[The Property of a
Gentleman]; Christie's, London, 10 April 1981, lot 97.
With Richard Feigen, New York, where acquired in 1982 by
Saul Steinberg (1929-2012), and by inheritance to his widow
Gayfryd Steinberg, until 2021
Anonymous sale, Christie’s New York, 14 October 2021, lot 83.
G.S. Keyes, Esaias van den Velde, 1587-1630, Doornspijk, 1984, p. 122, no. 13, plate 76, colour plate VII.
Esaias van de Velde was an unusually versatile artist. Although best remembered as a pioneering landscapist, he was also a gifted figure painter. He demonstrated these skills from the outset of his career in a series of highly accomplished garden party scenes (buitenpartijen), and later in cavalry skirmishes and scenes of plunder. Throughout his career, he added lively, well-characterised figures to his own landscapes, and from time to time he turned his hand to painting religious and historical subjects. He also provided the staffage in landscape paintings by other artists and enjoyed a collaborative partnership with the architectural painter Bartholomeus van Bassen (1590-1652). In addition, he made some forty etchings.
This representation of Christ and the Canaanite Woman is a lovely example of a little known facet of Esaias van de Velde’s output. The story is related in the Gospels of Matthew (15:21-29) and Mark (7: 24-30). On one of his journeys, Jesus encountered a woman from Canaan who begged him to cure her daughter, who was possessed of the devil. At first, Jesus paid her no attention and his disciples urged him to send her away, but she was not deterred. Throwing herself at his feet, she again implored him to help her. He responded saying: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”, to which she replied: “True, Lord, but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table”. Then Jesus said to her: “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish”, and her daughter was healed at once.
It was a common practice for Netherlandish artists of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries to include small-scale biblical or mythological figures, often painted by specialist figure painters, in their landscape paintings. Van de Velde would no doubt have been very familiar with this longstanding tradition, particularly since his master Gillis van Coninxloo specialised in Mannerist-style landscapes, often containing small religious or mythological scenes. However, not only the subject but also the style and prominence of the figures in this painting suggest a more immediate source of inspiration for Esaias van de Velde was the work of his contemporary Pieter Lastman (1583-1633). Lastman was the leading light in a group of Amsterdam history painters, who became known as the Pre-Rembrandtists. He strongly favoured biblical subjects, especially those involving conversations or meetings between people, or scenes of miracles. In 1617, he executed a large painting of Christ and the Woman of Canaan, which is now in the Rijksmuseum[i]. This painting probably inspired van de Velde to tackle the same theme, yet he did so in an entirely different way. The influence of Lastman is nevertheless felt here in the figure types and in the style of the draperies, with their deep, tubular folds.
Unlike Lastman who situated the action before an array of classical buildings and ruins, van de Velde chose a tranquil, intensely green, indigenous landscape as the setting for his depiction of the New Testament story. A cluster of rustic buildings occupies the left-hand side of the composition, while beyond a tranquil river, neatly cultivated fields, hedgerows, and a distant farm can be seen. One’s eye, however, is immediately drawn to the group of barefoot figures in brightly coloured historical garb standing in the centre foreground. Like Lastman, van de Velde’s narrative is so lucid that the viewer has no difficulty in recognising the episode depicted. As the Bible relates, Jesus is shown in conversation with a young woman, who kneels before him, hand on heart, begging for help, while pointing towards two dogs. Jesus responds to her request, raising his right hand in a gesture of blessing. Compared with Lastman’s figures, those of van de Velde are small in relation to their surroundings, but he nevertheless placed them in a conspicuous position in the foreground to capture our attention. By resituating the narrative in a typically Dutch landscape, van de Velde sought to bring old stories to life for a contemporary audience.
Beautifully signed and dated 1617, this early work - his earliest dated painting is from 1614 - has come down to us in an excellent state of preservation, enabling us to appreciate the artist’s lively technique and his palette of rich greens and browns, enlivened with vivid accents of blue, yellow and red.
Esaias van de Velde was baptised in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam on 17 May 1587. His father Hans van de Velde (1552-1609) was a Protestant painter who had settled in Amsterdam in 1585 after fleeing religious persecution in Antwerp. He was a cousin of the landscape etcher and draughtsman Jan Jansz van de Velde II (1593-1641), but apparently not related to the family of painters Willem van de Velde the Elder (1611-1693) and Younger (1633-1707) and Adriaen van de Velde (1636-1672) from Leiden. Esaias trained first with his father, none of whose work is known today, and then probably with the Flemish emigré Gillis van Coninxloo (1544-1606), and possibly also with David Vinckboons (1576-c. 1632). After his father’s death in 1609, Esaias moved with his mother and two sisters to Haarlem. In 1610, he joined the Reformed Church in Haarlem, and in April 1611, he married Cathelijne Jansdr Martens from Ghent. The couple had four children: three sons and a daughter. In 1612, Esaias registered in the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke and, in 1618, he became a member of the Haarlem chamber of rhetoric De Wyngaadranken (The Branches of the Vine). During his time in Haarlem, he trained a number of pupils, including Jan van Goyen (1596-1656) and Pieter de Neyn (1597-1639). In April of 1618, Esaias moved with his family to The Hague, where he immediately became a member of the local guild and, in 1620, he acquired citizenship. Esaias van de Velde died in 1630, aged only forty-three years old, and was buried on 18 November in the St. Jacobskerk in The Hague.
[i] Pieter Lastman, Christ and the Woman from Canaan, oil on panel, 76.8 x 106.6 cm, signed and dated 1617. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. Sk-A-1533.