Een korte maar daarom niet minder gevarieerde kunstvaria.
Een paar van de afbeeldingen zijn highlights
van veilingen die de afgelopen weken hebben plaatsgevonden.
Claude Monet, Nympheas, 1905, oil on canvas.
Henri Matisse, Bedouine au grand voile, aquatint, 1947, on annam appliquxe9 to wove paper.
Ian Fairweather, Bus stop, 1965.
Jan Havicksz. Steen, The prayer before the meal / Het gebed voor de maaltijd, 1660.
Jan Steen toont ons op dit schilderij zijn levensfilosofie.
Op het stuk papier tegen de muur staat het volgende:
Drie dingen wensch ick en niet meer.
Voor al te minnen Godt den heer,
Maar wens om tgeen de wijste badt
Een eerlyck leven op dit dal-
In deze drie bestaet het al.
Ik wens drie dingen:
– god aanbidden
– dat waarom de wijste mens bidt
– een eerlijk leven
Uit deze drie dingen bestaat alles.
In a domestic interior with a view out through an open window to a house and trees, a couple with an infant are about to have a simple meal of bread, cheese and ham. While the mother holds her child still and closes her eyes, her husband removes his hat and holds it before his face to say grace. The inscription on a placard hanging from a nail on the wall behind them is loosely adapted from Proverbs, XXX, 7-9, and serves as the familyx92s creed: “Three things I desire and no more/ Above all to love God the Father/ Not to covet an abundance of riches/ But to desire what the wisest prayed for/ An honest life in this vale/ In these three all is based”. The interior is a plain one, and reflects the modest simplicity of the life the family leads. Reminders of the transitory nature of human life on earth are found in the skull and extinguished candle placed on the shelf near a large book (probably a Bible), and the message is reinforced by the inscription on a piece of paper hanging over the shelf which reads: Gedenckt te sterven (x93Think on Deathx94). The wreath of wheat surmounting the skull is an emblem of resurrection, since the plant must die and be buried in the earth to yield a new plant. Originally Steen painted a large cross above the fatherx92s head (still visible as a shadow of a pentimento), but he painted it out and replaced it with the shelf and the objects on it that provide richer and more subtle allusions to death and resurrection. The key hanging behind the father is an emblem of his trustworthiness. Above the family hangs a belkroon – a chandelier with a bell hanging in the middle, an emblem of watchfulness, on which are inscribed words from the Lordx92s Prayer: u wille moet geschieden (“Thy will be done”). Few Dutch 17th Century paintings, even those by Jan Steen, are so laden with pious texts, which appear as part of the natural interior of the room rather than as superimposed messages.
That he was a catholic, and presumably had catholic patrons, may explain the crucifix that Steen first painted affixed to the wall. Its replacement with vanitas emblems on the shelf is not only a compositional improvement but also deepens the meaning of the painting and reinforces its mood of modest pious humility.
In its quiet mood of unadorned dignified piety this is an unusual work by Jan Steen, and a highly remarkable one. As Arthur Wheelock wrote in his entry for the painting in the Jan Steen exhibition catalogue, “Much of the forcefulness of Steenx92s image results from the surety of his painting technique. Rarely did he convey weight and texture so intently. He carefully modelled his figures with light and shade, endowing them with classical grandeur. He meticulously rendered the woven pattern of the frayed cloth over the barrel, and the crisp folds in the clean white table cloth under the bread and cheese. Finally he convincingly suggested the worn appearance of the fatherx92s chair and the rough wood of the window frame.”1 In few other works did Steen attain the same level of attention to detail and understanding of light and texture.
The subject itself is not unknown in Dutch art. Both protestant and catholic families commissioned portraits of themselves in prayer, often with biblical texts displayed, as here. As Peter Sutton observed and Arthur Wheelock reiterated, Steen was probably influenced by Adriaen van Ostadex92s etching of the same subject, which dates from 1653 (see fig. 1). Though unusual in Steenx92s oeuvre, the subject was evidently in demand from him, since this picture was the earliest of at least four treatments of it by him, all compositionally different. One of these, a work on canvas from circa 1663-65 in the collection of the Duke of Rutland, Belvoir Castle, includes three more figures, but has the same text on a placard above the fireplace.2 In both the Sudeley and Belvoir pictures, and in a version in the John G. Johnson collection in Philadelphia, also from circa 1662-66, passages from the Lordx92s Prayer are inscribed on the belkroon.3
In 1660 Steen was living in Warmond, just outside Leiden, but he had spent part of the previous decade in Delft. The understanding of space in the Sudeley picture, and in particular the diagonal view through the open window to a house and beyond it trees, may well have been inspired by works that he had seen by artists working there, including Pieter de Hooch, although the most analogous works by De Hooch probably date from after Steen moved back to Leiden. The interest in the internal space and the fall of light on the plaster wall and on the different woods of the window frame and shutters may also reflect Steenx92s understanding of developments made by painters in Delft, including Vermeer as well as De Hooch. As Wheelock and others have noted, the open window serves a multiple purpose. It admits light into the room and controls the lighting within it, but it also admits a free flow of fresh air, emphasizing the physical as well as spiritual healthiness of the family, who live within the community represented by the house and trees beyond to which they are linked by the open window, as well as within the internal bonds of the family.
The title given here is an English translation of the traditional Dutch title given to pictures of this subject: Gebed voor de Maaltijd. In England the traditional title is “Grace before Meat,” but in not all pictures of this subject is meat on the table. A painting by Jan Steen of this title, painted in the mid-1660s is in the National Gallery, London.4
This picture has always been catalogued as in the collection of Edmund Phipps, London, where noticed by Gustav Waagen, the second of two works there by Jan Steen, and described as ‘A man, a woman, and child. Also animated, clear and delicate’.5 This must however have been a different picture, either another composition entirely, or another version or copy of this one, because the present picture had been lent by James Morrison to the British Institution in 1848, and Waagen did not begin his visits to British collections until the spring of 1850.
Gustav Waagen did however see this picture a few years later, when he admired it in the collection of James Morrison in Harley Street. Waagen, who had clearly not set eyes on it before was struck by the paintingx92s unusually tranquil and reflective mood as well as its outstanding quality: “A remarkable specimen of the fact that this uproarious master could also occasionally represent the touching scenes of humble but happy domestic life. In other respects also, excellence of drawing, decision of forms, equal carefulness of execution in a solid impasto and great transparency, this picture belongs to the finest works of the master.”6
Although Mary Dent-Brocklehurst inherited the present picture from her father James Archibald Morrison in 1934, by which time her husband John Henry Dent-Brocklehurst had inherited Sudeley Castle, it was lent by her elder brother Simon Archibald Morrison to the Royal Academy exhibition in 1938, perhaps because the latter lived in London.
A copy after the Sudeley picture was in the Alfred Wallach sale in Paris, 3 April 1962, lot 17, reproduced in the catalogue. Wybrand Hendriks made a drawn copy of it in the late 18th century, probably while it was in the collection of Johannes Enschedxe9 in Haarlem, where Hendriks lived (now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).
Jan Havicksz. Steen, The prayer before the meal (detail.
U kijkt naar ruim 40 miljoen euro: Pablo Picasso, Nature morte aux tulipes, 1932.
Paul Signac, Les Andelys, Chateau-Gaillard, 1921, oil on canvas.