Probably sale Robbert de Neufville[i],
Leiden, 15 March 1736, lot 7
Collection Louis-Bernard Coclers (1740-1817), Liège
His sale, Amsterdam, Van der Schley, De Vries, 7 August 1811, lot 52 (bought in by Roos)
Sale Coclers, Amsterdam, Van der Schley, De Vries, 8 April 1816, lot 75 (sold to Roos)
Collections Evrard Rhôné (1782-1861), Paris and Etienne Le Roy, art dealer, Brussels (according to the catalogue of the Piérard sale)
Collection Charles Piérard, Valenciennes
His sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 20-21 March 1860, lot 52 (“La grande dame”, sold to Duc de Galliera)
Collection Emile (1800-1875) and Isaac (1806-1880) Péreire, Paris, 1864
Péreire sale, Paris, Petit, Pillet, 6 March 1872, lot 140 (“Une grande dame”)
Baron Rodolphe Hottinguer (1902-1985)
Then by descent, until 2014
Anonymous sale, Enchères Sadde, Moulins, 26 May 2014.
G. Hoet, Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderijen met derzelver pryzen … , 2
vols., The Hague, 1752,
vol. 1, p. 459, no. 7
Ph. Burty, “Mouvements des arts et de la curiosité”, Gazette des Beaux-Arts 2 (1860), April, p. 53
De Nederlandsche Spectator, 21 April 1860, p. 121
W. Bürger, “Galerie de M. Péreire”, Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6 (1864), April, p. 310
H. Mireur, Dictionnaire des ventes d’art faites en France et à l’étranger pendant les XVIII et XIXe siècles, 7 vols., Paris, Marseille, 1901-12, vol. 5 (1911), p. 385
C. Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des 17. Jahrhunderts, 10 vols., Paris, Esslingen 1907-28, vol. 5 (1912), no. 147, p. 546
E. Schavemaker, Eglon Hendrik van der Neer (1635/36-1703). Zijn leven en werk, PhD dissertation (Utrecht University) 2009, cat. nos. C 1118, p. 517; C 164, p. 523
E. Schavemaker, Eglon van der Neer (1635/36 – 1703). His Life and His Work, Doornspijk, 2010,
cat. nos. C93, p. 532, C135, p. 538
Wonderkamer I: Axel Vervoordt, exh. cat. (Antwerp, DIVA, 19 October 2018 – 28 April 2019), Antwerp, 2018, p. 68, cat. 65
Antwerp, DIVA, 19 October 2018 – 28 April 2019
[i] The present author wishes to thank Michael J. Ripps for his invaluable comments. The text has benefited from it a great deal. The collection of the wealthy lawyer Robbert de Neufville (1670-1735) was one of the choicest in the first decades of the eighteenth century in Holland. On de Neufville see: B. Dölemeyer, Frankfurter Juristen im 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts, Frankfurt am Main, 1993, no. 447, p. 139.
La grande dame belongs to a group of highly-finished masterpieces, featuring several full-length figures, which Van der Neer painted during the 1660s and 1670s.[i] Closely related, for instance, is the Visit to the Nursery (1664) in Antwerp.[ii] Made in the same year (i.e., 1665) as our painting is the Young Woman at a Meal of Oysters (Liechtenstein Collection, Vienna, inv. no. 475), which ranks as one of Van der Neer’s most celebrated works.[iii] In all three paintings, Van der Neer bedazzles the viewer with his display of virtuosity, which has become almost an end in itself.
Our work offers an outstanding example of high-life genre or cierlijk modern (elegant modern), as the subject matter, style and accompanying elements were dubbed in Van der Neer’s day.[iv] Van der Neer operated at the vanguard, eagerly applying the latest stylistic and thematic novelties in his production. He held a discerning sense of what his privileged clientele wanted in their paintings and his distinctive images of civilized society must have met with considerable success. In forging his own pathway, Van der Neer drew upon the rich legacies of Ter Borch, Pieter de Hooch, Gabriel Metsu and Frans van Mieris. In our painting the décor was painted in emulation of De Hooch. In that artist’s iconic interiors from the early 1660s,tiled marble floors - often with busy patterns - also serve to impress the viewer through an extraordinary rendering of the play of light and gleaming reflections.[v]
In giving such prominence to satin gowns Van der Neer was indebted to Ter Borch, whose reputation as a painter of satin was and remains legendary.[vi] Yet Van der Neer literally outshines him with the compelling realism of the silk satin dress. Van der Neer’s predilection for the shimmering textile is already apparent in his earliest paintings and he continued to perfect his rendition of eye-catching garments in satin weave. An explanation for the true-to-life appearance of the garment in our painting could be that the artist copied it after life.[vii]
As in Ter Borch’s interiors, the satin catches the light and surges forward out of the shadowy background. Van der Neer probably used silver in the underpainting of the bodice, sleeves and upper skirt to strengthen this effect.[viii] Shell gold has been detected in some of the small landscapes Van der Neer painted at the end of his life for his German patron Johann Wilhelm of the Palatine. This use of silver and gold is exceptional in seventeenth-century painting and demonstrates that Van der Neer, in different phases of his career, experimentedwith unorthodox techniques and materials in his quest to achieve certain desired effects.[ix]
The subject of our painting is a pretty young woman gracefully descending a flight of steps while looking over her shoulder to a chained monkey. In the background, a man reads a letter and a couple is engaged in a tête-à-tête. By the 1650s scenes revolving around a minor incident and depicted as a frozen moment in time had become typical of both peasant and high-life genre painting, and they continued to form a popular mise en scène in the decades following. Usually, the precise circumstances are left unexplained. Ter Borch was the master of ambiguity par excellence and in our painting Van der Neer also gives the viewer’s imagination free rein to speculate on the scene at hand.[x]
A pentimento gives an interesting glimpse into Van der Neer’s thinking process as a ‘stage director’ of sorts. The monkey was initially faced towards the lady but Van der Neer decided to treat us to the animal’s impertinent gaze instead, and in so doing, amusingly draws us into the scene. Van der Neer beautifully captured the monkey’s primitive movements, which form a comical contrast with the elevated setting and, in particular, the aristocratic demeanour of the woman’s lapdog. The dog mimics his mistress’s fine locomotion, quite possibly alluding here to a famous saying popularized by Jacob Cats: “As the girl, so her dog”.[xi]
The figures in the background augment the scene’s anecdotal richness. The couple at right seem to be whispering to each other. Are they flirting? The pose of the letter reader - a head supported by a hand - was known at the time as representing the mental state of melancholy.[xii] Letters in seventeenth- century Dutch genre painting are often to be understood as love letters and the reader is no doubt a “Venusjanker” (Venus crier), a hopeless lover suffering lovesickness.[xiii] Venusjankers can be regularly found in conversation pieces by Van der Neer’s colleagues such as Johannes Vermeer, Metsu and Gerbrand van den Eeckhout.[xiv] In fact, a painting by Metsu showing a lady in red and white satin descending a stairs and also featuring a Venusjanker in the background may have provided Van der Neer with inspiration for our painting.[xv]
As encapsulated in our painting, Van der Neer is an exponent of the “beau fini.”[xvi] Van der Neer’s smooth, enamel-like treatment and the (probable) use of precious metals, surprisingly, went hand in hand with flexibility and economy of means. As mentioned above, the artist modified the position of the monkey’s head, but he also shifted the right upper sleeve of the lady and reworked the figure in the left background.[xvii] Furthermore, the artist saved paint and time by blocking out - in advance - the main forms before beginning to paint the background. The outlines of the lady’s figure, as well as the rug draped over the balustrade,reveal tiny spots of the ground layer.[xviii] These details underscore Arnold Houbraken’s observation that Van der Neer exercised an “ever active ingenuity”.[xix]
