A Woman seated in a Chair
On panel, 14¾ x 12 ins. (37.6 x 30.8 cm)
Private Collection, The Netherlands, 2007
Christie’s, Amsterdam, 14 November 2007, lot 71
With Johnny Van Haeften Limited, London, 2007
Private Collection, U.S.A, 2008-2014
In a dimly-lit interior, an old woman is seated on a low, rush-seated chair. Simply dressed in a dark skirt, white head-dress and shawl, she turns towards the viewer, her eyes downcast. The room is bare, except for a three-legged stool which stands beside her, bearing a chamber pot and a little, pink flower. The whole scene is rendered in gentle tones of grey, brown and pearly white. A quiet atmosphere and sense of calm pervade the room.
Vrel’s domestic interiors, which comprise the larger part of his known oeuvre, invariably focus on the theme of woman, quietly going about their everyday chores. Often, the single figure of a woman is depicted reading or sleeping, making up a fire, looking out of a window, or performing tasks such as laundering. In other pictures, a maternal theme is explored in scenes of mothers and their children. The present example is characteristic of Vrel’s unpretentious subject-matter and charmingly naïve style. Typical of his art is the soft lighting, vaguely defined interior space and curious, stunted chair that occurs in almost all his interiors.
Nothing certain is known about the life of Jacobus Vrel or even the location of his activity. He is only known by the signature on some of his paintings and his dated works, indicating that he was active from 1654 to 1662. There has been much speculation about the whereabouts of his activities. He has generally been associated with artists of the Amsterdam and Delft Schools, particularly Pieter de Hooch and Johannes Vermeer. However, the date of 1654 on his painting of A woman at a Window in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (i) casts doubt on this theory as it predates by four years de Hooch’s earliest dated Delft interiors. Other clues point to Vrel having been a native of Friesland, the lower Rhineland, or Flanders near the Dutch border. The inclusion of Capuchin monks in two of his paintings suggests that he was probably active, for at least part of his career, outside the United Netherlands where monastic orders had been abolished. His small oeuvre, numbering between thirty and forty paintings, depicts simple domestic interiors, courtyards and street scenes. Two paintings of Gothic churches are also known.
During Vrel’s lifetime, two of his pictures, A woman at a Window, mentioned above and its pendant, An Interior with a Woman sleeping (ii), entered the collection of the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in Brussels. They are listed in an inventory of 1659 and were, therefore, probably purchased for the Archduke's gallery by his curator, David Teniers the Younger, during the Archduke's term as governor of the Spanish Netherlands from 1646-1656. Their presence in Brussels at this early date lends weight to the theory that Vrel might have been of Flemish origin and also indicate that, despite his somewhat naïve and provincial manner, Vrel was esteemed by contemporary artists and collectors. Subsequently, his name slipped into obscurity and it was not until the end of the nineteenth century that scholars (iii) began to reassess his work, rediscovering pictures that had previously been misattributed to other artists, such as de Hooch, Vermeer, Isaack Koedijk or Pieter Janssens Elinga. Slowly his artistic personality began to emerge and, in 1936, Clothilde Brière-Misme published the first detailed review of the oeuvre of this enigmatic artist, whom she termed ‘un intimiste hollandais’ (iv). Today, examples of his work can be found in many museums around the world including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the J. Paul Getty Museum, in Los Angeles, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Musee Royal des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp, the Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, The Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
i Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemaldegalerie, Vienna, inv. No. 6081
ii Jacobus Vrel, An Interior with a woman sleeping, on panel, 57 x 47.5 cm, with the Van Haeften Gallery, 2005.
iii In 1866, the French art critic, Thoré-Burger, wrote about a painting signed by Vrel in his own collection which had hitherto been attributed to Vermeer. Twenty years later A. Bredius signalled a new interest in the artist when he published a short list of Vrel attributions in Kunstchronik XXI (1885/86), p. 676 sub no. 116 and, in 1903, Hofstede de Groot attributed a group of street scenes to Vrel.
iv Clothilde Brire-Misme, ‘Un ‘Intimiste’ hollandais, Jacob Vrel’, in Revue de l’Art Ancien et Moderne,
vols. 67-68, June-December 1935, pp. 97-114, 157-72.
Dutch School, active, c. 1654-1662
Keep me updated about Jacobus Vrel: