A Shepherdess listening to a Shepherd playing a Flute in an Arcadian Landscape
Signed and dated lower left: G. Flinck f 1654 (?)
Oil on canvas, 54 ½ x 66⅞ ins. (140 x 173 cm)
Possibly Jan Steen (1625/6-1679), Leiden
Possibly his posthumous sale, Alkmaar, 12 August 1750, lot no. 8 (according to Von Moltke, no. 148a, see literature below)
Anthonie H. G. Fokker (1890-1939), by whom acquired at an unidentified Amsterdam sale,
Thence by descent
Sotheby’s, Amsterdam, 8 May 2007, lot 73
With Johnny Van Haeften Limited, London, 2007
Private Collection, New York, 2007-2015
J. W. von Moltke, Govaert Flinck, Amsterdam, 1965, p. 97, no. 147, plate 30 (and possibly identical to no. 148a)
A. McNeil Kettering, ‘Rembrandt’s Flute Player: a unique treatment of pastoral’, Simiolus, 9, 1977, p. 41-42, fig. 24, where dated circa 1654
W. Sumowski, Gemalde der Rembrandt-Schaler, 5 vols, Landau, 1983-1990, vol. II, p. 1025, no. 635, illustrated, as dated 1654 (as incorrectly in the Smeulers Collection, The Hague).
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 1939-1945, on loan with the permanent collection [lent by the heirs of A. H. G. Fokker]
ENGRAVED: Engraved in reverse by Abraham BlootelingCS0279
Born in Cleves in Germany in 1615, Govaert Flinck served his apprenticeship with the Dutch painter Lambert Jacobsz. (c. 1592-1637) in Leeuwarden. Around 1633, he moved to Amsterdam to further his training with Rembrandt because, as Houbraken explained “Rembrandt’s manner was so generally praised at that time that ….. Flinck] found it advisable to learn for a year with Rembrandt, in order to acquire the manner of painting.” (ii) Houbraken also informs us that he was so adept at absorbing Rembrandt’s style that his works often passed or were sold as authentic paintings by the master. However, after setting up on his own, Flinck made determined efforts to distance himself from Rembrandt, developing instead a more colourful and elegant style inspired by Flemish masters and the fashionable Bartholomeus van der Helst. His ability to adapt to the changing tastes of the public brought him rapid success and rich rewards.
In this large canvas Flinck depicts a young shepherd and a shepherdess seated by a bank in the shade of some trees: their flock grazes peacefully in the field nearby. The young man is dressed in a red tunic, floppy-brimmed hat and Roman-style sandals: his shepherd’s crook and water gourd lie on the ground beside him. He serenades his companion on his flute. She is swathed in loosely fitting garments, exposing one shoulder in the all’antica style, and wears a plaited ribbon in her hair. Smiling coyly, she weaves him a garland of flowers. They cast side-long glances at one another. Beyond the shade of their leafy bower, we catch a glimpse of sunlit pastures and wooded uplands. The scene’s idyllic mood is underscored by the bucolic setting and the soft, glowing light.
Pastoral scenes enjoyed widespread popularity in Dutch seventeenth-century art. The inspiration for this genre was largely literary in origin and its development was closely connected with the fashion for pastoral plays, poems and songbooks which took hold in The Netherlands in the first decade of the century. The theme of the amorous shepherd couple made its appearance in the visual arts around 1600 in a print by the Haarlem artist Hendrick Goltzius which shows Coridon and his beloved Sylvia seated beneath a tree (iii). A few years later, in his leerdicht of 1604, the painter and art theorist Karel van Mander recommended that artists include pastoral figures in their landscapes: “Show how those farm girls beside the green banks bring forth fountains of milk with their hands. Show how Tityrus, with his flute, entertains Amaryllis, his beloved among women, resting beneath an oak tree, while even his flock enjoys the pleasant sound ….” (iv) In the 1620s, pastorals emerged as a major theme in the art of the Utrecht painters Paulus Moreelse, Abraham Bloemaert, Gerrit van Honthorst and others, and in the following decade, pastoral imagery entered the repertoire of Rembrandt and the artists working in his circle in Amsterdam. By mid-century, it could be found in almost every artistic centre and in all categories of Dutch art, from portraiture and genre to landscape and history painting.
Whilst the amorous couples depicted in many pastoral scenes represent characters from mythology, such as Venus or Adonis, or Paris and Oenone, or from pastoral literature, like Granida and Daifilo, Amaryllis and Myrtillo, or Silvio and Dorinda, others cannot be readily identified and appear, like the present couple, to be simply anonymous shepherds and shepherdesses.
Flinck painted a number of pastoral scenes during the course of his career. His interest in the theme was aroused during his time in Rembrandt’s studio. Rembrandt was himself engaged with works in the pastoral idiom at this time, most notably his two pictures of Saskia in the guise of Flora in shepherdess attire (1634, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg; 1635, National Gallery, London) and Flinck followed suit shortly afterwards with his pendant portraits of a shepherd (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) and a shepherdess, of 1636, (Herzon Anton Ulrich-Museum, Brunswick). The present painting is Flinck’s largest and most ambitious work in the pastoral mode. Painted in the 1650s (the precise date is uncertain because the last digit of the date is illegible), when the artist was at the peak of career, it exhibits the rich colours, gracefully posed figures and flowing outlines that characterise his mature, academic style. During these years Flinck’s services as a portraitist and painter of large-format history pieces for palaces and public buildings were much in demand. He worked for Amalia van Solms, widow of Frederick Hendrick, Prince of Orange, at the Huis ten Bosch, in The Hague (v) and was awarded the lion’s share of the commissions to decorate Amsterdam’s new town hall. Given the large size of this painting, it is likely that it, too, was a commissioned work, though its intimate subject matter was no doubt intended for private delectation.
Although Flinck abandoned Rembrandt’s manner of painting fairly early on, he often turned to his former master’s work as a source of ideas. Here, as Kettering observed (vi), he seems to have taken Rembrandt’s 1642 etching of The Flute-Player (vii) as his point of departure, but his interpretation of the subject is quite different. Although the main elements of Rembrandt’s composition – the garland-weaving shepherdess, the flute-playing shepherd and the flock of sheep – are taken over in Flinck’s painting, he has changed the darkly erotic mood of the etching – the shepherd is leering up the skirt of his companion – to one which is unambiguously light-hearted and romantic, while transporting his shepherd sweethearts from the everyday reality of labouring in the fields to the Arcadian realms of pastoral literature.
Govaert Flinck was born on 25 January 1615 in the German town of Cleves, near to the Dutch border. At the age of fourteen, he was sent to Leeuwarden in Friesland to study with the painter, dealer and Mennonite preacher, Lambert Jacobsz. In 1633, after completing his apprenticeship, he moved to Amsterdam and continued his training with Rembrandt. According to Houbraken, Flinck absorbed his master’s manner so successfully that some of his pictures were mistaken for authentic Rembrandts and sold as such. His earliest dated paintings, which are inscribed 1636, demonstrate his artistic dependence on Rembrandt’s early Amsterdam style. Like his master, he produced portraits and tronies, history paintings, allegorical subjects and landscapes.
In the 1640s, Flinck drew away from the influence of Rembrandt, modelling himself more on the elegant compositions and smooth painting style of artists like Bartholomeus van der Helst and Anthony van Dyck . The change brought him considerable success and he developed important patrons both in Amsterdam and in his native Germany. In 1642, he painted a group portrait of The Four Regents of the Amsterdam Arquebusiers (viii), three years later, the large Militia Company of Captain Albert Bas (ix) and, in 1648, the great picture of the Celebration of the Peace of Munster (x). In 1645, Flinck married Ingertje Thoveling. He built up a large studio and made a collection of classical sculpture, paintings and objets d’art. In 1649, he painted an Allegory of The Birth of Prince William Hendrick III of Nassau (xi) for Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg and, in 1656, an Allegory in Memory of Frederick Hendrick, Prince of Orange (xii), for Amalia van Solms at the Huis ten Bosch, in The Hague. Around this time, he executed two large paintings for the decorations in Amsterdam’s new Town Hall and, in November 1659, secured a further prestigious commission to produce an additional twelve compositions for the Town Hall. He did not, however, live to complete the project, but died suddenly on 2 February, 1660, at the height of his fame, aged only forty-five.
ii A. Houbraken, De groote schouburgh, 3 vols. Amsterdam, 1718-21, vol. 2, pp. 20-21.
iii Engraved by J. Matham after Hendrick Goltzius,
Corydon and Sylvia, c. 1600, 472 x 340 mm.
iv Karel van Mander, Het Schilderboeck (Den Grondt der Edel Vry Schilder-const), chap. 8, verse 42.
v Govaert Flinck, Allegory in Memory of Prince Frederick Hendrick, 1654, canvas, 307x189 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. SK-A-869, on loan to the Mauritshuis, in The Hague.
vi A. McNeil Kettering, 1977, op. cit, p. 41-42.
vii Rembrandt, The Flute-Player, etching and drypoint, 116 x 143 mm.
viii Govaert Flinck, The Four Regents of the Amsterdam Arquebusiers, signed and dated 1642, on canvas,
203 x 278 cm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.
ix Govaert Flinck, The Company of Captain Albert Bas and Lieutenant Lucas Conijn, signed and dated
1645, on canvas, 341 x 244 cm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.
x Govaert Flinck, Celebration of the Civic Guard at the signing of the Peace of Munster, signed and
dated 1648, on canvas, 265 x 513 cm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.
xi Govaert Flinck, Allegory of the Birth of Prince William Hendrick III of Nassau, on canvas,
115.5 x 82.5 cm, Potsdam, Sanssouci.
xii Govaert Flinck, Allegory in Memory of Frederick Hendrick, Prince of Orange, signed and dated 1654,
on canvas, 307 x 189 cm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.
Cleves 1615 - 1660 Amsterdam
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