide-eyed gaze and the vibrancy of the colours in the costumes seems to have brought him several such commissions.
Godfried Schalcken was born in Made near Breda in 1643, the son of a parish minister, Cornelis Schalcken, and Aletta Lydius, who came from a famous clerical family in Dordrecht. In 1654, the family moved to Dordrecht, where his father was appointed headmaster of the Latin school. There, Godfried studied with Samuel van Hoogstraten from 1656 to 1662 and then with Gerrit Dou in Leiden, both pupils of Rembrandt. By 1665, he had returned to Dordrecht where he registered as an ensign in the local militia company. On 31 October 1679, Schalcken married Fran‡oisia van Diemen, daughter of a wealthy officer from Breda. Of their seven children, only one daughter, Fran‡oisia, baptised in Dordrecht on 28 June 1690, survived to adulthood. On 28 February 1691, Schalcken was admitted to The Hague painters' society, Pictura, although officially he continued to live in Dordrecht. In May 1692, he and his family moved to London where they remained for six years. By June 1698, Schalcken was back in The Hague, where he acquired citizenship in the following year. He is recorded there in 1700 and 1702 but in 1703 was in Dsseldorf painting for the Elector Palatine, Johan Wilhelm. Schalcken is again mentioned in The Hague records of 1704 and 1705, when he filed his will. He died in that city in November 1706 and was survived by his wife and daughter.
The Leiden portrait and genre painters Carel de Moor and Arnold Boonen were pupils of Schalcken, as were his sister Maria and his nephew Jacobus.
i Thierry Beherman, Godfried Schalcken, 1988, nos. 69 & 70, pp. 168-169 & no. 123, p. 219.
Made, near Breda 1643 - 1706 The Hague
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