Van der Neer’s brilliant techniques meant to do more than simply convey the tactile qualities of an array of materials. These materials, as a rule, were extremely costly and their painstaking rendition also intended to invoke the theme of opulence. Indeed, Van der Neer attained “a rarefied level of elegance and refinement seldom witnessed in Dutch genre painting”, as one scholar eloquently summarized it.[xx] Works such as the one under consideration exemplify the culmination of a fascinating process that played out in the works of the leading high-life genre painters during the 1650s and 1660s. Their settings became increasingly aristocratic and the protagonists were developed into fashionably and extremely richly dressed beau monde indulging in all kinds of elegant diversions.[xxi]
The interior of Van der Neer’s Grande dame is furnished in princely fashion. The mirror is a conspicuous sign of status, and a true showpiece at that. With an estimated height of about a meter and a half it is enormous by mid-seventeenth-century standards.[xxii] One easily overlooks the tapestry that covers the back wall. Tapestries were the most precious type of wall coverings and Van der Neer quite regularly used them as embellishments in his interior scenes.[xxiii] The oriental rug with its lush red fringes, draped over the balustrade, is not only a pictorially appealing symbol of status, but also adds exotic lustre to the scene.[xxiv] The monkey no doubt serves a similar function.[xxv]
The true focal point is the rich apparel of the sartorially splendid lady. Through her elegant attire, artistic prowess, taste and haute couture come together. The lady’s elegantly curved bodice and three-quarter sleeves with slits were the height of fashion and features such as the strings and gilded buttons (on the end of the sleeves) can be seen in portraits by other artists from the early to mid-1660s as well. In lifting the white satin of her dress, the young woman reveals a pink underskirt, lavishly decorated with gold trimming. Her jewels, too, catch the eye. Her parure consists of a pearl necklace, pear-shaped pearl earrings and two matching bracelets of seed pearls, complemented with a magnificent brooch, fashionably attached to her bodice with a bejewelled chain.[xxvi]
Until recently our painting was only known through the reputation it achieved in the nineteenth century, when it passed through the hands of several distinguished collectors.[xxvii] One of them was the painter and printmaker Louis Bernard Coclers, who was especially renowned for his excellent taste.[xxviii] Another was the banker Charles Piérard of Valenciennes, an avid collector of Dutch and Flemish paintings. The next owners, the Péreire brothers, also bankers, created the Crédit Immobilier bank in 1852 and were also famous for establishing railroad companies in France and elsewhere in Europe. After the sale of their collection in 1872, the painting disappeared from sight for more than a century and a half. Thanks to its rediscovery,it can finally be restored to its rightful place - as a major achievement - in the artist’s oeuvre.[xxix]
Eglon van der Neer was the eldest son and pupil of the landscape painter Aert van der Neer. Having completed his training with Jacob van Loo, Van der Neer started his career in the south of France, working as court painter for Count Friedrich von Dohna, the governor of the principality (1655-58). On his return, he married Maria Wagensvelt, the daughter of a well-to-do notary. Van der Neer worked for most of his career in Rotterdam (1663-1680), although he frequently visited Amsterdam and Leiden and registered with the artist’s confraternity Pictura in The Hague in 1671. In 1677 Eglon’s first wife died and three years later he moved to Brussels where he married Marie du Chastel, daughter of the painter François du Chastel and herself a painter. In 1687, Van der Neer entered the service of Charles II of Spain but remained in the Southern Netherlands. Du Chastel died in 1692 and five years later Eglon married again, this time to Adriana Spilberg, another painter and a daughter of the former court painter at the Electoral court at Düsseldorf, Johannes Spilberg. In 1698 Eglon relocated to Düsseldorf, having been appointed court painter to Johann Wilhelm the Elector Palatine, a post he held until his death in 1703. During the last years of his career,he concentrated exclusively on painting extremely detailed landscapes. Eglon van der Neer practiced all genres save still life.
[i] See for instance Schavemaker 2010, nos. 13, 18, 19, 37, 45, 60, 62, 80 and 89.
[ii] Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, inv. no.732. For the Visit to the Nursery see Schavemaker 2010, no. 19, pp. 457,458.
[iii] For the Young Woman at a Meal of Oysters ibid., no. 26, p. 461.
[iv] The term is used, for instance, by the artist and art theoretician Gerard de Lairesse, who for that matter is one of the very few in the period to dwell on the subject of genre painting in writing. In Chapter II (Book III, vol. 1) he presents “Aanwyzinge om het burgerlyke of cierlyke Modern wel uit te beelden [Method for representing what it city-like, or elegant modern]”. See for this, his Groot Schilderboek, Amsterdam, 1707, p. 175ff, and for an analysis of De Lairesse’s thoughts on high life genre painting: C. Kemmer, “In search of classical form: Gerard de Lairesse’s Groot Schilderboek and seventeenth-century Dutch genre painting”, Simiolus 26 (1998), pp. 91-96 and A. Dolders, “Some remarks on Lairesse’s Groot Schilderboek”, Simiolus 15 (1985), pp. 214-217. On the term modern and modern subjects see for instance: A. Blankert, “Vermeers ‘moderne’ onderwerpen”, A.K. Wheelock jr. (ed.), Johannes Vermeer, exh. cat. Washington, National Gallery of Art; The Hague, Mauritshuis, 1995-96, pp. 31-46.
[v] For a discussion of these works by De Hooch, see: P.C. Sutton, Pieter de Hooch, 1629-1684, exh. cat. London, Dulwich Picture Gallery; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford (CT), pp. 43-61, 142ff. The prevalence of marble floors in high-life genre scenes probably does not reflect reality, as repeatedly argued by C. Willemijn Fock. See her article: “Semblance or Reality? The Domestic Interior in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting”, in M. Westermann (ed.), Art & Home. Dutch Interiors in the Age of Rembrandt, exh. cat. Denver Art Museum; The Newark Museum, 2001, pp. 85-91.
[vi] For Ter Borch’s rendering of satin, see: E. van de Wetering, “Het satijn van Gerard Ter Borch”, Kunstschrift 37 (1993), pp. 28-37 and for a detailed technical analyses of his working method: A. Wallert, “The Miracle of Gerard ter Borch’s Satin” in A.K. Wheelock jr. (ed.), Gerard ter Borch, exh. cat. Washington, National Gallery of Art; The Detroit Institute of Art 2004-05, pp. 31-42.
[vii] The earlier mentioned Young Woman at a Meal of Oysters (see note 4) wears the same bodice and in that painting the fabric and the construction details, such as stitches and seams, are so meticulously rendered that he must have worked after real dress.
[viii] As pointed out in the condition report by Isabelle Leegenhoek, Paris, dated 14 May 2014. The restorer Pierre Bucat, who has cleaned the painting, also discovered passages with “reflets métalliques”, which suggest the use of silver (e-mail correspondence with the present author dated 24 October 2014). Future x-ray examination will be able to confirm it.
[ix] See for this: Schavemaker 2010, p. 125, with further references.
[x] Van der Neer also adopted this type of stage direction in a number of other works from the early 1660s and in some of his genre scenes it takes on complex forms. See for a discussion: Schavemaker 2010, pp. 43, 44.
[xi] In Dutch: “Gelijck de Juffer is, soo is haer hondeke”. Cats also gives another version of this adagium: “Gelijck de Juffer danst, soo danst haer hondeke [as the girl dances, dances her dog]”. See: Jacob Cats, Spiegel Vanden Ouden, en Nieuwen tijdt, The Hague, 1632, vol. 3, p. 12. Sturla Gudlaugsson was probably the first to note such analogies between the behavior of young women and their pet dogs in the work of Ter Borch, connecting it with Jacob Cats’s emblems. See for instance with regards Ter Borch’s toilet scene in the Detroit Institute of Art: S.J. Gudlaugsson, Gerard ter Borch, 2 vols., The Hague, 1959-60, vol. 1, p. 123; vol. 2, p. 169 (wither references to other examples by Ter Borch).
[xii] See for melancholy, R. & M. Wittkower, Born under Saturn. The character and conduct of artists: a documented history from antiquity to the French Revolution, London, 1963 and R. Klibansky, E. Panosky & F. Saxl, Saturn and melancholy. Studies in the history of natural philosophy, London, 1964.
[xiii] They form a common theme in Dutch literature from the sixteenth century onwards. See for instance: J.J. Mak, “De oudste betekenis van Venusjanker”, De nieuwe taalgids 48 (1955), pp. 138-140.
[xiv] See on this: A. Waiboer, Gabriel Metsu. Life and Work. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 2012, p. 75.
[xv] London, Royal Collection, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, inv. no. 902. Signed and datable to 1658-60. See: Waiboer 2012, cat. no. 68, p. 211.
[xvi] In his seminal study on the Dutch “fijnschilders” Peter Hecht highlighted Van der Neer as one of the artists who remained successful from their own day right until the advent of Impressionism, see: De Hollandse fijnschilders. Van Gerard Dou tot Adriaen van der Werff, exh. cat. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum 1989, pp. 129-155.
[xvii] With thanks to the restorer Pierre Bucat, Paris, for pointing this out. It was not unusual for Van der Neer to implement changes when a painting was already in an advanced stage. The man in Van der Neer’s Young Woman with a Cithern Seated at a Virginal in the Boijman-Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam was initially playing a violin but the artist gave him a flute glass instead and made him a listener. See: F. Lammertse et al., Nederlandse genreschilderijen uit de zeventiende eeuw. Eigen collectie Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1998, p. 121.
[xviii] Van der Neer also left the preparation layer open on the plinth beneath the nosing of the tread of the stairs, to act as spots of reflected light in the shadow. Isabella Leegenhoek in her already mentioned condition report argues that Van der Neer did this on purpose. Her colleague Pierre Bucat however, who retouched these spots, thinks it was not the artist’s intention to leave them bare. The present author tends to agree with Leegenhoek based on the notion that if an artist signs and dates his work, he probably deems it finished.
[xix] “zyn vernuft altyd werkende”. See: A. Houbraken, De groote schouburg der nederlandsche konstschilders en schilderessen, 3 vols., Amsterdam, 1718-21, vol. 3, p. 175.
[xx] As characterized by Wayne Franits, see: Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting, New Haven and London, 2004, p. 251.
[xxi] To be sure, high-life genre scenes were being painted throughout the seventeenth century. However, the works of Van der Neer and other high life genre specialists from his generation, notably Caspar Netscher and Frans van Mieris stand at the end of a development which takes off with the merry garden parties and interior scenes by David Vinckboons, Willem Buytewech and Dirck Hals, which were followed by quieter indoor scenes of Pieter Codde and Willem Duyster, whose innovations consisted of limiting the number of figures and giving greater prominence to deepening the psychological interaction, and finally revolutionized in the genre paintings by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Jacob van Loo and Ter Borch, bringing about the so-called classical phase of the elegant genre piece.
[xxii] In the seventeenth century mirrors were among the most expensive possessions in a wealthy household. If the artist depicted an existing specimen, he probably exaggerated its size. For mirrors and their role in the Dutch elite interior during the second half of the seventeenth century, see: C.W. Fock (ed.), Het Nederlandse interieur in beeld 1600-1900, Zwolle, 2001, pp. 109, 110.
[xxiii] On these rugs, see: Fock 2001 (see note 19), pp. 91-95.
[xxiv] This type of carpet was called “Transylvanian” by Onno Ydema and “is used to denote two separate groups of Anatolian carpets which have been found in considerable quantities in Transylvanian Protestant churches”, see: O. Ydema, Carpets and their Datings in Netherlandish Paintings. 1540-1700, Zutphen, 1991, pp. 48-51. Ydema refers to a list of 46 paintings in which this type is depicted and of which he compiled a chronological graph. There is a peak in the frequency with which this type can be seen in the years 1663-67.
[xxv] As such, the creature recurs occasionally in works by Van der Neer’s colleagues, for example in a niche scene by Caspar Netscher in the Columbus Museum of Art. See: M.E. Wieseman, Caspar Netscher and Late Seventeenth-century Dutch Painting, Doornspijk, 2002, cat. no. 34, p. 189, 190, illustrated.
[xxvi] The same brooch appears in a few other genre paintings by Van der Neer from these years and was probably portrayed after life. See for instance Schavemaker 2010, nos. 18 and 19.
[xxvii] The critic Philippe Burty (1830-1890), who hated Dutch Old Masters, singled out the Van der Neer in his review of the Piérard sale as one of the works “qui nous ont le plus charmé”, in particular praising its “grande elegance”. The anonymous author reporting on this sale for the Nederlandsche Spectator mentioned the Van der Neer as one of the works fetching a top price. When the painting surfaced again four years later at the Péreire sale, Théophile Thoré noticed the painting (which he thought to be a portrait).
[xxviii] For Coclers, see: R. Priem, “The ‘most excellent collection’ of Lucretia Johanna van Winter: the years 1809-22, with a catalogue of the works purchased’, Simiolus 25 (1997), pp. 142ff.
[xxix] Eddy Schavemaker, who compiled the artist’s catalogue raisonné (see literature), only knew the painting through old descriptions in the sales catalogues and reviews of the relevant sales. No photographic reproduction existed at the time of his work on the artist. He plans to include this painting in a forthcoming article with addenda to the catalogue raisonné.