In this stunning example of fijnschilderij (fine painting), one of its greatest late seventeenth-century practitioners provides all of the components essential to the genre: a sumptuous interior, a beautiful woman, and an intimate moment that the viewer is privileged to see. Van der Neer's young woman plays a chord as she looks at a sheet of music propped up on the table at the left, her dress slipping off one shoulder to reveal the white expanse of her chest. A flute appears beneath the sheet music on the table, alluding to the possibility of a duet, confirmed by the figure of cupid standing conspicuously behind the silver pitcher.
Lovemaking and music making were closely associated in earlier fijnschilder painting, and Eglon van der Neer was one of few artists of his generation who continued to incorporate such symbolic meaning into his genre scenes. He painted a series of women playing musical instruments in the 1670s, among them Woman playing a mandolin (Staatliche, Copenhagen) and Woman tuning a lute of 1678 (Alte Pinakothek, Munich), in addition to women reading letters, drawing, or offering food to guests. A Lady playing a lute in an interior was almost certainly painted during this period, around 1675, due to its affinity with the series mentioned above and the fact that van der Neer stopped painting genre scenes early in the next decade.
These kinds of paintings were particularly popular in court circles and van der Neer served as court painter to more than one ruler during the course of his career. He was appointed court painter to Charles II of Spain in 1687 and in 1690 to the Elector Palatine, Johann Wilhelm, in Düsseldorf, a position he kept until his death in 1703. Rachel Ruysch and her husband, Juriaen Pool, also served as court painters to the Elector between 1708 and 1713.
Eglon van der Neer could not have strayed further from his father's example. There is almost nothing that associates their works with one another, except perhaps that they both seemed to create worlds complete in and of themselves-Aert van der Neer (c. 1603-1677) the atmospheric world of full moons and night walks and, his son, genre scenes such as A Lady playing a lute. Although Eglon was first taught by his father, no traces of the latter's loose brushwork or techniques, such as scratching away wet paint with the end of the brush, appear in his works. Like his fijnschilder contemporary, Willem van Mieris, Eglon specialized in the intricate and seamless description of textures and fabrics and portrayed them with little or no evidence of the mechanics of painting. The vast differences in the paintings of father and son applied equally to their lives. Aert was documented as an innkeeper in Amsterdam in 1659, an unsuccessful venture that led him to declare bankruptcy three years later. A 1662 inventory of his belongings valued his landscapes at five guilders or less. He spent the rest of his life in poverty and died on 9 November 1677.
The date of Eglon van der Neer's birth is not known. According to Houbraken, he died in 1703 at age seventy, which would mean that he was born around 1634. Although no documents relating to his artistic training have survived, it is thought that he trained with his father, and perhaps also Jacob van Loo. Around 1654, at the age of twenty, van der Neer went to France and became painter to Count van Dona, the Dutch governor of the principality of Orange. He returned to Holland by 1659 and, on 20 February, married Maria Wagensvelt, daughter of the notary-secretary of the Rechtbank (judicial court) of Schieland in Rotterdam. They lived in Amsterdam and baptised their first child on 15 February 1660, according to Houbraken the first of sixteen. Van der Neer is recorded in Rotterdam in 1664 and seems to have stayed there until 1679. He also spent time in Amsterdam and The Hague. He was admitted to 'Pictura', the confraternity of painters in The Hague and, on 31 December 1678, witnessed the marriage of the still-life painter Willem van Aelst in Amsterdam. After his wife's death, van der Neer moved to Brussels, where he lived between 1679-89. In 1681 he married the miniaturist Marie de Chatel, daughter of the artist François du Chatel. Van der Neer's second marriage yielded nine children before Marie's death. On 18 July 1687 van der Neer was appointed court painter to Charles II of Spain but seems to have remained in the Netherlands for some of that time as he was recorded in Amsterdam in 1689. In 1690 he was made court painter to the Elector Palatine, Johann Wilhelm, in Düsseldorf. Van der Neer married the artist Adriana Spilberg, daughter of his predecessor at Johann Wilhelm's court and widow of the painter Willem Breekvelt, in December 1697. He died in Düsseldorf in 1703. Houbraken mentions only one pupil, Adriaen van der Werff of Rotterdam.
We are grateful to Eddy Schavemaker for his assistance in the above catalogue entry and for confirming that he will include the present work in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist.