Willem van Mieris

1662 – Leiden - 1747

A young Lady at her Toilet

Indistinctly signed, lower left: W. v…
Oil on canvas, 26½ x 21¾ ins. (67.5 x 55.2 cm)


Sold to a private collector.

Johann I Goll van Franckenstein (1722-1785), Amsterdam
His son, Johann II Goll van Franckenstein (1756-1821)
His son, Pieter Hendrik Goll van Franckenstein (1787-1832)
His deceased sale (designated as the Collection of Johan I Goll van Franckenstein), J. de Vries, Amsterdam, 1 July 1833, Lot 53 (Dfl. 2100 to Engelberts)
Collection “S”.; sale, C. P. Haro, Pillet, Escribe, Paris, 6-7 April 1876, Lot 22, (10,100ff)
Sale, Christie’s, Monaco, 30 June 1995, Lot 14 (ill.)
With Johnny Van Haeften Limited, London, 1997
Private Collection, Düsseldorf, 1997-2021


J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné, etc., 1829, vol. I, p. 85, no. 94, as “Francis Mieris”
C. Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und Kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der  Hervorragendsten Hollandischen Maler des XVII Jahrhunderts, 1928, vol. X, no. 232, as Willem van Mieris
M. van der Hut, Jan van Mieris (1660-1690): His Life and Work, 2021, p. 131, cat. no. B-G6 “Problematic Attributions”, reproduced in colour. 


Willem van Mieris was the second son of the famous Leiden fijnschilder Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635-1681).  Like his father, Willem painted genre scenes and portraits, but from the outset he showed a greater enthusiasm for history paintings, including religious scenes, subjects from Classical and Renaissance literature and pastoral themes.  He inherited his father’s brilliant technique and fondness for detail.  In his lifetime, his refined and intimately sized cabinet paintings were highly sought after by wealthy and sophisticated patrons.

In this painting, which dates from the very beginning of Willem’s career, he chose a subject that had been addressed by his father several times before.  In an elegant interior, a young woman in a white satin dress stands before a mirror glass, while a maidservant fastens her bodice.  With one hand, she delicately fingers a pearl bracelet, while glancing distractedly in the direction of the viewer.  Daylight flooding into the room from a concealed window on the left falls across her face, neck and hands and onto the shimmering folds of her dress.  Also captured in the shaft of light are a silver ewer and basin standing on the nearby carpet-covered table and a chair upholstered in green velvet.  A similar chair is visible standing in the shadows at the back of the room beside a tall mantelpiece over which hangs a painting.  The young woman’s discarded slippers occupy a prominent position in the left-hand corner of the composition.  A miniature brown and white spaniel sits patiently at his mistress’s feet. 

The painting must date from around 1680 to 1681, when the young Willem van Mieris was still working alongside his father in the family workshop, or in the period immediately after his father’s unexpected death in 1681.  According to Jacob Camp Weyerman, who knew Willem personally, the young painter was already so advanced by this time that he was able to “stand on his own two artistic feet”[i].  This remark, coupled with the fact that Willem rather than his older brother Jan was the first to join the Leiden painters’ guild in 1682, suggests that Willem not Jan assumed the responsibility for running the workshop following his father’s sudden demise.  In any event, the young painter’s mastery of the fijnschilder tradition derived from his father is on full display here.  As with his father, he captured a wide array of textures with his careful brushwork, from the shimmering silk of the lady’s dress and the lustre of pearls, to the pile of the Oriental carpet, and the sheen of the goldleaf on the elaborately carved and gilded auricular-style frame. 

In this painting, Willem drew upon his father’s work not only for the technique and subject, but also for the compositional scheme.  In 2020, in his article, “A Newly Discovered Drawing by Frans van Mieris the Elder”, Otto Naumann published for the first time a signed and dated drawing of 1670, in a private Dutch collection[ii], which he pointed out would appear to have served as the basis for the present painting.  Although the compositional study differs from the painting in a number of ways, it nevertheless provides all the main elements of design.  In the sketch, an elegantly dressed young woman stands before a mirror hanging on the wall, with an attendant maid, who bends forward to adjust her dress.  A table and chairs occupy the right foreground, while a small spaniel sits on the left.  It also seems possible, as was speculated by Naumann, and more recently by Eddy Schavemaker[iii], that Willem’s painting is in fact based upon a now-lost painting by his father.  The supposed existence of an earlier prototype would also explain the curiously old-fashioned hairstyle of the young woman in Willem’s painting. One would have expected Willem to portray his subject styled in the latest fashions, but the young woman here is coiffed in a manner that can be seen in paintings by Frans van Mieris of some twenty years earlier, such as his Woman Feeding a Parrot, in the National Gallery of London[iv].  Other elements of the composition are likewise derived from earlier works by the elder van Mieris: for example, the darkened profile of a large cupboard, used as a repoussoir in the left-hand corner of the composition, is borrowed almost directly from Frans’s painting, The Little Dog, in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg[v], as are the discarded slippers in the left foreground and the hidden casement through which light streams into the room.

The subject of a young woman making her toilet occurs quite often in the oeuvre of Frans van Mieris: at least six examples are known.  He is not, however, credited with being the inventor of the theme: that accolade is awarded to Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681), who around 1650, was the first to depict a scene of an elegant young woman engaged in making her toilet[vi].  His example was very soon followed by other high-life genre specialists, such as Caspar Netscher (1639-84), Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667), Jan Steen (1626-1679) and Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), and Frans van Mieris.  The subject’s appeal is hardly surprising given the opportunities it offered the artist to portray a young woman in the intimacy of her bedroom and to suggest a variety of scenarios.  Here, the inclusion of a statuette of Cupid, armed with his bow and arrow, floating aloft immediately prompts the viewer to suppose that the young woman is thinking of love and that her self-absorption as the final adjustments are made to her attire as reflecting her anticipation of receiving a lover.  Further allusions to love may be found in the amorini that frolic amid the gilded ornamentation around the mirror, while such other elements as the gleaming silver ewer and basin, used for conducting her ablutions, and the pearls with which she adorns herself, may be taken as symbolising the young woman’s purity and chastity. 

With the exception of the art dealer John Smith, who in 1829 attributed the present painting to Frans van Mieris, it had always been regarded as a work of his younger son Willem van Mieris. However, recently its attribution has been called into question.  In 2020, in his aforementioned article, Naumann raised the possibility that it might be by Willem’s older brother Jan van Mieris, and, in 2021, Margreet van der Hut included it in the “problematic attributions” section of her monograph and catalogue raisonné of Jan van Mieris.  She has since explained that she regards the unnatural curve of the young woman’s wrist as a defining characteristic of Jan’s classicising style[vii].  However, as Eddy Schavemaker has pointed out, this feature is not exclusive to Jan, indeed, such anatomical distortions are a hallmark of Frans van Mieris, already developed by him in his works of the 1660s, and increasingly employed by him in the following decade as his figures became more mannered[viii].  We see, for example, women in similarly exaggerated poses in his Figures in an Interior, known as The Family Concert, of 1675, in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence[ix]. and Willem, too, adopted similar mannerisms in a number of his early works.

The stylistic affinities evident in the late works of Frans van Mieris and the early works of his two sons only highlight the challenges involved in distinguishing the individual hands of the different family members. Given that both brothers received the same training, and at the start of their careers, both took as their point of departure the work of their father, it is not unexpected that during the period when they were working side by side in the family studio their paintings should display many common features. To add to the complications, we are informed by Houbraken that after Frans’s sudden death both Jan and Willem undertook to complete some of their father’s unfinished paintings [x].  In the years that followed, Jan and Willem developed more individual artistic personalities as their careers took separate paths.  In 1688, Jan travelled to Italy, never to return.  He died in Venice in 1690, aged only twenty-nine, leaving a small oeuvre.  By contrast, Willem remained in his hometown, and enjoyed a long and productive career. His works commanded high prices and were highly sought after both at home and abroad.  Whilst Jan’s name fell into obscurity following his early death, Willem’s entered the pantheon of the most celebrated artists of his time.  As a consequence, many of Jan’s paintings were later confused with, or sometimes deliberately misattributed to, the work of his more famous younger brother, or that of his father. Only now, with the publication of van der Hut’s monograph and catalogue raisonné has the work of reconstructing his oeuvre and reassessing his very considerable talents begun.

In the case of the present painting, the task of establishing the attribution has been aided by recent cleaning which has clarified what remains of the original signature.  Much of the name is now abraded, but the initial letters “W. v..” are still clearly visible. Whilst a signature alone is not always a reliable indicator of authorship, the restoration has also permitted a clearer reading of the picture and has brought out certain stylistic traits that are characteristic of Willem’s work.  Eddy Schavemaker has rightly observed that Jan “had a penchant for browns, purples, dark greens and blues and he combined them in a subtle, judicious manner; the result being an attuned whole.  By contrast, Willem’s palette is brighter, and contains more contrasting colours and accents”, as can be seen here in such motifs as the vibrant, multi-coloured carpet on the table and green-velvet-upholstered chair in the right foreground. Other early signed paintings by Willem also offer points of comparison with the present work in the figure types, handling of draperies, and tonality.  A similar handling, for example, can be observed in the treatment of the satin dress of the shepherdess in Willem’s signed and dated pastoral scene of 1682[xi].  Thus, based on stylistic considerations, neither Eddy Schavemaker nor the present author see any reason to remove this painting from the oeuvre of Willem van Mieris. 

The statuette of Cupid, bow in hand, hovering overhead merits a note for it is probably the same plaster cast as one that appears, viewed from different angles, in other paintings by both Frans van Mieris and his teacher Gerrit Dou (1613-1675).  It was, therefore, very likely a studio prop that was passed down from master to pupil in successive generations.  For example, it appears in Frans’s painting of an artist’s studio, formerly in Dresden, but sadly destroyed in the Second World War, as well as in his Family Concert[xii], where, as in the present painting, it signifies that love is in the air.  It also features in Dou’s 1649 painting of The Artist’s Studio: an Allegory of the Art of Painting[xiii], but with a very different meaning.  There, it most probably recalls the popular Netherlandish aphorism ‘Liefde baart const’ (‘Love brings forth art’)[xiv].

In the eighteenth century, this painting belonged to the Amsterdam banker Johann Goll van Franckenstein (1722-1785), a distinguished collector and one of the most gifted amateur draughtsmen of his time. 


The second son of the painter Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635-81) and Cunera van de Cock, Willem van Mieris was born in Leiden on 3 June 1662.  Like his older brother Jan van Mieris (1660-90), Willem followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a painter.  Willem was trained by his father, and following Frans’s sudden death in 1681, he took over the running of his father’s workshop. Although Willem was two years younger than Jan, he was the first to join the Guild of Saint Luke in Leiden on 21 June 1683, while Jan only joined three years later.  On 24 April 1684, Willem married Agneta Chapman, the daughter of a surgeon: the couple had three children, including a son, Frans the Younger (1689-1763), who also became a painter. 

Unlike his brother Jan who travelled to Italy in 1688 and died there two years later, Willem lived and worked in his hometown all his life.  He was an active figure in the local artistic community, serving repeatedly as the head of the guild.  Shortly before 1694, together with Jacob Toorenvliet (1640-1719) and Carel de Moor (1655-1738), he established a drawing academy in Leiden, which he and de Moor directed until 1736.  Willem’s career was by all accounts long and successful.  His paintings were highly sought after and brought good prices, and he enjoyed the support of prominent collectors both at home and abroad.  Among his most important Dutch patrons were Petronella Oortmans-De la Court (1624-1707), her much younger nephew, the immensely wealthy Leiden textile merchant Pieter de la Court van der Voort (1624-1707) and his nephew Cornelis Backer (1664-1739).  He also sold paintings to several foreign princely art collectors, including Anton Ulrich von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel and Count August von Wackerbarth for the Dresden gallery of Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland.  His success meant that in 1705, he was able to buy a house on the elegant Breestraat in Leiden, where he lived for the remainder of his life.  He seems to have gone blind in later life, but survived to the age of eighty-four and was buried in the St. Pieterskerk in Leiden on 27 January, 1747.  In addition to his students in the drawing academy, his pupils included his son, Frans van Mieris the Younger and Hieronymus van de Mij (1678-1761). 

[i] Jacob Campo Weyerman, De levensbeschryvigen der Nederlandsche konstschilders en konstschilderessen, The Hague, 1729, vol. 2, p. 388. 

[ii] Otto Naumann, A Newly Discovered Drawing by Frans van Mieris the Elder, Master Drawing, Spring 2020, pp. 79-84.

[iii] Private communication 14th July 2021. 

[iv] Frans van Mieris, A Woman feeding a Parrot, after 1663, on copper, 22.5 x 17.3 cm, National Gallery, London, inv. no. NG 840. 

[v] Frans van Mieris, The Little Dog, c. 1660, oil on panel, 5.5 x 40 cm, St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum, inv. no. 915. 

[vi] Gerard ter Borch, Young Woman at her Toiletc. 1650-51, oil on canvas, 47.6 x 34.6 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

[vii] Private communication 1st July 2021. 

[viii] Private communication 14th July 2021.

[ix] Frans van Mieris, Elegant Company in an Interior, competed in 1675, on panel, 51.8 x 40.2 cm, Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, inv. no. P 3105.

[x] Arnold Houbraken, De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, Amsterdam, 1718-21, vol. III, p. 6. 

[xi] Willem van Mieris, An Arcadian landscape with a shepherd and a shepherdess, signed and dated 1682, oil on panel, 32.4 x 43.7 cm. Private collection.

[xii] Frans van Mieris, The Artist’s Studio: an Allegory of the Art of Painting, c. 1655-57, on panel, 39.5 x 47 cm.

Formerly Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (lost in WWII)

[xiii] An Artist in his Studio: an Allegory of the Art of Painting, signed and dated 1649, oil on panel, 68.2 x 53.5 cm

Private collection, USA.

[xiv]  See: Joanna Woodall, “Love is in the Air – Amor as motivation and message in seventeenth-century

  Netherlandish Painting”, Art History, Vol. 19, No. 2, June 1996, pp. 208-246.